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About this blog

Joe Fearn is Head Groundskeeper at Drury University in Springfield, MO. We writes about reconciling economic, aesthetic, functional, and environmental needs in the landscape.

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Riding with the boss...

I recently toured campus here at Drury University with my boss. The touring was nothing unusual as I try to see the whole campus on a regular basis. What was different this time was what I learned on the tour. I saw the campus through another person's eyes, and an important person's eyes at that. I came away with a conclusion that I didn't particularly like. Campus never looks as bad as when I tour with my boss. He saw things that I had seen, but had put a different priority on. He also saw things that were important to his reckoning but hadn't been as important to mine. While I was moderately distressed and disappointed by this tour, I saw it as one of several opportunities for rethinking my working relationship with my boss.   Campus never looks as bad as when I tour with my boss. He saw things that I had seen, but had put a different priority on...   When Seeing Something Bad is Good Our tour resulted in seeing some situations on campus that were not up to snuff. My initial reaction was to be disappointed with my performance, and to be frustrated with my crew's lack of attention to detail. But what I realized was my boss wasn't assigning blame, he was simply bringing issues he had noticed to my attention. This is a good thing. He didn't go to my crew, or to his boss, but came to me. This shows he has confidence in my ability to correct these issues. It also shows me that he is paying attention to what the grounds crew is doing on campus. My boss?s awareness of our work is good for us. The old adage of 'when there is silence you should be worried' applies here.     When Seeing Something Good is Good In my professional experience, most grounds managers (including golf course superintendents, of course) notice the good works our crews perform. We make a point of recognizing our teams for hard work, and accomplishing goals. But we almost never seek affirmation for our own works, or direct acknowledgement by others for our own part in achieving success. When I ride with my boss, the vast majority of what he sees and takes note of is positive. Our time together allows him to express appreciation of our team's hard work, and my contribution to that success. Another aspect of seeing successful efforts in the field is it builds common knowledge of the job that is being performed. My boss is not a grounds professional, but he does have comprehension of what work and resources must go into our job. His awareness of our work is beneficial.   When I ride with my boss, the vast majority of what he sees and takes note of is positive. Our time together allows him to express appreciation of our team?s hard work...
Looking Through Someone Else's Eyes One of my greatest challenges in performing my job is to avoid trap thinking. Another way to say this is to avoid predetermination of methods and goals. Because over my career, my efforts and plans have achieved desired results, I think I have some proven answers to achieve results. However, continually using my answers to problems excites and validates me, but may not be as exciting or satisfying to my team (and my boss is on my team). Touring the campus allows my boss to contribute, even if it is usually only in non-physical ways. He has a track record of success and a wealth of knowledge about grounds work in relation to Drury's organizational goals. He has seen other methods achieve results. This knowledge helps strengthen our job processes, plus allows him to contribute, thereby giving him some belonging also.     A Chance to Communicate My days are very full. My boss is busy too. Being able to get one hour per month touring with my boss is about all I can expect. This lack of time to communicate has potential for undesirable results. I could be putting effort into a job that is not where my boss thinks we should be focused. Even if it is what he wants us working on, the results may not be close enough to what he wants. Another concern could be working on a project that may have been made unnecessary or obsolete by a decision made higher up the organizational ladder. Without my boss acting as an information conduit, I may not have access to all the facts. Plus the opportunity to have some personal interaction is positive. Many personnel management experts say that some level of personal relationship helps bond employees. I may not hang with my boss, but I want him to see me as a unique individual, and me him also. I also communicate with my boss in other ways at other times, but touring the campus grounds puts us in my element.     At The End of the Day My immediate team goes in two directions organizationally. My crew, and my boss. Too often employees fail to recognize that their actions can influence their boss. By keeping problems off his desk, I keep them off mine, because we all know how problems usually roll. I also believe that by pursuing my boss's goals, I can expect, and should expect him to pursue mine, even though he is the boss. While it can be unpleasant at times, riding with my boss has benefitted me more than it has hurt me.

