Lawn Service Knoxville | Outdoor Designs

Our lawn service is not your typical “big box store” approach to turf management.  We have three key focal points that lead to our program design: 1) Environmental Responsibility 2) Doing what’s best for the turf, not wallet. 3)Results that speak for themselves.  I’ll detail our approach and how it pertains to our focal point.

Environment responsibility is a hot issue.  Between GMO crops, Antibiotics,  and Hormones, it’s in our face more so now as a consumer than ever before.  Our industry is often mentioned in these topics because we use herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers. Specific to our industry you hear of runoff, drift, leaching, phytotoxicity, and resistance.  It is our responsibility to address these topics and react accordingly.  Proper application techniques can help solve most of the issues. For instance, utilizing proper rates, nozzles, and pressure can minimize drift.  So there are solutions to many of these charges.

Turfgrasses are a living, breathing organisms, such as a flower or shrub.  They can face a multitude of issues.  They can succumb to many issues similar to humans: disease, dehydration, or heat stress.  That’s why it’s important to take a very specific steps to insure what you’re doing for the lawn is what’s best for the lawn.  At Outdoor Designs, I designed our program to focus on what is needed at certain points of the year.  Let me take you through my process:

1. Analyze the Whole Lawn

The first impression for the lawn is from the road, at a distance.  What is the color? Is it green? is it uniform? How is the height? Too tall? Too short?  How many weeds are in the lawn? In what condition are the neighbors’ lawns?

This can tell us many different things.  For instance, poor color could be a symptom of low fertility.  Patches of declining turf could be a disease.  High numbers of weeds could indicate improper cultural practices or even bare areas. So it’s important to assess the total picture.

 lawn careThe lawn in the picture is an example of misapplied fertilizer.  This is why your lawn service provider should be knowledgeable and skilled in turf management practices.

lawn service

This photograph demonstrates high weed pressure, in frequent mowing, and generally poor color due to improper nutrition.

 2. Identify the Issues

Lawn care operators should have an eye for seeing problems.  Whether it be color variations or dead patches, a keen operator will bring these issues to light.  It is important to not only identify the lawn issue, but let the customer know what’s taking place.  Even with many years in field experience, there are many problems that still require research.  It is important for me to communicate with the customer exactly what’s happening in the lawn.

Being able to correctly identify the issue is of the most importance.  An incorrect diagnosis can either slow or prolong recovery, or worst case scenario, cause more damage.  It’s important, no matter how certain of an issue, to read, research, and identify the clues the plant are giving you to determine accurate diagnosis.


lawn service

This picture shows a common bermuda & St. Augustine lawn lawn with cinch bugs.

lawn care

 Centipede lawn, winter kill

lawn service

This picture shows a common bermuda lawn with two issues. 1) Bermuda mites 2) Mole crickets

3. Develop  a Plan

From a marketing stand point, many lawn service companies develop a program.  Here at Outdoor Designs, our full lawn service program consists of 7 applications.  I usually have an idea of what I’m going to put on a lawn for each of those 7 applications; however, often times that can change.  For instance, brown patch outbreaks may require a fungicide instead of a weed control.  Maybe severe tunneling will require a grub control versus a fertilizer.  By being on the lawn seven times throughout the course of the year, it is easier to catch such issues sooner and work towards correcting them.

4. Execution

Ultimately what it comes down to is delivering results.  If the results can’t be produced, expectations can’t be met, and customers cannot be made to feel satisfied with their investment.

Experience, knowledge, and know how all come into play and with out it, the lawn can be left to suffer.

Here at Outdoor Designs, we guarantee experience, knowledge, and the know how to make your lawn the envy of the neighborhood.

It’s time Knoxville embraces greener, cleaner, smarter lawn care.


Knoxville Lawn Care Topdressing | Outdoor Designs

So I’ve been working on a topdressing project and thought I’d share the photos.  This particular customer is new to our lawn care program, and after solving where we wanted to take the lawn, we decided topdressing was our best initial bet.

The lawn had been aerated and over seeded every year, but it still was just not performing.

bad soil

you can see how thin the turf is as well as moss.  That’s a great indicator that 1) your lawn care program is not working., and 2) your soil needs help.

knoxville lawn care


In the second picture you can see some germination took place, but a relatively poor amount.

