Strategies for Successful Grounds Management
By Deborah L. Vence
Maintaining and managing grounds efficiently takes a trained and knowledgeable staff, having best practices in place and a regular maintenance routine.
The fact is, how healthy and aesthetically appealing the grounds are at a facility or park makes a difference in how well they are perceived.
"Prospective students [at a university] will make a decision in the first few minutes." And, how good the landscaping is and if there is litter around makes a difference, said Jeff McManus, CGM, ISA certified arborist, and director of landscape services, airport and golf services, at the University of Mississippi.
"You want the crisp and fresh spinach. You don't want the stuff that doesn't look good," he said. "Whether we like it or not, people do make judgments based on appearance."
To help keep grounds well maintained and managed, having a trained staff is essential.
"A knowledgeable staff is important when implementing an integrated management system due to [the fact that] they are going to need to know how to recognize changes in the landscape and how to react to it in the proper manner," said Keven Graham, FASLA, PLA, CLARB, COO/landscape architect, Planning Resources Inc.
"Well-trained staff will help to be more efficient and assist the officials in the education of the general public as well. As far as the type of training, it varies depending on the type of green initiatives one is pursuing," he said.
"If it is the maintenance of native landscapes, a background in ecologic practices is going to be important; aspects like management of invasive species and burn management might be important," he said. "I think knowledge in integrated pest management is important as we seem to be finding more and more issues arising. But, as I said, I think it varies depending on what the park's primary goal is in its green focus."
McManus noted that when it comes to training staff, "I believe that in the 21st century we are all being asked to do more with [fewer] resources.
"Being successful is to have incredible staff in people who are trained and developed. We created a system called The Landscape University to train our staff at Ole Miss," he said.
The Landscape University is a series of classes that are instituted by Landscape Services. The goal of the program is to develop a highly confident, motivated landscaping team. The program curriculum covers introductory material, professional responsibility, safety training, advanced landscaping and people skills.
"What we do in the system is that we find not only [that being] knowledgeable is valuable, but that motivating employees is valuable," McManus said.
For instance, Level 100 is the orientation level. On the first day, employees can take a Landscape University course. The second level, Level 200, involves core classes.
"We want everybody to know [about] such things as mixed gases, regular fuel that go into lawn mowers—what's the difference? It sounds simple, but when you bring people into a big organization, we start to teach them those basics. Once we realize that this person is going to be doing more mowing, we take them to the 300 level," and teach them the proper way to do that, he said.
Jim Cocos, senior manager, horticulture, Missouri Botanical Garden, said that "the best thing we can have are a lot of eyeballs on things. Things happen quickly. You have to be watching. You have to look up and look down.
"Because of what they are in charge of, some are centered on trees. But, we've got trained eyes out there," he added. "We have really good staff here. We have the resources to hire really good horticulturists."
The most important thing Micah Putman, park supervisor at Allerton Park & Retreat Center, University of Illinois, Monticello, Ill., looks for in hiring full-time staff is "someone who has an education in a related field and previous experience in the industry."
"The most important thing I look for in a seasonal employee is that they be teachable because I can teach them to do most of the everyday tasks at the park," Putman said. "A trained and knowledgeable staff is the most important factor in keeping Allerton Park running. Knowing when to prune a bush can mean the difference between a bush that never flowers [and] one that is completely overgrown and developing damaged branching units. To ensure a productive crew, I hold regular training meetings—either formal or informal—and keep lines of communication going at all times."
The full-time staff at Allerton Park also is made up of certified arborists and trained wildland firefighters.
"We attend conferences and classes regularly to keep up with industry best practices and to learn about new products and efficiencies we can incorporate into our operations," Putman said. "I also believe that a trained and knowledgeable staff creates a sense of teamwork, and pride in the work we do as well as boosts morale and productivity."