4  FM quick reads on grounds care

1. Water Conservation: Focus on Irrigation


I'm Dan Hounsell, editor of Maintenance Solutions magazine. Today's topic is, water conservation and irrigation.

As water conservation continues its rise up the list of priorities for many grounds managers, the search continues for new strategies and areas of focus. For some facilities, the single largest user of water is the irrigation system. Reviews of irrigation-system operations show that on average, these systems waste 40 percent of the water they use. The key to minimizing water use is to limit watering schedules and volume based on plant needs and recommended schedules.

For example, crews cannot simply set watering schedules and forgot them. Water requirements change based on changes in daily temperatures, wind speed, humidity, and length of day. Setting and forgetting watering schedules not only wastes water. It can actually damage plants by overwatering.

Managers can automate watering schedules through the use of smart controllers, which monitor environmental conditions and adjust the schedule to reflect these conditions. Smart controllers keep the irrigation system off when it is raining or just after a rain, and they regulate the amount of water supplied based on actual requirements. Smart controllers on average reduce irrigation-system water requirements by 30 percent.

Another way to reduce irrigation-system water requirements is to follow the recommended watering rates for the types of plants in each area. Ideally, managers should divide the irrigation system into separate zones based not on location, but on watering requirements.


2.  Water-Efficient Irrigation

I'm Dan Hounsell, editor of Maintenance Solutions magazine. Today's topic is, water-efficient irrigation.

The primary goal in irrigation for institutional and commercial facilities is reducing use of potable water in landscapes — ideally, by about 50 percent from established baselines. Inefficient irrigation is a big culprit in water waste. Most irrigation systems installed more than five years ago operate at less than 45 percent efficiency. WaterSense guidelines from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) require a minimum of 70 percent efficiency.

The first step in improving efficiency is to conduct a water audit. Call a licensed landscape or irrigation contractor who can pinpoint waste and recommend strategies for savings. These strategies likely will include installing flow meters to monitor and control water use. Most systems have automatic shutoff features, so if a line happens to break, water flow will cease.

From an efficiency standpoint, drip-irrigation systems are an excellent option. The lines run about 2 inches below the surface, and water drips directly into the roots of plants. Drip-irrigation systems have an efficiency of 95 percent, compared to 50-65 percent efficiency of a traditional, overhead system.

If an existing irrigation system requires optimizing, managers can use several strategies. One strategy involves replacing older irrigation heads. Newer models can greatly improve the accuracy of water disbursement. These models irrigate turf and plants based on the individual amounts required, rather than overwatering in some areas and under-watering in others.

Managers also can have irrigation systems designed and installed so trees, shrubs, and ground-cover plants are in separate zones. As plants become established, the system adjusts or discontinues watering by zone.

3.  Sustainability: Integrated pest management

I'm Dan Hounsell, editor of Maintenance Solutions magazine. Today's topic is, integrated pest management.

Integrated pest management (IPM) is gaining popularity among grounds managers seeking more sustainable options for traditional methods of protecting buildings, turf and landscapes from pests. IPM programs offer guidance based on information on the life cycles of pests and their interaction with the environment, along with available pest-control methods, to manage pest damage more economically, safely, and sustainably.

One organization, the IPM Institute of North America — www.ipminstitute.org — has developed a certification entitled Green Shield Certified, recognizing institutional and commercial facilities that meet IPM guidelines. A closer look at some of the institute's requirements can offer managers a framework for making the move to IPM.

To achieve the Green Shield certification, a facility must meet minimum requirements. For example, the facility needs to meet legal requirements for posting and notification of pesticide applications, for pesticide applicator training and certification, and for recordkeeping on pesticide application. The facility also must provide proper personal protective equipment and ensure it is in good condition and used when appropriate.

The facility also must have corresponding copies of the pesticide label and material safety data sheets for applied pesticides in a central location and available to staff or the public.

4.  Grounds Care on a National Scale

I'm Dan Hounsell, editor of Maintenance Solutions magazine. Today's topic is, grounds care on a national scale.

Smithsonian Gardens has a great deal of experience contending with large numbers of visitors. The goal of the department — which is responsible for the design and maintenance of the gardens outside of Smithsonian Institution museums in and around the National Mall in Washington, D.C. — is to have the gardens open 364 days a year. Thirty million people visit the Smithsonian Institution grounds and museums annually.

The department's strategies offer valuable examples for organizations that must handle large numbers of people as they carry out their grounds care tasks.

Smithsonian Gardens tackles a range of projects each year. Barbara Faust, associate director of Smithsonian Gardens, along with the department's landscape architects, and the grounds and greenhouse managers, comprise a panel that reviews plans for these projects. The panel ensures projects are cost-effective and will not significantly increase maintenance requirements or compromise the visitor experience.

"Being on the National Mall as we are, we have to be very careful how we change the look of what we do," Faust says. "We have the Commission of Fine Arts and the National Capital Planning Commission that review it if it's a really big project that can have an effect on the look."

One major initiative is the construction of a security perimeter around the museums.

"After 9/11, all the buildings were trying to improve their perimeter security," Faust says. "First, it was done with temporary container plantings, but then (security officials) wanted it to be more permanent. So actual perimeters have been built around each of the museums. It's been done at the National Air and Space Museum and the National Museum of Natural History, and now it's in the process of being done at the National Museum of American History."

At the National Museum of Natural History, walls and large boulders comprise the perimeter. Smithsonian Gardens took action to ensure contractors building the perimeter did not damage large-specimen tree roots.

Whether Smithsonian Gardens is helping construct a security perimeter or acting as garden guards during events such as the 2009 presidential inauguration, Faust and her team play an integral role in the design, maintenance, and operations of the landscapes surrounding the nation's capitol.


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