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

Stem Girdling Roots (SGRs)

I have planted hundreds of trees in my career. Actually I think there is a real possibility I have planted in the thousands. Not multiple thousands mind you, but more than one thousand. I have also had to take care of those trees for many years after installation, and have had an opportunity to track many successes and some failures. My survival rate for the trees I have installed is very good, over 95%. Also as an ISA Certified Arborist, I have to study about tree culture, and am ethically bound to do industry best for them. What I have found over the years is that there are several surefire ways to plant a tree to die, one of which is stem girdling roots, or SGRs.   SGR Defined An SGR is a root that has been deflected and is now growing in a circle around the tree trunk. Healthy roots should grow like a spoke away from the tree and into the surrounding soil. One of the main causes of SGRs is container-grown stock. The root hits a plastic wall, turns, then continues to grow in a circle. These roots will continue to grow like this even when removed from the container. As the tree trunk and roots grow occupying the same space, the roots constrict the enlargement of the trunk and begin girdling the vascular tissue of the trunk (directly below the outer bark). Many people think the trunk will grow to snap the root, however the roots are enlarging simultaneously.   Obvious SGRs that require pruning/removal.   The result The result of a significant SGR is the trunk and root flare below the girdling does not enlarge. The trunk above the girdling does. This imbalance disrupts the normal taper and ultimately the tree either dies from insufficient water and food movement, or breaks at the point of girdling when under load. At the very least, the tree is stressed even under good conditions and is susceptible to secondary problems like disease or insect. The aesthetic appearance of the tree will suffer. Girdled trees will appear stunted, have sparse growth, poor coloration and flagging. Frequently, premature death of the tree occurs just when it should be coming into young maturity, and the death leaves a significant and noticeable void in the landscape.   Control There are a number of steps to prevent or repair SGR that are easy to accomplish. Like many horticulture problems, prevention is frequently easier than repair.   Purchase good stock Purchasing tree (and large shrub) stock without SGRs is your best defense. It is also the easiest since someone else is doing the work. Unfortunately most large scale, economical production methods used by nurseries can create SGRs. Inspect stock before accepting and be sure to examine root structure before you buy. This goes for container grown, balled & burlapped, or even spaded trees (trees may have SGRs prior to moving).   Address SGRs before you plant The time to perform preventative pruning is before the tree goes in the hole. Examine the roots when you take the tree out to plant. Look for the root flare zone. The flare zone is where the primary buttress roots will widen quickly. Trace these roots away from the trunk and look for roots that cross them. If there are any cut the crossers with pruners. Be careful to prune small crossing roots and not the primary roots themselves. Aggressively tear open the roots by hand or with a pick. Try to separate the tangles of roots to guide them out from the trunk. Slicing the root bound area can be a last resort, but the roots should still be significantly pulled apart.   Plant at the right depth and do not over-mulch The root flare zone should be obvious and should be planted above the soil level. A larger tree, greater than 4-6 inch caliper, should have a flare zone 2-3 times the width of the trunk. Do not mulch close to the tree, nor too thickly. Adventitious roots can grow aggressively in the mulch.   Curative Existing trees in the landscape should be evaluated for SGRs. Smaller trees should be inspected first. Excavation of the root flare at ground level will quickly show if SGRs are present. Undesirable, inferior roots should be pruned. It is only necessary to remove a piece to prevent regrafting. A hand pick or bull trowel should suffice. This is examination, not major excavation. If you have high value trees the use of an air spade to blow soil from the root zone may be justifiable.   SGRs after root pruning.   A tailgate full of SGRs after removal.   Putting SGRs behind you SGRs are a common problem. Yet I only learned about them in the last 10 years. The many trees I planted prior to this awareness survived because I aggressively separated roots to prevent circling. Preventing circling roots and preventing SGRs are two sides of the same coin. With a large dose of preventative effort, and a small dose of cure, SGRs can be overcome.

