RESEARCHING MAINTENANCE

Honest, officer…

For what vehicular citations can an employer be ticketed if an employee is pulled over in a traffic stop? — via the internet

Employers are not responsible for paying moving-violation fines involving employee drivers in company-owned vehicles. Speeding tickets, seatbelt violations, careless and imprudent driving and other violations relating to the operation of vehicles are the responsibility of the driver.

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Violations concerning licensing, insurance and registration, as well as commercial safety equipment violations are frequently ticketed to the driver. The driver may be responsible for paying these fines also. These are non-point violations that will not affect a driver's record. However, employees will probably be angry about receiving violations and paying fines that result from such matters.

Employers must shoulder the responsibility for their drivers and vehicles. Insurance companies will require names and Social Security numbers of employees who will be operating vehicles and will used this information to run background checks on them. These checks determine the premium you will pay for insurance. Each time an employee receives a ticket for a moving violation, on or off the job, it may eventually come back to you in the form of higher insurance premiums.

Also, be aware that if your employee is involved in an accident, you still could be targeted by lawsuits even though any citations resulting from the accident would be issued to the employee.

It is important for employers to enforce guidelines for vehicle operation to minimize run-ins with the law. Minor traffic stops may take 30 minutes or more to execute, and commercial-vehicle traffic stops can last for hours if the officer chooses to check all safety equipment and run identification checks. Meanwhile, your paid employees are sitting on a curb, not earning you money.

New plants hard to find

As a landscaper, I have clients who want to plant the newest varieties of annuals, but I have trouble finding them. Why is this? — via the internet

Breeders and seed companies vigorously market new varieties in retail gardening magazines and on television to create demand for their new lines of plants. However, with new varieties being released each year, it is difficult for bedding-plant growers to plant everything. Growers will plant varieties that have been proven sellers in the past, and they will add new ones cautiously as demand dictates.

Typically, new varieties are hard to find because growers are not anxious to include growing something that is not a proven seller. With increased demand and word-of-mouth publicity, growers will eventually carry plants that may no longer be “new” introductions but rather past introductions that have gained popularity.

To find out who carries new introductions, various sources exist. If you know which company is introducing the plant, they will gladly help you find the closest grower. Also, some company web sites list growers that carry their new introductions.

All-America Selections (AAS), an independent testing organization, offers a web site locator that lists garden centers that carry AAS winners (www.all-americaselections.org). However, the web site lists only those garden centers and suppliers that have voluntarily signed up to be listed.

Ornamental grasses

When is it too late to cut back the previous years' growth on ornamental grasses? — via the internet.

Ideally, you should cut back ornamental grasses before the new growth begins to emerge in the spring. You can still cut them back once new shoots begin to emerge. However, you may clip the new shoots and temporarily slow down their emergence. If you do nothing else in the landscape, be sure you trim the grasses. Untrimmed grasses become an unsightly mix of brown and green that blights the landscape for the entire summer.

Some maintenance firms prune ornamental grasses in the late fall, usually near entryways and other highly visible locations. This may be necessary, as ice, snow and wind can break the brittle, dead shoots, and leave a disheveled mess.

Generally, larger grasses such as Cortaderia and Erianthus have thick, rigid stems that tolerate more weight. Therefore, they are not as susceptible to breakage. You can leave these grasses unpruned for most of the winter in many locations. Miscanthus varieties also are thick-stemmed and retain their beauty throughout the winter. Smaller grasses, such as Festuca, can end up as a matted lump by midwinter. You should cut them sooner than the other grasses.

While the decision to cut grasses depends on aesthetic needs, leave grasses standing as long as you can tolerate them. Throughout the winter, they provide excellent structure and color to a bleak landscape, as well as a bit more cover for the dormant plant.

James Houx has a bachelor's degree in forestry and has worked in arboriculture for more than 8 years. In addition, he has more than 5 years experience in landscape installation and maintenance, nursery retailing, irrigation and planting experience from Zones 3 to 9.

If you have a question about landscape or turf management, write to “Researching Maintenance,” Grounds Maintenance, P.O. Box 12901, Overland Park, KS 66282-2901, or send your question by e-mail to james_houx@intertec.com.

Questions are selected on the basis of current general interest. Unfortunately, we are unable to respond to letters individually.

RESEARCH UPDATE: GROWING METHODS AFFECT TRANSPLANT SURVIVABILITY

Have you ever wondered how the trees you plant were grown? You should. While the method of production is not readily noticed when you purchase plants, it does affect post-plant survivability. Recent research conducted by Dr. Edward Gilman at the University of Florida explains why.

