Researching Maintenance

How much can one groundskeeper handle? How much square footage should one groundskeeper be able to maintain? We need this information to help decide whether to hire an additional groundskeeper.--Arizona

This is a question we receive frequently at Grounds Maintenance. Unfortunately, no concrete answer with wide applicability exists--It depends on the level of maintenance, site use and characteristics, and available equipment. Obviously, it helps to be able to justify a request for manpower with authoritative figures, but the only realistic way to obtain them is to define your specific operation.

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For example, given the right equipment, one person can easily maintain many acres of wide-open turf. However, small, irregular pieces of high-quality turf with extensive edging and numerous trees require many times the manpower for the same area. The amount of color beds and other labor-intensive plantings that one person can handle is measured in square feet, not acres. Even that varies widely according to the number of changeouts, how you apply irrigation and so on.

We'd like to hear from our readers about this subject to get a range of estimates. In your operation, do you use a formula to determine labor needs? If not, what's your best estimate of the labor needed to maintain your grounds? Can you quantify it? Can you break it down according to beds vs. turf? Let us know. Fill out the "Grounds Care Forum" on page 45 and tell us about your operation. We'll share your answers in an upcoming issue of Grounds Maintenance.

Canada Green I am looking for a grass seed called Canada Green. Do you have any information on it?--Iowa

Canada Green is the name of a turfgrass seed mix being marketed through mass-media advertisements such as newspaper supplements. Several states have issued warnings about this and similar seed mixes because the advertisements lead unknowing consumers to believe that this variety is a new "wonder" turfgrass.

I spoke with Malcolm Sarna, chief of the Turf and Seed Section of the Maryland Department of Agriculture, who cautions against using such seed. According to Sarna, seed marketed in this manner usually is labeled correctly as to varieties present in the mix. Therefore, it meets federal labeling regulations. However--and this leads to the basic problem--the advertisements suggest that the seed is of a new kind of turfgrass that will thrive almost anywhere from Canada to Florida, in nearly any conditions. You don't find out that the contents consist of quite ordinary seed until after you've purchased it and received the labeled package. One lot tested at Sarna's facility included fine fescues, annual ryegrass and Kentucky bluegrass of unknown cultivars.

Because these vendors make such extraordinary claims for their seed, the possibility of deceptive advertising is a concern. Federal authorities have persuaded some of these companies to tone down the language in their advertising. Still, experts caution against buying seed in this manner. As Sarna states, "If it sounds too good to be true, then no doubt it is." Always purchase seed from a reputable vendor based on local recommendations for varieties adapted to your region.

Skunked Is there some way to get rid of skunk cabbage? Every year, it spreads further through my backyard's turf. It survives despite mowing and Roundup applications.--New Jersey

Two genera in the same family (the arum family--Araceae) include species known as skunk cabbage: Lysichiton and Symplocarpus. These plants derive their name from the unpleasant odor they can produce. The latter (S. foetidus) is native to eastern North America and presumably the type with which you are dealing. This herbaceous perennial thrives in acidic, boggy conditions and is an attractive plant in leaf and in bloom. However, it's true that any plant, no matter how attractive, is a problem if youcan't control it. Some horticultural references warn of skunk cabbage's aggressiveness. You should, to the extent possible, alter site conditions so they are drier and less acidic. This may curb its aggressiveness.

Skunk cabbage emerges early in the spring, even with snow still on the ground. It (and some other members of the arum family) is a botanical curiosity because of its ability to generate its own heat. Early emergence also may allow it to grow and store reserves before the year's mowing has commenced, possibly explaining why mowing has not eliminated it (constant clipping eventually eradicates most upright plants).

No herbicide is specifically labeled for skunk cabbage. Additionally, given that this plant is a monocot, selective broadleaf herbicides are not a likely control choice. However, Roundup should be effective if you are persistent enough. The underground portions of these plants are substantial, and such perennials don't easily succumb to herbicides, even systemic products. However, repeated applications eventually take their toll. In addition, experiment with timing--see if late applications are more effective than those you make soon after spring emergence--and use the highest rates permissible. You also might try Finale herbicide. Because the skunk cabbage is growing in turf, the use of a non-selective product must be with great care or with acceptance of some damage to the surrounding sward.

If you are really determined, other more laborious options exist. You could dig the plants up manually. Renovation-type methods such as soil fumigation also are possible solutions. Of course, these tactics require re-establishment of the turf, so you must evaluate how badly you want to eliminate this pest.

Crabapple hardiness Do crabapples vary in winter hardiness?--Minnesota

Apparently so. Researchers from the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum recently published results of a study that examined the cold hardiness of crabapple cultivars.

The hardiest varieties in the study, tolerant of USDA Zone 3b temperatures, were 'Dolgo', 'Red Jade', 'Red Splendor', 'Selkirk' and Malus Baccata 'Jackii'. Two of the least hardy were 'Jewelberry' and M. floribunda, which have been injured in Zone 4b in colder-than-usual years. The researchers note, however, that absolute winter hardiness does not necessarily translate into resistance to damage from early (fall) or late (spring) frost. Further, site conditions and yearly weather variations affect hardiness, especially during spring and fall.

Check with local extension specialists for hardy varieties in your area. Also make note of specimens that survive locally harsh winters.

Almost everyone agrees that glyphosate--Monsanto's Roundup herbicide--is a fairly benign material. However, it may be more than just benign: Apparently, some research has shown that glyphosate can actually effectively treat some forms of cancer.

Proctor & Gamble reportedly has applied for international patents for glyphosate in the form of pills, powder and liquid. Although Proctor & Gamble isn't saying much about its research, it appears that glyphosate shows effectiveness against leukemia, and breast, colon and lung cancers. It also seems to be less destructive to healthy tissue than conventional chemotherapy treatments.

To many people, the "kick 'em while they're down" strategy seems logical for weed control. By this thinking, it makes sense to apply broadleaf herbicides to turf just after mowing, when the weeds have been stressed by being cut. In reality, however, broadleaf herbicides may be much less effective on recently mowed turf, according to Purdue University researchers.

In a recent 2-year study, the researchers applied 2,4-D + 2,4-DP ester to dandelions growing in a greenhouse and to field-grown dandelions. The researchers mowed the field-grown dandelions to 1 or 2 inches or left them unmowed (about 4 inches tall) before applying the herbicide. They inflicted 0-, 50- or 75-percent defoliationon the greenhouse dandelions before treatment.

The herbicide controlled both the greenhouse and field-grown dandelions much more effectively when the plants retained greater foliage. In the field study, the herbicide controlled the unmowed dandelions effectively (80-percent control or better) both years of the study. However, control of the dandelions mowed to 2 inches was effective only 1 of the 2 years, and control of those mowed to 1 inch was not effective either year. The greenhouse dandelions showed similar results.

In addition, the researchers weighed the roots and crowns of dandelions 2 days after removing 75 percent of their foliage. They found a 42-percent reduction in dry weight and suggest that this was due to upward mobilization of nutrients by the plant to regenerate new leaves. The researchers note that upward movement of materials within dandelions following foliage loss may discourage downward travel of applied herbicides. However, they point out another reason why foliage loss could reduce herbicide effectiveness: Reduced leaf area means the plant will intercept less of the herbicide. In other words, it reduces the dose.

To illustrate the importance of this, the Purdue researchers note that rainy springs often cause mowing delays, resulting in scalping when the overgrown turf finally is accessible to mowers. Because this can reduce the effectiveness of broadleaf herbicides, turf applicators should delay broadleaf-herbicide applications until scalped turf has regrown somewhat.

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