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

Spring Fever...

I admit it, I have Spring Fever. Just this past week on January 28, here in Springfield, Missouri we hit 67 degrees. The Drury University Grounds Crew was out doing a number of jobs that were more about preparing for spring, and less about killing time in winter. We mulched leaves, cut back perennials, spread some mulch, and even continued work on a stone patio that had been idle for more than a month due to conditions. I even started determining quantities of seed and fertilizer for some early spring overseeding on several athletic fields. But reality, and several more weeks of winter, have got me thinking about how I measure time from fall to spring.   Shortest Day I have several benchmarks I use to mark the beginning of, and the passing of winter. The first is December 21st. Most of you will recognize this as the shortest day of the year. Sunrise was at 7:23 a.m. and sunset was at 4:59 p.m. Like many others, I came to work in the dark, and returned home in the dark. This truly is a low point of the year. Winter has officially started, temperatures are dropping, and the landscape seems very dreary. But even with all that, I know that day length has nowhere to go but up. Within several days, sunset gets later by a minute a day, each day. This slow change always gives me a lift, even though for several weeks, we won't pick up time in the morning. Days are getting longer equals more sunshine, means warmer temps are coming. Winter has officially started, temperatures are dropping, and the landscape seems very dreary. But even with all that, I know that day length has nowhere to go but up... Average Temperature Bottoms Out My next benchmark occurs in mid-January. From January 21st to January 18th, Springfield's average temperatures are 21 degrees low and 41 degrees high. Before you cold weather guys start scoffing at these mild temps, remember that these are averages, not actual (we do get cold), and I would gladly trade cold temps for tornadoes, ice-storms, and golf ball size hail (all of which are fairly common in the Ozarks). On January 19th our average low temp climbs to 22 degrees. Once again, we have reached the bottom and have nowhere to go but up. We now have the beneficial double whammy of longer and also warmer days. Historical Coldest Day The last benchmark that is almanac based is the coldest day on record for Springfield. This occurred February 12th, 1899. The low temperature that day was MINUS 29. That is cold in anyone's book, and that is not wind chill. I have to admit I find this temperature remarkable. In our line of work, all of us can expect some level of cold weather exposure. Some tolerate it better than others. The truth is it takes one week to get used to 20 degrees, but only one day to get used to 50 degrees. That being said, I remind my crew, and anyone else who says "it sure is cold today" that when the temp is 19 degrees, imagine how cold it would be if it was 50 degrees colder! From here on there are no days where the historic low is even anywhere near minus 29, so again, we are going in the right direction. Daylight Savings Time Begins The last benchmark I use for measuring winter is Daylight Savings Time (DST). In 2015 DST starts on March 8th. 'Spring forward, fall back' as the saying goes. On March 9th sunset occurs at after 7pm. Spring is here as far as I'm concerned. With almost twelve hours of daylight, photoperiod response is in full swing. At this stage, even cold weather is usually short lived, but we don't tolerate it well because we are already used to 50 degree days. A day that doesn't get above freezing is rough at this point. Even if we get snow (I remember an 11 inch snow here in April) it doesn't stay around long. We all tolerate things better, and snow melts faster, when the sun shines until 7:00. Getting Through It Winter is a challenge for us in the green industry. Winter cold is truly the opposite of summer warmth and it affects the psyche as well as the joints. Grass is brown, trees are bare, recreation changes and usually slows, as does the excitement of the hard work we perform in the other three seasons. Not that we don't work in the winter, but it is different. People always ask me "what do you do in the winter?" Hard to say sometimes, but we always stay busy. But I find comfort and hope in thinking about the beauty of spring and I use my benchmarks to remind me it is coming.

