Feature Article - October 2018
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Greener Than Ever

The Latest Trends in Grounds and Turf Management

By Chris Gelbach

Using Less, Achieving More

Using less inputs and resources when maintaining turf is becoming a bigger priority as part of the push for greener spaces. "When you're reducing your need to water and you're reducing your need to fertilize, that's actually the bigger picture when you're talking about environmentally sound practices and being more sustainable," Bergdoll said.

At Ole Miss, McManus has seen big results in improved water management through the switch over to a centralized water system with a weather station that includes soil moisture measurement and other water-saving features. "That's probably the biggest thing that's changed for us over the last five years. We're much more water-wise," McManus said.

This has even extended to smaller conservation efforts that include the placement of a rain barrel under a large air conditioning unit on campus that was dripping. According to McManus, about 55 gallons of water each day is collected that way, and the condensation water is used whenever the maintenance team needs to mix application for the turf.

Goatley is seeing the increased use of compost and biosolids as another means both to reuse a carbon-based waste product and to benefit soil health. "I can't think of anything better you can do than to bring compost applications in and stick to that program for two to three years," Goatley said. "You're going to see some really solid improvements in soil. And when you get the improvements in soil you're going to see improvements in the turf and plant material, as well."

Green Machines

Over the past several years, McManus and his team have additionally experimented with alternate fuels and battery-powered options as additional ways to use cleaner fuels and reduce noise pollution. Many of the alternatives currently available come with tradeoffs.

For instance, Ole Miss experimented with propane gas mowers, which run cleaner, but found that they required more work operationally because of the need to have propane tanks on hand and bring them out into the field. The university had more success with biodiesel—but problems finding a reliable ongoing source for the fuel.

"We tried biodiesel a few years ago and really liked it. We would go to it tomorrow if we cold find a source for it in our area," McManus said. "A local professor was using biodiesel for some of his research, and we used it for a summer and found it to be very clean. The joke was that the exhaust smelled like French fries. He was reusing the oil out of the fryers up at the cafeteria."

Ole Miss found that the approach reduced their fuel consumption and that the biodiesel also worked as a great cleaning agent for the parts and engines of their mowers.

The university's experiments with battery-powered blowers have had more mixed results. It can still be difficult to find equipment with a long-life battery that still provides the power and RPMs to get the job done quickly. "Nothing has replaced that gas-powered backpack blower yet in my opinion, but I'm looking forward to that noise going away one day," McManus said.

Improved Maintenance Practices

Grounds managers are also seeing more widespread attention to better grounds maintenance practices. Combined with turf advancements, these practices are helping turf managers further stretch the playability of their natural turf fields.

"It's really more about what you're doing in the off-time of the grass," said Ren Wilkes, tactical marketing manager for a leading manufacturer of lawn equipment headquartered in Moline, Ill. "You're seeing a lot more aeration, a lot more cultural practices done in the off-time. It might mean mowing after play is done or immediately aerating that night." In particular, Wilkes is seeing turf managers pay more attention to goal mouths, center areas and other high-traffic zones to help the turf recover quickly and maintain good condition.

Goatley likewise is seeing this as the continuation of a long-term trend. "We've preached that forever. When you're trying to stretch your dollars as far as you can, you don't need to maintain every square inch of those fields. You're working between goal mouths, between the hashes, the other areas to keep it clipped. Put your resources toward where the traffic is," he said.

He is also seeing more and more recreational facilities pay more attention to the need for field rotation in the design stage of larger projects, with developers sometimes opting to use a little more space to accommodate additional fields. "Finding the absolute best way to optimize this piece of land to get the most play should always be on the front end of any design, because we're not going to see the use demands decline," Goatley said.

Grounds managers are also seeing more widespread attention to better grounds maintenance practices.

In Chattanooga, Bergdoll is seeing similar discussions about stormwater management and water quality informing upfront planning decisions, and creating additional, marketable benefits for the community in the process.

In terms of mowing practices, fraise mowing is continuing to gain prominence as a method for renovating certain kinds of turf such as Bermuda grasses. "What an awesome tool to renovate Bermuda turf and almost turn a Bermuda grass field that's just kind of showing its age into a new turf by removing all that material from the surface," Goatley said.