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From Falling Leaves to Football: Facility Maintenance in Autumn

From Falling Leaves to Football: Facility Maintenance in Autumn

From Falling Leaves to Football: Facility Maintenance in Autumn

Proper care for your facility's turf and fields during the fall is both important in itself and is a major key to having your grounds successfully survive the winter. To ensure your grounds will be healthy and attractive the following spring, you will need to minimize the harm that wintertime snow and ice may cause to your sod through an effective autumn maintenance program.

Processing Fallen Leaves

Although leaf removal can be a very labor-intensive undertaking, it will keep your grounds looking good and prevent grass from dying "by suffocation" under a blanket of leaves. Use rakes and a leaf blower to gather the fallen leaves and debris into a pile and then use mulching mowers and bagging mowers to remove it. The mulch yield can then be put into beds and around trees, and re-mulching during autumn is an ideal strategy for protecting sensitive plants roots/stems through the winter.

Aerating Your Turf

Fertilizing and de-weeding are indeed crucial to keeping your grounds hardy through the winter, but another critical autumn lawn care task is aeration. Foot traffic, mower and equipment traffic, and rainfall all serve to make soils denser and more compacted. This eliminates tiny air pockets underground, making it more difficult for roots to extend themselves. It can also lead to puddles, mud, and run-off erosion when turf doesn't drain properly.

New construction sites, heavily thatched lawns, sports fields, and playgrounds are among the most likely turf to become compressed. Using a spike aerator is one way to increase air, water, and nutrient penetration in the areas, but far more effective is the plug aerator, which removes small cores of dirt and relieves the pressure. Roots will grow deeper and stronger in well aerated soil, and an annual aeration every fall is good practice.

Caring for Football Fields

Football and other sports fields will be among the most compacted parts of your grounds. Parts of the field will also likely be thinned out or even bare at season's end. Applying plenty of fertilizer in late fall as well as re-seeding will help the field green up early the following spring. A full pound of nitrogen-based fertilizer every 1,000 square feet (1kg per 204.81 square meters) will bolster the turf's carbohydrate stores to toughen it up for the cold season, and grass roots will actually keep on growing, though at a slower pace, during the early parts of winter.

Fields, in particular, need to be aerated, and doing so in late fall allows the winter freeze/thaw cycle to create small cracks in the soil, which increase aeration even more. It is a good idea to "install" compost while aerating, especially if your soil tests out below 3% organic matter content. Five percent, however, is ideal if you have loam soil.

Autumn maintenance tasks at college grounds and other facilities must not only keep turf healthy for the fall but also bolster it to endure the snow, ice, and freezing temperatures of winter. Leaf removal, fertilization, aeration, and re-seeding are among the top autumn grounds-care practices that helps turf recover quickly when spring finally arrives.

Tree and Landscaping Precautions to Take Before Winter

Tree and Landscaping Precautions to Take Before Winter

Tree and Landscaping Precautions to Take Before Winter

Your facility trees and carefully manicured landscaping enter the "danger zone" with every approaching winter season. Unless you take the proper precautions, and in a timely manner, you run the risk of losing the money you have already invested, spending more than you should on "post-winter recovery," and allowing your trees and landscaping to become a danger to those present on the property.

Some potential problems, along with some corresponding precautionary actions to take, are mentioned below:

Winter Time Tree Care

The first danger your trees face during the winter is from internal stresses caused by intensely cold temperatures. The radical differences between daytime/nighttime temperatures can stress trees to the point of cracking, the "sunniest side" of the tree being most vulnerable. The best thing one can do to prevent this is to protectively wrap the tree trunk prior to winter (normally with young trees only). Most trees, however, will recover naturally, and it is just a matter of guarding against insects/diseases infiltrating the crack in the spring.

A second problem is early frosts bursting the cell structure of late-season growth that has not had enough time to re-acclimate for the winter, and leaving branches with dead ends. Waiting until trees have gone dormant to prune them is the best defense since it curbs late growth. Another factor is using a root rather than a leaf growth fertilizer in the autumn.

Another danger to avoid is "winter drought," meaning when a tree dehydrates because it can't draw water out of the frozen ground, even as the sun hits it all day long. Dehydration caused by dry, cold winter winds also contributes. The best defense is to mulch around the tree base in late fall. This helps to keep the temperature up and the ground unfrozen and also slows moisture loss.

Finally, tree branches are more likely to break off during winter as the cold makes the wood become more brittle. Add in ice and snow load and strong, gusty winds, and the danger is even greater. Not only does this damage your trees, but falling branches may hit your building, a car, a pedestrian, or a power line. To prevent this, have an arborist inspect all facility trees at least bi-annually to root out dead/dying branches, especially along sidewalks, roads, and parking areas.