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

A Deeper Look at Diversity

All of us in the green industry are likely familiar with the concept of diversity. Diversity is the principle that tells us the more variation we have in our landscape, the better we are able to maintain the health and function of that landscape. Normally diversity applies to different plants from different genus and species thereby avoiding monoculture and taking advantage of the variation of plant attributes. It also applies to pesticides (e.g. fungicide FRAC codes) to avoid creating pest resistance. We use diverse machinery and irrigation delivery systems too. As I have considered diversity over the years, I have come to realize diversity is far more important than I first thought, and is vital in many other areas of landscape management.   Diversity of Nutrient Cycling Plants need a number of elemental nutrients to sustain healthy growth. These can come from the atmosphere, the soil, or supplemented with fertilizers and are taken up by the plant in various ways. One of the most critical nutrients is Nitrogen (N). In a healthy system, N is supplied by decomposition of organic matter, deposition of atmospheric N by precipitation, fixation of atmospheric N by some plants, and some N is processed by organisms in the soil. Some cultural practices such as irrigation and chemical fertilizer affect the chemistry of the soil and can disrupt these natural nutrient cycling and availability processes. By employing cultural methods that support these natural processes, or at the least, not using cultural means that can suppress these processes, the manager can take advantage of diverse nutrient cycling systems thereby ensuring even and healthy plant growth.     A comprehensive look at the nitrogen cycle. (University of Missouri graphic)   Diversity of Organisms in the Soil Healthy soil contains many, many organisms in it. Bacteria, fungi, viruses, insects, worms, etc. all live in the soil. The vast majority of these organisms are beneficial, with only a very few being potentially damaging to turf and plants. These organisms are workhorses in the soil. They decompose organic matter, process nutrients, improve soil texture, exist in symbiosis with plant roots, and feed on and suppress pathogens. Diversity in this realm helps the soil processes functioning in balance. No one organism dominates and therefore all are kept in check. Regardless of our best efforts, many cultural practices such as pesticides, compaction, and chemical fertilizers can stress these organisms resulting in imbalances. When an imbalance creates a vacuum, something potentially unwanted may be there to fill that void. Maintaining diversity protects against imbalance.   (USDA graphic)   Diversity in Life Cycles The environment and ecosystems that any landscape grows in has many components that all interrelate to each other in various ways. To remove any one, or several individual components, is to risk stressing the whole. This stressing can result in pest outbreaks, disease or invasive plant growth. Diversity plays a key role in filling niches that then cannot be exploited by undesirable plants or insects, or can help suppress pest populations. In a functional system, even dead plants and dead plant parts, insects, and animals play an important role in keeping the whole functioning.   In a functional system, even dead plants and dead plant parts, insects, and animals play an important role in keeping the whole functioning...   Yet in the modern landscape, as soon as something dies, we remove it. I can?t help but wonder that we are lopping of an entire segment of our systems that could provide benefit in possibly unseen ways. I am not suggesting that we leave fallen trees, or road kill sitting around. I am thinking that there may be opportunity for either replacing the function by other means (compost topdressing) or possibly inoculating some wilder areas with deadfalls, leaving tree posts, brush piling, and the like. The keystone species theory says that there is likely one or two species in a system that keeps everything in balance. Enhancing diversity in life processes helps improve the odds that our landscapes will perpetuate the keystones species.   Diversity in the Workforce I have a way of approaching my work that is largely predictable. This is not to say that I don?t get results. But my way is not always the most effective for engaging my crew. By hiring people with various strengths and thought processes, I supplement my weaknesses. The melting pot approach helps us to build camaraderie, commitment, and occasionally shared suffering. I have found that when I do things only my way, I do not maximize the results I can achieve.   The Holland Career Model illustrates workplace diversity   Diversity in a landscape in many forms is essential. Variation provides buffering against many possible negative consequences and situations. Through diversity we create attractive, healthy, and most importantly functional systems. This stability allows us to decrease maintenance and intervention, gives some predictability, and diminishes monotony. Promoting diversity is important.  