This lawn needed a specific, Knoxville lawn care topdressing solution.

I ran the aerator over the lawn a few times to little avail. Weather, foot traffic, root competiton, precipitation, microbial activity, and even earthworms can influence compaction. It’s tough in my position to know that the lawn had been aerated not even 6 months ago and I can hardly pull a plug.

So I gave it a wait and came back after a little rain. Plugs were pulling much easier so I knew it was game time.

knoxville lawn care topdressing

Even with that first section completed, it was almost as if the yard smelled better – cleaner, healthier even. I’m very passionate about what I do, but I’m fairly confident this lawn took a huge sigh of relief.

So I kept cranking it out:

knoxville lawn care topdressing

knoxville lawn care topdressing

It looks brand new, right? Well, kind of – it looks rough. After several brutal aerations and 6 yards of compost, its no longer beaming with visual appeal. However this is the turning point of this lawn. This is the threshold that must be crossed to go from being mediocre, or acceptable, to being the shining star of the neighborhood.

I wrapped the day up with a very slow release fertilizer and a couple of half rate overseedings with a transiton blend fescue.

By the end of the month, this lawn will have a new standard of great.

It’s time for a greener, cleaner, smarter lawn care.

knoxville lawn care topdressing

Knoxville Lawn Care Topdressing

Knoxville Topdress | Outdoor Designs

I’m a super proponent of all things topdressing.  The reason being is that it’s such a great practice when done so with compost.  Even if one were to never fertilize their lawn, but regularly topdress it, you could still achieve tremendous results.

A nice, thick lawn requires healthy soil as its base, but it’s difficult to make changes to the soil once grass has been established. Most gardening recommendations include “working” organic matter into the soil through digging or tilling prior to planting, but this can’t be done once the grass has grown. So what’s a homeowner to do with an established lawn that’s in need of some serious help?

If done properly, the technique of “topdressing,” or adding a thin layer of soil over your lawn, can improve the soil without killing the existing turf. Topdressing addresses some common lawn problems, including:

    • Low spots due to rotting tree roots, settling after underground pipe or cable installation, or erosion.
    • Uneven terrain caused by winter freezing and thawing, water runoff, tunneling critters, or general soil settling over time.
    • Compacted soil in high-traffic areas or low-lying places where water pools.
    • Bare spots from variations in soil texture and nutrients, heat, drought, or other environmental damage.
  • Depletion of nutrients due to leaching, neglect, or repeated use of chemical fertilizers.*
    • It’s for this fact alone that I’ve become such a proponent of incorporating organics into my program.  Synthetic, chemical fertilizers, over time, begin to rob the soil of life.  It harms microbes and beneficial bacteria and ultimately you’re left with a tired, depleted growing medium.

topdress knoville

Topdressing gradually improves soil over time. As organic matter breaks down, it filters through the existing soil to improve texture and overall health. Topdressing can:

  • Improve drainage and drought-resistance
  • Even out the terrain
  • Reduce the need for supplemental fertilizers
  • Transform your lawn into organic, low-maintenance, healthy turf

When to Topdress

Ideally, do it in early fall or spring since you’ll want to give your grass time to grow through 3-4 more mowings before severe heat or cold, especially if you are overseeding. It can be done all at once, or in stages.  Here in Knoxville, we recommend topdressing in the fall; however, in certain instances, we prefer to topdress even before making a first application.  Often times to establish a stand of turf, aerating, topdressing, and seeding is required to even begin lawn care program!


Topdressing involves some physical labor, but the process is really just a few simple steps:

Step 1: Aerate

Lawns should be aerated every years, and if yours is due, start with a nice core aeration. Core aeration removes plugs of soil from the ground and leaves channels for air, water, and our topdressing mixture to penetrate the surface. For more information, see our article on Aeration.

Step 2: Prepare Your Topdressing

At Outdoor Designs, we use a high quality, beneficial bacteria rich, organic compost.

Ultimately anything that incorporates sand, loamy soil, and maybe some peat will suffice, but in our experience, a high quality compost delivers greater results more consistently.

The compost we use is heat treated to eliminate any weed seeds.


Step 3: Apply Topdressing

Now we’re ready to get started.

