Feature Article - March 2002
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Grounds Forces

The latest challenges and strategies in grounds maintenance

By Mitch Martin

Say it, don't spray it

If groundskeepers are adding tools for handling the geese problem, then they are reaching into a smaller quiver when it comes to maintaining ornamental and performance grasses.

Public pressure and increasing governmental regulation have caused grounds professionals to curb the use of herbicides and, particularly, pesticides. Instead of depending on chemical applications, disciplined prevention programs and some natural agents can help. But grounds professionals say the need for communication about ecologically friendly programs is also important.

Geese volunteers and the Winnebago County
authorities helped with the nonlethal effort.

O'Donnell says he has worked hard to improve communications with athletic department personnel about how allowing a natural recovery time on sports fields will help alleviate the need to resort to chemical applications. By working with coaches and administrators, he also tries to strike an intelligent balance between safeguarding the real performance of grass playing fields and more aesthetic concerns.

"We try to tell them why we're spraying when we spray, why we don't when we don't," O'Donnell says. "The concept is that when you are relying on fungicides or herbicides, you're really throwing the whole natural balance off. If we can work together, we can often avoid that to a large degree."

And beer can help.

Charles Leeds, the horticultural supervisor at Villanova, says one particular new product that has helped maintain that balance is the use of brewery compost. Literally the bottom of the barrel in the liquor business, the dregs of the beer-brewing process recently have been found to make an effective top-dressing material. The brewery compost is mixed in with regular compost to form the top dressing.

Leeds says the yeasty, leafy material promotes better soil structure. In addition to resupplying lost organic material, it also has a strong disease prevention function. The compost is expensive, but well worth it, Leeds says.

"It works so well, I'm not sure I want to tell anyone about it," he jokes.

In the private sector, communication may be even more important. Gene Pouly, the president of the landscape management firm E.F. Pouly Company in Orville, Ohio, says some clients are often reluctant to pay more for less use of chemical spraying.

"A more potent material may be less safe environmentally, but the alternative may require a lot more trips for the same efficacy," Pouly says. "Some are OK with that, some aren't."