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

Grounds Forensic Pathology

From time to time in grounds maintenance things don't go according to plans. At these times it is common to hear the following sentiments: "What happened?" "What is it?" or one of my favorites, "I don't know what happened." When everyone is looking at you for an answer, the good supervisor becomes a forensic pathologist and detective, seeking evidence to solve a riddle. Through inquiry, experience, and logic, you can normally build a case and answer these questions to everyone's satisfaction.   Problems Problems in a landscape come in many guises and many situations. Disease and insects, breakage and damage, and even improper procedure can all cause a lot of trouble. Sometimes we will be called upon to determine what is happening, why it is happening, and how it happened.  Understanding the forensic process will go a long way to minimizing what could otherwise become bigger problems and headaches, taking valuable time and resources away from more productive activities.   Is There a Problem? Determining the presence of a problem is usually pretty easy. A plant is dying or doesn't look right. A piece of equipment is not mowing properly or sounds rough. Water is bubbling up from the ground in area that is normally dry. All of these are sure signs something is amiss. For disease and insects, IPM dictates that a threshold must be crossed in order to necessitate treatment. Thresholds affecting equipment and irrigation problems are usually more straight-forward. They either work properly or they don't. Regardless of how obvious a problem seems, there may be something deeper at play.   Regardless of how obvious a problem seems, there may be something deeper at play...   Dig Deeper Problems manifesting in the landscape may obscure what really caused the issue in the first place. One of the first turf diseases I ever faced was Brown Patch. This is a common problem that almost all turf managers have had to deal with. Unfortunately, the obvious yellowing, dying turf looked like any one of a number of common turf problems. Digging deeper for clues, I found the telltale mycelia and necrosis patterns on the grass blade. To be sure though, I contacted my Extension Agent and sent samples to Missouri University Crime (Turf) Lab. My diagnosis was confirmed and treatment was commenced. Digging deeper still, I determined some of my cultural practices could be modified to diminish recurrence.   Things may not be as they appear on the surface...   Uncover Evidence Irrigation is an issue that commonly requires looking for evidence to locate the problem. First inspection can be misleading because water can travel in unusual ways. And if there are no accurate as-builts, you can really be lost. I recently was starting a system I had taken over for the first time. I had a wet spot that seemed to be coming from a pipe break. As I dug out the area, I still couldn't locate the break or the pipe, but there was a lot of mud and water. I felt the eroded hole underground and probed for the break with my hand, feeling strong water flow on and off. To my surprise I found a buried rotor that was running properly, only 18" too deep. My assumption of a break was not correct. Uncovering evidence gets to the root of the problem.   Digging into the situation may yield surprising results.   Accident Reconstruction One of my all-time favorites was an accident reconstruction involving a worker. It started when I needed to use our push mower. Upon starting the mower, it shook so bad I couldn't use it. I called the worker who had used it last and asked him what was wrong with it and he said it was fine when he was using it. The blade was mounted correctly and was not bent, however pulling the recoil showed the shaft was bent. Again I asked the worker if anything had happened and he said he hadn't hit anything. I knew the area he had mowed so I went to inspect it. A scalped area near a small tree stump showed exactly where he had hit the stump and scalped when he restarted the stalled mower. Many other mower problems manifest in scalped, scalloped, or poorly mowed grass. By reconstructing what happened in the field, problems can be identified.   Put It All Together Grounds managers are experts at determining problems with properly gathered evidence and clues. Taking the extra step to verify your findings can be greatly beneficial. Your first guess may be right, but might also be made without an essential piece of the puzzle. Keep digging until you find the right answer. Solving grounds mysteries is very satisfying.  

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

Market your trees to market your course...