We spread the compost working it into aeration holes and covering low spots. We make sure the top-dressing is no more than 1” deep (preferably ½” or less) over the existing grass.

We keep working the mixture until your grass peeks through and the depth is even. I like to flip the garden rake back and forth from the flat side to the tine side, carefully combing the grass to get the top-dressing mixture settled on the soil surface.

For low spots requiring more than a couple of inches of top-dressing, first remove the existing sod to prevent underground decay that can damage new grass seedlings. After filling in the low spot, either replace the old sod or re-seed the area. You can also address deeper spots by adding a couple of inches of top-dressing each year, slowly building it up over time.

Step 4: Water and Adjust

At this point we’re technically finished. I would recommend watering the area well (or topdressing before a nice rain), letting the mixture settle for a day or two.


Step 5: Plant Grass if Needed

Now we can replant grass in any bare spots. Existing grass should be able to grow through as much as an inch of top-dressing.

How Often to Topdress

Trouble spots may need repeat applications, but regular, uniform top-dressing does not need to be an annual tradition. Keep in mind that you’re adding soil, which over time will raise your grade and affect thatch breakdown and soil ecology, so don’t go overboard. Plan several light applications for troublesome yards, rather than one deep one. For overall organic soil amendment, a very light application of top-dressing brushed into aeration holes can improve the soil without raising the grade.


Wake up, Fescue! Wake up!

Who called for this late winter chance of snow?  I’m angry!  Not really.  Nature has a way of doing things that I may not agree with, but I’m not one to argue with her.

So winter is almost over.  What do we do with the fescue lawns now?


As previously stated, winter kill is still a a reasonable threat, but soil temperatures are climbing and that means it’s time to get churning.  For the first application of the year, you want to make sure the soil has the proper nutrients to supply the fescue with everything it needs to get up and stretch its wings.  Nitrogen is atop everyone’s mind for that effect.  Nitrogen is a very valuable nutrient.  It aids in shoot-root development, desnity, color, disease resistance, and stress tolerance.  You know how when you fertilize the lawn, you get that two weeks of incredible growth and color?  Thank nitrogen.  However, it’s not the end all be all to fertilizer.

Many nutrients, macro and micro, go into the development and well being of fescue and all turfgrasses.

Take a look at this table:

 Functions of the essential mineral nutrients.*



*Based on information from H. Marschner, 1995,

Mineral Nutrition of Higher Plants

, Academic Press, New York; E. Epstein, 1972,

Mineral Nutrition of Plants: Principles and Perspectives

, John Wiley, New York; and F. Salisbury and C. Ross, 1978, Plant Physiology, 2nd edition, Wadsworth Publishing, Belmont, CA.


Nitrogen N Component of nucleic acids, amino acids, proteins, chlorophyll, and coenzymes. Affects shoot-root growth, density, color, disease resistance, and stress tolerance.
Phosphorus P Component of nucleic acids, membranes, adenosine triphosphate, and several coenyzmes. Affects rate of seedling development, maturation, and root growth.
Potassium K Activates enzymes used in protein, sugar, and starch synthesis. Important in maintaining turgor pressure in plants. Affects drought tolerance, cold hardiness, and disease resistance.
Calcium Ca Occurs in middle lamella of cell wall where it helps to “cement” walls together. Important in cell division and membrane function. Calcium deficiencies result in poor root and shoot growth.
Magnesium Mg Important component of chlorophyll, activates many enzymes. Magnesium deficiencies result in foliar chlorosis (yellowing).
Sulfur S Present in certain amino acids, proteins, membranes, and coenzymes. Sulfur deficiencies result in chlorosis.


Iron Fe Important in chlorophyll formation, photosynthesis, and nitrogen metabolism. Iron deficiencies result in chlorosis of young leaves.
Manganese Mn Present in chloroplast membranes and functions as enzyme activator. May be involved in resistance to some diseases.
Zinc Zn Involved in chlorophyll synthesis and amino acid synthesis, involved in synthesis of the growth hormone indoleacetic acid.
Boron B Plays a role in DNA synthesis and translocation of sugars.
Copper Cu Essential for photosynthesis and a component of certain enzymes.
Molybdenum Mo Component of enzyme that reduces nitrate in plants.
Chlorine Cl Plays a role in photosynthesis.