Winter Time Landscape Care

Your sod, plants, and shrubs also need special attention to get safely through the winter and avoid causing you trouble. First, be sure to remove all leaves/debris from the lawn to prevent "winter kill" and harboring diseases and rodents. Second, cut grass down to 2 or 2.5 inches (5 or 6 cm) on the final pre-winter mow to prevent death of late-growth grass tips. Third, aerate and fertilize your turf just before the first winter freeze. This helps drainage and gives grass a head start on growth in early spring.

As to plants/shrubs, winterize them by post-dormancy pruning, mulching, and fertilization, the same way as with trees and for all the same reasons. Some plants without deep, hardy root systems, however, may need to be removed into a greenhouse and re-planted in spring.

Finally, be sure to properly winterize your irrigation system, shut down and cover all outdoor water spigots, and inspect and do maintenance tasks on all landscaping equipment before putting them away in storage.

Protecting your trees and landscaping during the harsh days of winter requires careful planning and appropriate action long before winter weather first arrives. Regular care and maintenance throughout the year should be augmented by specialized attention in late fall to ensure your greenery looks its best in the spring.

Prevent the Effects of Snow and Ice on your Facility’s Turf and Trees

Prevent the Effects of Snow and Ice on your Facility’s Turf and Trees

Prevent the Effects of Snow and Ice on your Facility’s Turf and Trees

Your facility's turf, trees, and greenery serve to make it attractive and to prevent excessive mud and erosion, but "winterkill" is notorious for turning beautiful landscaping into a veritable "death zone." Learning how to care for your turf and trees during winter can help protect them from such unsightly damage.

Winterkill of Turf

There are four main types of winterkill that threaten turf in the colder, northerly parts of the United States:

  1. Desiccation

When turf is exposed to dry, cold winds throughout the winter, dehydration can kill grass plants. Turf on elevated areas is especially in danger of desiccation, as are certain species like Kentucky bluegrass. To prevent desiccation, top-dress with a heavy layer of sand in late fall or use fabric coverings/ wind screens to guard sensitive areas from wind exposure.

  1. Low-Temperature Kill

Plants undergo a natural "hardening" process in late fall that prepares them for winter. However, when a warm late fall is followed by an extremely cold early winter, plants may not have hardened off enough to withstand the sudden drop in temperatures. To reduce the risk of low-temperature kill, avoid heavy use of nitrogen-rich fertilizers in mid-fall and re-seeding early (late summer) to give new growth time to mature and harden before winter.

  1. Ice Encasement

When thick sheets of ice form over the surface of your turf, oxygen levels deplete while toxins accumulate. The end-result, after weeks or even months of "turf suffocation," is dead turf. In regions where wintertime ice-formation is common, it may be best to protect turf with a three-layer covering: a semi-permeable layer, an insulating layer of straw, and an impermeable covering. In milder climates where ice is still a threat, it is better to just remove the ice with melting agents or mechanically.

  1. Crown hydration

Crown hydration often occurs during late-winter freeze/thaw cycles. When temperatures rise temporarily, turf begins to "de-harden" and grass-crowns to re-hydrate. If temperatures suddenly plummet, ice can form on the hydrated crowns and kill them. Damage can be minimized by improving surface drainage and avoiding practices that might bring turf out of winter-dormancy early.

Winterkill of Trees

Trees, shrubs, and plants can also be damaged/destroyed by winter weather. Since trees are much more costly to replace than grass, special care should be given to taking care of your trees during winter. Some of the threats to trees/plants during the winter with some solutions to use include:

  1. Salts and deicers can wander off the pavement and hurt your trees or land on them when salt spray is used. Aerating your soil and keeping it well drained on the surface, along with careful use of deicers, are the answers.                                                                                                             
  1. Mice and rabbits often feed on tree bark during winter when food is unavailable. Countermeasures include cutting grass/weeds back two feet from the base of trees to deny mice cover and wrapping tree trunks with screen wire to keep out rabbits.                                            
  1. Winter storms can bend/break tree branches, especially of evergreens. Bind extended, swaying branches together with twine to minimize the damage.                                                               
  1. A late spring frost can catch trees/plants off guard and kill new root shoots. Mulching heavy around the base will help keep soil temperatures up and reduce the risk.

Being aware of the dangers winter poses to your facility's turf, trees, and foliage and taking action to minimize the risk of damage will save you money and make life easier for your grounds crew next spring. Landscaping is not as essential to operations as some other things are, but it still serves an important purpose and is an investment that needs to be protected.