I recently read a summary of the Property Profile and Environmental Stewardship of Golf Courses, published by the Environmental Institute for Golf, an offshoot of GCSAA. This document puts golf courses in a deservedly positive environmental light, particularly with regard to non-turf areas -- which many golf courses have increased in size (44% of surveyed courses since 1996).   Forest and woodlands and something more In this profile summary, forest and woodlands represent 137,768 acres. While this number is impressive, what actual value do these areas bring to a golf course in the eyes of golfers or the general public? There must be a way to articulate the value that these non-turf areas, and trees in general, give to a course. By defining value for course stakeholders, the superintendent and staff define their contribution to the courses success, and their influence in the management of the course.   Creating value As an ISA Certified Arborist and self-avowed tree hugger, I believe trees and woodland have significant value. Previously as a golf course worker, I knew that trees and woodland affect play, add to the aesthetic of the course, and provide environmental/ecologic benefits. They can also influence the maintenance needs of the course. It is clear that in most cases trees add value to a course. How do you assess how much value?   Assessing Value When discussing value it is important to measure it in terms that are appreciated by your stakeholders. Treehuggers appreciate birds and leaves, nature lovers appreciate beauty, golfers appreciate a well-placed obstacle, but budget people appreciate dollars. This is where we have had a hard time assessing value. If you want to demonstrate the ability of trees and woodlands to further the financial objectives of your course, you have to talk in dollars. And, not in terms of installation or maintenance costs, but in what financial benefit they bring to your course monetarily.   Treehuggers appreciate birds and leaves, nature lovers appreciate beauty, golfers appreciate a well-placed obstacle, but budget people appreciate dollars.   i-Tree Here at Drury University we recently completed a sample inventory of 29 trees (Burnham Circle - a clearly defined circle drive on campus). We ID'd genus and species, took diameter breast height (dbh) measurements, assessed the leaf canopy and general health, and then downloaded this information into i-Tree Streets.   i-Tree is an analysis program created by the USDA Forest Service with significant input from field experts and Davey Tree. I was able to do all this data entry from my Android phone in the field, then upload that information to my desktop computer. The data is crunched by the software using factual, unbiased information from your geographic area and accepted industry information. I-Tree also offers several variations that are tailored to different tree analysis needs.  It is free to download.   Burnham Circle on the Drury University campus   Results and Benefit The results proved quite noteworthy. These 29 trees ranged from newly planted 1? to 41? dbh, and included 13 different genus/species. In aggregate these trees provide $1,815 in annual benefits broken down into the following categories by increasing dollar amount: CO2 sequestration-$29, air quality improvement- $66, energy savings- $200, stormwater mitigation- $628, property value increase- $891. The replacement value for these trees was determined to be $40,582 (undervalued, in my opinion, because a 38"dbh American Basswood is priceless!). I estimate that these trees represent roughly 1/30th of the trees on campus. Do the math and it adds up to a lot of money.   The replacement value for these trees was determined to be $40,582 (undervalued, in my opinion, because a 38"dbh American Basswood is priceless!).   With this quantitative information in hand, I hope to increase my bargaining power for establishing the Grounds budget on campus. At the very least I can objectively articulate the value that Grounds brings to the University. This information could also be conveyed to affiliated organizations or local government for crediting the ecological and property value benefit golf courses can bring to an area.   There is something for every stakeholder in analyzing the value of your trees.

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

OK, so what is Third Way Green?