What an overwhelming list of nutrients, right?  Not necessarily.  Many of them are readily available in the soil.  Many are not.  This is why soil testing is a valuable tool.  Grant it, it’s not the end all be all in diagnosing every possible issue, but it can put you down the right path towards healing.

So how does this play into the fescue spring time wake up?

Here at Outdoor Designs, we do indeed use nitrogen to perk up the fescue.  However, we also pack in there plenty of potassium (to start prepping for the impending summer brown patch) and sulfur.  We also use a mix of 5 different chelated micro-nutrients in varying quantities to give turf that extra “screaming green” push right out of the door.  Oh and a secret ingredient so simple you’d never believe it.

Spring is not the time to hammer the lawn with high rates of fertilizer, that’s actually for fall.  But it is time to make a push toward plant maturity to survive the impending stresses of summer.  The more mature the plant, the greater the root mass, the better chance of summer stress performance.

From here our program makes it’s organic push to make sure there is plenty of organic matter for the beneficial bacteria.  Isn’t this exciting?

Let us help you wake up your lawn this spring and get it ready for its best year yet!

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Winter Kill

It’s that time of year where all our turfgrasses begin to stretch, yawn, and wake back up.

Thank goodness!

Unfortunately, there is still a risk of some areas of turf not waking up.

In lieu of the winter we’ve had this year in the Knoxville area, winter kill is a lingering possibility.  There’s no real standard of winter kill diagnosis other than the fact that the turf does not green up come spring.  But what actually happened?

Funny you should ask…

“Winter kill” is a general term that is used to define turf loss during the winter. Winter kill can be caused by a combination of factors including crown hydration, desiccation, low temperatures, ice sheets and snow mold. Because of the unpredictability of environmental factors and differences in other factors such as surface drainage, the occurrence of winter kill on turf is variable and can vary greatly between lawns across the county or even across the street.

During the warm days of late winter, turfgrass plants start to take up water (hydrate). Potential for injury exists when a day or two of warm daytime temperatures in late winter is followed by a rapid freeze. The most common time for winter kill associated with crown hydration and refreezing to occur is during the late winter and early spring when there is snowmelt or rainfall and then refreezing of the water that has not drained away. Crown hydration is a problem during these events because ice crystal can form in the crown of the plant, rupture the plant cells and ultimately cause the plant to die.

Winter desiccation is the death of leaves or plants by drying during winter when the plant is either dormant or semidormant. Desiccation injury is usually greatest on exposed or elevated sites and areas where surface runoff is great.  This will most likely not be an issue in our area.

The two diseases commonly called snow mold are Typhula blight (gray snow mold) and Microdochium patch (pink snow mold). Gray snow mold requires extended periods of snow cover; pink snow mold can occur either with or without snow cover.   Though can cause injury, they often times to not kill the lawn.

So we may be on the tail end of our winter, but for turf managers, the party is just beginning!

So you’ve got winter kill – what do you do now?

Call us first and foremost.  Let us put eyes on it and identify what exactly caused the problem.  Was it crown hydration? Was it strictly temperature?  Being able to identify its cause could potentially help in the long run.  Secondly, let us put together a plan to rebuild the lawn.  Since often times winter kill only effects a small portion of the lawn, a complete renovation isn’t necessary.  A good top dressing and overseeding can repair the issue to leave you with a beautiful lawn come summer.

Got Winter Kill?

Call us so we can design a custom plan on how to repair YOUR lawn and get it back to it's full potential!

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Pruning Crepe Myrtles

Everyone has their own story for how and why to prune crepe myrtles.

But how much of it is actually fact?

Let’s observe:

Pruning methods that promote a sound tree structure help trees resist failure, provide clearance, and improve aesthetics, while promoting long life.

From training young trees to managing mature ones, structural pruning to guide and manage tree architecture should be the primary goal each time a tree is pruned.

A well-structured tree is aesthetically pleasing, preserves the crown as it grows larger, and is long-lived. Poor tree architecture can be costly, leading to failure and early tree removal. When improperly performed, pruning can harm the tree’s health, stability, and appearance and make matters worse.

– University of Florida

Ok, so it is important to prune a tree.  I get it, you get it, everyone gets it.  But we’re talking about crepe myrtle pruning, right? So what about those?

