Feature Article - September 2016
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Greener Grounds

Strategies for Successful Grounds Management

By Deborah L. Vence

Regular Maintenance

Ongoing, regular grounds maintenance requires everyday care—such as watering, weeding and trimming.

Putman said that everyday maintenance of Allerton's grounds involves mainly landscape work, but includes many other maintenance activities as needed.

"On any given day you will see Allerton's crew mowing, weeding, watering, mulching, edging, trimming hedge and many other regular landscape jobs," he said.

"We have about 100 acres of developed grounds to take care of inside the 1,500-acre park that also includes forest and prairie land. The developed grounds consist of 4 miles of road, 15 formal gardens, five parking lots, multiple open fields, tree groves and picnic areas," Putman said.

"Every year we trim over a mile of linear hedge, cut down about 200 hazard trees, plant 100 trees, 400 mums, 1,000 bulbs and over 10,000 summer annuals, and we buck and split 40 cords of firewood. We also handle all the snow removal, and maintain a water tower and water treatment facility as well as a wastewater treatment facility," he added. "We also help with some of our events doing setup for our summer concert series and helping move wedding chairs on weekends when the park is busy. The grounds crew will also assist the buildings maintenance crew when needed."

McManus also noted that he looks at ways to lower maintenance requirements so workers are not out there all the time. "We want a plant that we don't have to touch every week. So, we want to work smarter, not harder. Maybe a plant that doesn't need as much water in the summertime. A plant that's not going to overgrow a window, that's a high-maintenance plant," he said.

"When we're mowing our lawns, we put clippings back into the lawn. [There's] 130 acres of turf and so we don't want to be hauling those clippings around. We don't do a lot of fertilizing here, so we want those going back into the earth," he added.

Equipment is key, too. McManus said that mowers are purchased with mulching blades. "We get a lot of leaves that fall off the trees. We want to speed nature up. Chop that up really fine. They will [lie] on the ground and decompose inside the grass," he said.

The campus also has close to 30 acres of shrubs and groundcover. "We have 20,000 seasonal color, annuals, flower beds, focal points, at entry signage points," he said.

Also, for irrigation, Ole Miss uses a smart system that has a weather station. The system monitors the weather, the humidity, the soil and moisture content and evaporation, and it lets the readings into account, based on what's needed for the plants and how long for the water to run and for the systems to be on.

"The smart systems are reading the environment. That's what our industry is trending toward," McManus said.

"More campuses, parks and recreation facilities are going to these systems. It saves resources," he said. "There is an initial investment, but typically a year or two years in saving expenses. The one thing I like about it is that if you get a break, [such as on] a sprinkler head, the system comes on. The system is reading that too much water is leaving the water through the pipes. It will send an e-mail [that there is a] problem with such and such zone. It will generate the e-mail," he explained.