Schenley Plaza

Pittsburgh, PA

When the restoration of the grass and flower beds in one of the larger, most used parks in Pittsburgh became necessary a few years ago, Philip Gruszka, director of management and maintenance for Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, began by seeking out the best horticultural information available.

That information came from multiple sources. From landscape architects, the US Department of Agriculture, Penn State Extension, and from turf specialists and agronomists at the local universities. It included, of course, recommendations about the make-up of the soil.

With that technical information in hand, Gruszka visited with Grant McKnight at Dura Edge Natural Sand Company in Slippery Rock, PA. A highly respected supplier of premier sand and soil products, Dura Edge Natural Sand provides topdressings and root zone mixes for some of the top collegiate and professional level baseball fields in the country. To develop that right mix for a particular situation, McKnight has worked with the lab personnel at DAKOTA Analytical in creating the right soil amendment blend.

 DAKOTA Peat was chosen as the soil amendment and the results of the restoration effort were tremendous. “We are now seven years into our first use of DAKOTA,” Gruszka says. “It is performing very well. We’re very pleased with what DAKOTA does for us.”

McKnight notes, “What sold me on DAKOTA – and I tell my customer base this whenever I’m building something – is that with DAKOTA you are contributing nitrogen to the mix. With sphagnum peat or another type of organic material, that material is still breaking down and, in the process, will essentially pull nitrogen out of the mix. I try to get people to understand the value of the organic that DAKOTA provides as opposed to the other products.”

“The root zone garden mixes that we’ve made for Phil have performed consistently year after year,” McKnight says of the blends that have ranged from 7 to 15% DAKOTA in the appropriate sand.

When restoring landscapes in the 1,700 acres of the Pittsburgh parks that he oversees, Gruszka considers both the cost of the investment and what it will take to maintain that park into the future. “We try to determine the most sustainable practices that we can use to get both the best immediate result and to keep the future cost of maintenance in line,” Gruszka says.



“I’m now doing my fifth park restoration project with DAKOTA in the mix. I get challenged regularly by a number of good firms that produce compost and want that to be a part of our mixes. I don’t have any opposition to working with compost on a site where the aesthetics can be less than premier but when I am on a high-end park landscape, I don’t want any variabilities. I want the products going into the mix to be known and be known over time. There are sites where composts could work for me but I’m not going to use it where I need to have dependable performance year in and year out. We don’t want to have to restore a particular park amenity again.”

 Considered in the restoration process, he says, are the type of activities that will be staged in that particular area. Should that be an activity such as concerts and other events that attract a lot of foot traffic, the landscape must be able to stand up to greater than normal use. In that case, the landscape has to be very resilient, he says. “I have to have tough plants and a soil content that is going to allow the grass to withstand the heavy amount of traffic that the site will receive. We want to use the very best products that we can afford.”