 Like all trees, pruning a crape myrtle involves enhancing its natural form rather than trying to force it to grow in a space that is too small or an artificial shape. Crape myrtles naturally grow as small upright or vase shaped trees with multiple trunks. In a well pruned crape myrtle, the trunks grow upward and outward, with branches fanning out rather than growing inward into the center of the tree.

Remove crossing and inward growing branches.

To determine if your crape myrtle needs to be pruned, examine the direction in which the trunks and branches grow. Starting at ground level, follow the trunks upward to where they begin to branch, focusing on the interior of the tree rather than the outer edges. Branches that grow into the center of the tree, crossing over other branches or trunks, should be removed.

To remove a branch, follow it back to where it joins a larger branch or trunk. Take a close look at the point where the branch joins the trunk. You will notice at the point where the two join the branch is swollen or enlarged. This area is known as the branch collar. Using a pruning saw, remove the branch by cutting just above the branch collar rather than flush with the trunk. If the branch was removed at the correct place the branch collar left behind will extend out a centimeter or two from the trunk.

If it has been years since the tree was last pruned you may have to remove several branches. Whole trunks can be removed by cutting them off as close to ground level as possible, but this results in profuse sprouting of suckers during the summer and should be done only as a last resort.

If you have the time and the tree is not too large, you can clean up the interior of the tree by cutting off small twiggy branches that grow from the main trunks. This is best done using hand pruners. You can also remove seed pods and trim off the ends of branches that are less than pencil sized in diameter. While these practices will help the tree look neater and may increase the size of flower clusters, they are not necessary to keep the tree healthy.

-North Carolina State University.

I don’t think that could be any more well written than it is.  Most people see their neighbors outside crepe myrtle pruningclipping away, so happy go lucky, not paying attention to what the sole purpose of pruning actually is.  The goal is to preserve the natural shape of the tree – not turn it into a bush.  Topping and lopping any and everywhere not only looks ridiculous, but ultimately harms the plant and inhibits bloom production!

Take a look at the picture.  If that’s your crepe myrtle, well first I apologize, but secondly, you’re doing it wrong.

So next time you see Mr. Jones out there chainsaw happy commiting Crepe Murder, refer him back to our blog, then laugh, smile, and pour him a beer.  He’ll need it all summer long as he watches his unhappy trees under perform… again.

Be sure to contact us if you have any questions about pruning crepe myrtles or any other tree and shrub.  And don’t forget our sister company, Top Notch Tree Service!  They can walk you through just about anything tree related you might ever need!

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Winter Lawn Care

Oh the weather outside is frightful…

But what actually is taking place with my LAWN!?!?


No matter what turf type you have, somethings need to be avoided.

  1. Please minimize the amount of traffic on your lawn.  It’s not good for it.  Foot traffic during the freezing temps can be enough to cause damage to the veins of the grass plant – thus eliminate ways to move nutrients and watter necessities.
  2. Please, especially, don’t drive on the grass.  Thought it’s probably easier to do really awesome donuts this time of year, it’s really really bad for the turf.

But what about winterizer fertilizers?

I’m not a big fan of the word “winterizer.”  Most of our big box stores have turned the word into a marketing campaign as if it’s the end all be all of lawn care.  Truth be told, is it important, yes, but to an extent.

  • Avoid making applications of Nitrogen (N) once the cold has set it.

Nitrogen amps up chlorophyll production and the amount of water in the leaves of the plant.  Yes it does produce a very pretty green.  But in the cold months, though it may still give you green color, albeit slowly, it actually is causing harm.  You see, N will actually increase respiration (breathing effectively, moreso loss of water through the leaves).  And in the cold months, particularly freezing days, water is not readily available to the plant (it’s frozen!).  So in turn, the roots try harder and harder to send water to the leaf, thus robbing them of their stored carbohydrates, and overall weakening the root integrity of the plant.  TL;DR – Nitrogen applications too late in the season weaken the integrity of the root structure.

Potassium is actually the important part of the winterizer fertilizer.  In the ratio 16 – 4 – 8, that would be the 8.