Gilman tested the transplant survivability of live oak (Quercus virginiana) when nursery-grown in various types of containers and when grown in the field. To do this, he grew seedlings to a height of approximately 4 feet in #3 containers. He then planted 160 of them in 4 different types of containers approximating a #15 container. He also field-planted trees on a 6- × 10-foot spacing.

After 1 year of growth, Dr. Gilman up-planted the containerized trees into #25 containers and grew them for another year. During the 2 years of production, half of the field-grown trees were root-pruned. All trees received similar irrigation and fertilization during this period.

After 2 years, Dr. Gilman dug the field-grown trees with a 28-inch spade and stored them for 10 weeks. Next, he planted 28 trees from each of the various container types and 56 of the field-grown trees (28 root-pruned; 28 not root-pruned) in a field on 10-foot centers. After planting, he irrigated half of the trees throughout the summer. However, he irrigated the other half of the trees only during the first 6 weeks.

Gilman found that irrigation following transplanting had the greatest effect on survivability. Regardless of nursery production method, none of the trees that he watered throughout the first growing season died. However, when he discontinued irrigation 6 weeks after planting, 44 percent of the trees died.

Of those that died, 31 were container-grown — a 55 percent loss of containerized trees that were only watered for 6 weeks. However, only 12 of the field-grown trees died and, remarkably, none of the root-pruned, field-grown trees died.

In the past few years, more containerized tree stock has surfaced in retail and wholesale nurseries. It is common to find Japanese maples, redbuds, dogwoods, weeping cherry and even large shade trees in containers. Containerized trees offer several advantages, including reduced weight and easy handling. However, they may not transplant as well as B&B stock.

Gilman mentions that the medium is probably the most important factor contributing to the death of the containerized trees. Therefore, similar results might be expected for other species of trees even though this study only tested one. Most containerized stock is grown in a loose, well-aerated medium that rapidly loses moisture to evaporation. Once you plant containerized stock, you need to irrigate regularly to ensure that the rooting medium does not dry out.

RESEARCH UPDATE: GPR NOT PGR — USING RADAR ON GOLF GREENS

Researchers She-Kong Chong, Jim Doolittle, Sam Indorante, Kathy Renfro and Paige Buck at the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and Southern Illinois University-Carbondale recently tested a noninvasive method to study the subsurface features of golf-course greens. The technology, ground-penetrating radar (GPR), has been used successfully to detect geological structures, septic lines and, more recently, to locate buried agricultural drain tiles in newly built residential neighborhoods. The researchers have now discovered that GPR can accurately detect subsurface features in golf greens including drain lines, root-zone mix thickness, contrasting soil layers and compacted soil.

The radar works by detecting the contact or interface points between materials with different electromagnetic properties. Density, composition, water content and texture affect electromagnetic properties and, therefore, reveal themselves to radar imaging. The radar easily differentiates objects composed of radically different materials such as plastic drainpipes in sand.

The depth of observation and resolution of the radar's image depends on several factors, including soil conductivity, soil density, soil-particle size and the frequency of the radar. While a stronger frequency will penetrate farther into the soil, the radar image it creates is more affected by the soil attributes. As a result, the ideal soil-type for GPR tends to be coarse, homogeneous sand mixes (such as those used for golf greens).

One of the researchers states that the technology has been used with success to locate agricultural drain tiles in a loamy soil at depths exceeding 3 feet. However, the technology does not work well in clay soils. The radar may also detect soluble salts from fertilizers. However, no studies have focused on this subject.

Doolittle and Indorante explain that the GPR is easy to use and can be operated at normal walking speeds. With a real-time imaging system, the radar rapidly locates drainage lines and other features. Doolittle further explains that the radar can create block diagrams that display a three-dimensional subsurface map of larger areas.

In this study, the researchers were able to detect drainage lines, the interface between the sand-mix and native soil and subtle differences in root-zone density and subsurface water content. By comparing traffic patterns on the golf green, they were able to locate compaction zones. Also, by comparing known areas of subsurface wetness and poor drainage with the radar images, the researchers were able to verify the existence and exact locations of these subsurface features.

On golf greens, the ability to locate and map subsurface features using noninvasive methods provides obvious benefits. Using this technology, you can locate problem areas first and then excavate to remedy the problem.

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