Feature Article - September 2016
Find a printable version here

Greener Grounds

Strategies for Successful Grounds Management

By Deborah L. Vence

Green Practices

The use of green practices in grounds maintenance and management is growing, and there are many different ways that such practices can be incorporated.

For example, "Equipment selection (fuels), weed and turf control, and de-icing methods are a few of the many operational choices," Graham said.

"What's cool about our industry is that the many things we do are just being discovered by the rest of the world," McManus noted.

"Trees, for example, have been composted in the woods. We are doing that as well. Very rarely does natural debris leave campus anymore. It pretty much goes into our compost and allowed to compost naturally, or [you can] chip it up or reuse it for mulch," he said, adding that those are good nutrients, too.

"We have great resources to do it. The key … is having the space to do it. Most campuses and parks and recreation are limited in space. We have some space to do that here at the University of Mississippi," McManus said.

Proper design is huge, too.

"Design the landscape in a way that's maintenance and environmentally friendly," he added. "It's different for any area you are working in. It varies a little bit. You want to use plants that are low-maintenance. We like to look at native plants, first, if they will provide us with what we need; have shade to help cool a building down; reduce air-conditioning costs. Nature just does it all by itself."

At the Missouri Botanical Garden, "What we are particularly happy about is that we have a nice compost area here, where basically everything we cut, trip and snip is put into a nice pile," Cocos said.

"There's no fancy equipment. But we do keep it on site. Twice a year, we contract a company to come in and grind it into compost and [then] it goes right back into the garden," he said.

Also, certain municipal tree companies can come in and dump raw wood chips, too.

"And, we do need a good bit of mulch," he said.

In the greenhouses, "we've almost eliminated the use of pesticides, using all beneficial insects—over the last four or five years now," he added.

Best Practices

Having best practices in place also is important in ensuring effective grounds maintenance.

Some of those practices include "reduced weed control, use of organic/bio control products, conversion of excessive lands to natural areas [and] energy-efficient equipment," Graham said.

Over the past three or four years, the Missouri Botanical Garden has been using smart controllers for irrigation systems.

"We had traditional clocks, but [now use] smarter controllers that utilize connections to the web," Cocos said.

You then can get a download of evapotranspiration rates, which show how much water plants are using based on the weather.

You can find out, based on the weather, if plants lost any water, or how much water they got if it rained, and whether you should be using less or more water. "We think that, overall, they see a 20 to 30 percent savings of water," he said.

At Allerton Park, safety always is No. 1.

"Whether we are pulling weeds, making sure to avoid poison ivy or during tree removal operations, double-checking rigging knots and other equipment hazards, safety trumps everything else," Putman said.

"One different practice we do at Allerton is high mowing," he said. "Taller grass is healthier and combats compaction and promotes healthy roots to weather the winter. We use infrequent, heavy watering when needed. We also compost all organic waste on site for reuse in our planting beds. Integrated pest management is also very important and my staff [is] all licensed to apply pesticides. We do not plant invasive species, even in our formal gardens with various planting displays."