  • In Photosynthesis, potassium regulates the opening and closing of stomata, and therefore regulates CO2 uptake.
  • Potassium triggers activation of enzymes and is essential for production of Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP). ATP is an important energy source for many chemical processes taking place in plant issues.
  • Potassium plays a major role in the regulation of water in plants (osmo-regulation). Both uptake of water through plant roots and its loss through the stomata are affected by potassium.
  • Known to improve drought resistance.
  • Protein and starch synthesis in plants require potassium as well. Potassium is essential at almost every step of the protein synthesis. In starch synthesis, the enzyme responsible for the process is activated by potassium.
  • Activation of enzymes – potassium has an important role in the activation of many growth related enzymes in plannts.

I don’t recommend grabbing a bag of 0 – 0 – 60 and spreading it on your lawn, but as you can see, potassium plays a vital role in the plant.

Instead, let us take a soil sample.  We’ll find out exactly what your lawn needs to thrive and devise a plan to get it there!

Oh, and stay warm!

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New Customers

As many of you who’ve previously used our services know what to expect, new customers are not in the loop! Let me start off by welcoming you.  Here at Outdoor Designs, we strive to meet and exceed every one of your expectations.  Please do not hesitate to reach out to us for whatever you might need.

New Customers | Lawn Care

It is our first year offering a lawn care program, and we worked hard to get it done right.  Luckily, our own family member has been practicing and honing his Turf Management skills in Augusta, Ga.  He had previously worked at Target Golf here in Knoxville, TN, so we knew he was familiar with the area, but we needed to get him here.

After a little bit of planning – we made it happen.  Matt brought charisma, drive, and an advanced know how that we knew we wanted.  So soon after arriving, he got to work.  As many of you know, he probably called to let you know we were indeed offering this service, and he would be heading up the department.  He also contacted many product distributors throughout the region to find the up and up in the industry.  Having incorporated organics into his program in Augusta, GA, he knew the benefit would also apply here in Knoxville’s clay soils.  He put together products from many different manufacturers to deliver the best end result possible. We know you’ll be pleased.

Matt can often times measure a lawn using modern technologies, however he prefers to put eyes on a property.  Though Google Earth and the likes allow you to see many things, they DON’T allow you to see everything.  Thus, the advantage with putting physical eyes on the property allow many advantages:

  1. Satellite photos do not show turf conditions.  So you presently have a lawn, but how does it look?  How is it performing?  You simply cannot see this from current imagery.
  2. Cultural conditions.  Perhaps there’s a patch of grass in the center of the lawn that’s performing better than everywhere else and is unexplained.  Maybe it’s the only irrigation head that’s getting adequate coverage and thus allowing the turf to thrive.
  3. Outside forces.  Sometimes there are small dead areas in the lawn that cannot be explained.  No signs of insect activity, no signs of disease – yet a pitiful stand of turf.  However, when probed, it turns out to be a rather large buried rock that’s obstructing root development and giving you the visual indicator of dead turf above ground.  This cannot be seen from satellite.
  4. Meeting the customer.  There is something special about putting a face with a name.  Getting to discuss the ins and outs of the customers concerns and maintaining an open line of communication not only reinforces the customers’ importance, but also allows Matt to dial in directly and meet that customer’s expectation.
  5. Establishing rapport.  Matt is a very nice guy, personable, too.  That said, there are billions of nice people in this world.  But why would you want Matt on your lawn vs. any other person?  It won’t take long to find out.  His knowledge will leave you feeling empowered.  His honesty will leave you feeling confident, and his personality will leave you comfortable – comfortable your lawn and investment is in the best possible hands.

After putting eyes on the yard, the standards come in to play:  A measurement is taken to calculate square footage, a plan for what the lawn needs to improve is devised, and approximate dates are penciled in to get it done.

Hey Customers of Outdoor Designs! I’m Matthew Martin. I was born in Mississippi, raised in Memphis, TN, lived and worked here in Knoxville, TN andasaminoahmatt Augusta, GA.

It feels great to be back!

My wife Asami, and my son Noah, and myself would like to thank each and every one of you for the opportunity to assist, serve, and all around make your lawn a better place to spend more time.

If there is anything at all you ever need, no matter big or small, do not hesitate to contact me – that is what I’m here for. There is no longer a need to worry, you’ve got a lawn guy.

Thank you and God bless. Matthew Martin