IPM fever takes over Marco Island Marriott maintenance

Jean Lefebvre is landscape supervisor at the 727-room Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort, Marco Island, Fla. He manages a crew of nine and oversees 6 acres of turf and a total of 20 acres of manicured landscaping at the hotel.

Landscape Supervisor Jean Lefebvre stands at the entry sign of the Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort in Florida.
Photos by Stacie Zinn.

Once known by his colleagues for his zealousness in spraying insecticide, the idea of IPM completely revolutionized Lefebvre’s approach to insect control. These days, he’s replaced bug spray with ladybugs for aphid control. His trick for keeping released beneficial insects where you want them is to saturate a bag of ladybugs with a 50/50 mixture of cola and water, then release the ladybugs. The insects’ wings will stick together for a few days, and by the time their wings are dry and no longer sticky, they will have acclimated to the spot you’ve released them.

Crew member Ansce Villard uses a Stihl PS80R string trimmer on the paspalum.

The resort’s beachfront location affects plant selection. Lefebvre chooses salt-tolerant plants, such as Green Island ficus, Indian Hawthorn shrub and Pitch Apple, for their ability to grow in the salty environment.

The turf is also salt-tolerant. While 3 of the 6 acres of maintained turf remain Floratam St. Augustine, a coarse-textured Florida lawn staple, the grass tends to suffer in the salty conditions. Nearly five years ago, Lefebvre’s former boss, Ron Bettger, began converting the turf areas over to two varieties of salt-tolerant seashore paspalum grass: Aloha and SeaDwarf. Both varieties are fine-textured and are used extensively in the golf course market. The grass is grown at Emerald Island Turf in Avon Park, Fla.

Just east of the pool deck, steps from the Gulf of Mexico, is a large, low-cut lawn that frames the view from the main entrance of the hotel out to the water. “They call this the soccer field,” Lefebvre says, but no sports are played on it. Instead, the hotel holds conference functions and dinners on the lawn.

Crew member Wilson Joseph uses a Jacobsen mower to mow the lawn.

As with the IPM program on the ornamentals, Lefebvre has found an interesting way to treat the weeds in the resort’s paspalum grass while also reducing his dependence on chemicals. “With us being on the Gulf like this, and getting all of this salt air coming in, this grass is so salt-resistant that we even use salt. How we kill our weeds with this grass is we take regular salt, we just sprinkle it on the weed and it kills the weed, but it doesn’t harm the grass … I was using table salt, but quite frankly, it was getting expensive. So, I now go to the local pool place, Island Pool, and I just get a 40-pound bag of salt that they use in the pools, and this salt costs me like $10 for a 40-pound bag. It’s really cheap. It really works out. So, it is cool that all Chico [crew member Chico Laureano] has to do is go around and sprinkle a little salt on the weeds, and for about 90 percent of the weeds, it’s very effective. There are a few weeds we do have to treat, some of the sedges, but still it’s tons easier in that respect,” Lefebvre says.

Aloha seashore paspalum is used on the lawns at Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort.

Lefebvre’s expertise is in trees and ornamentals, so when he has questions about maintaining the paspalum turf, he has the professional support of Todd Evans, director of grounds at The Rookery, the resort’s golf course.

The Rookery is grassed with TifSport bermudagrass fairways and TifEagle bermudagrass greens, which differ from paspalum in irrigation and fertilization requirements. Evans has done some limited first-hand research on the grass and also relies on recommendations from his vendors and colleagues in the area.

Evans conducts quarterly soil tests in random areas of the resort in the north, south, east and west quadrants in order to get a good read on the conditions so that the fertilization program is designed to only “give the plant what it needs.”

Compared to the bermudagrass on the golf course just down the road, Evans says the paspalum at the resort requires “less nitrogen and a lot more potash and micronutrients. It takes about half the nitrogen that I use out here at The Rookery,” he says.

Another difference, Evans says, is that compared to the bermudagrass at his course, he feels the paspalum at the resort is a bit more prone to diseases, such as dollar spot and Pythium. The resort sprays a fungicide monthly and actually uses less of it as a result. Depending on time of year and weather, Evans recommends using Insignia, Daconil DN, Heritage or Compass fungicides on the paspalum.

Landscape Supervisor Jean Lefebvre inspects crabgrass that was killed using salt in a stand of SeaDwarf seashore paspalum. Crew member Edilon Dupra trims a palm tree.

While some resorts close in the summer off-season, the Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort is a year-round destination for guests from all around the world. Lefebvre retains his full-time, nine-man crew all year. Summer may be a bit slower as far as guest reservations are concerned, but the landscape is in full growth mode and the entire crew is needed to keep up with the workload.

The mowing schedule at the resort differs according to time of the year. In the winter, when the plant’s growth slows, Lefebvre’s crew mows once every two weeks. In summer, when the turf is at its peak growing season, mowing is done twice a week. The paspalum is mowed at .25-inch, and the St. Augustine is mowed at 3 inches.

The author is a freelance writer and photographer based in Naples, Fla.