Simply put, Third Way Green is my philosophy on landscape management (while GC Superintendents are very specialized for their task, they are certainly landscape managers). I call it 'Third Way' because there are currently two dominant landscape management approaches (an intended simplification), neither of which adequately fulfills the desired landscape potential. So there needs to be a 'Third Way' that fulfills all the benefits we are seeking from our landscapes. 'Green' comes from a focus on environmental compatibility which underpins all our landscape management.   Two Paradigms We are presented with a cornucopia of products ranging from pesticides, to fertilizers, to every possible power tool and a host of other products for your 'landscape'... be it a golf course, college campus or athletic field. As landscape professionals, we have a huge range of products at our disposal for intervening in the landscape. This product-based management is one paradigm. Anything 'wrong' with our grounds/course can be rectified with a product.     The other paradigm is that the landscape should be left alone and nature should dictate what happens in it. All of the natural processes that affect a landscape need to be respected. These influences (environment, native flora and fauna, geology, etc.) are the truest form of intervention and the product they create is the necessary culmination of the landscape. Nothing can be 'wrong' if it is natural.   The Problem Both of these approaches fail to take into account the diverse objectives of the modern landscape. Regardless of your position on man's influence (good or bad) on the environment, man is here to stay. To attempt to manage the commercial/recreational/educational landscape utilizing only natural processes is not useful or realistic. But to intervene in the landscape without seeking harmony with the environment is unnecessary and destructive. The Third Way seeks harmony and reconciliation between these two seemingly antagonistic needs. The Third Way seeks harmony and reconciliation between these two seemingly antagonistic needs... Application Here at Drury University we are taking a Third Way approach. First we determined what the University is expecting from the landscape. We listed four objectives: functionally supportive of Drury's Mission, aesthetically pleasing to a diverse population, environmentally compatible, and financially feasible. Nothing earth shattering or innovative there. The Third Way approach comes in during implementation of these objectives. In most landscape projects I have been a part of, a prioritization of needs is created. Some of the needs are underserved, or forgone completely. Our approach requires all facets to be maximized.   Sustainability The current way we manage our landscapes is unsustainable. I don't mean this in an environmental, tree hugging, save-the-earth way, but in a way that asks "if I were to stop intervening, would this landscape perpetuate?" I may be sounding 'out there', but what I am seeking right now is not the nuts and bolts process of landscaping, but the aspiration, the destination, of my landscaping approach. Sustainability for me does not necessarily mean 'eco-friendly', but can it be sustained, and what combination of approaches achieves that?   Conclusion Third Way Green is a management theory that seeks to maximize, and more importantly, optimize the reconciliation of man's wants (golf) with nature's needs. It looks at the landscape from the system level rather than the component level. It is about removing frictions and diminishing inputs while increasing output and benefit. It seeks to reinforce natural systems in that everything that happens benefits the landscape and all its components. The altered landscape required by man is maintained in the most self-perpetuating way possible.   Man alters his landscape. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Nature also alters its landscape. This is not necessarily a bad thing either.

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

Being the New Guy...

Being the "new guy" can be difficult. When entering a new position or situation it is only normal to feel some uncertainty and to try to come up with strategies that make transition easier. Having been a kid in a military family and having switched positions several times in my green career, I have learned several tips for making the best of a new situation. Now as a new TurfNet blogger, I am in the new guy ranks again.

Don't come on too strong.

The team that you are entering into has a history. Just because you weren't there doesn't mean they weren't working hard and trying to get the job done. While the experience and knowledge you may bring to the situation is something they may benefit from, take it slow and evaluate what is currently in place.

Seek a shared story or experience.

For the most part, people get along with people like themselves. While diverse backgrounds and talents can ultimately strengthen a team, shared experience can be a foot in the door. Look for ways that the current crew is working like you do, or look for accomplishments they have that you have experienced also. Talking about struggles or success you guys have had doing the same job can build understanding.

Speak the same language at their level.

Using the terminology and trade jargon of your crew can show you understand the job. But not everyone needs to understand genus and species when common names will do and vice versa. Try to talk with your audience/crew, not at them.

Be true to yourself.

This is a big one. Regardless if the new job is a promotion from within, or you came from another operation three states away, your core traits have gotten you there. The most accomplished and respected people are not pretending to be someone. The best people in a field at any level are reflecting and practicing what they truly believe. Being honest, and staying true to your values and convictions is important.

Be Patient

Rome wasn't built in a day, nor will your operation become what you want it to be overnight. Many people get a say in what will take shape. Navigating and managing problems, developing key relationships, and establishing a positive team culture takes time. Enjoy the slow progress and small steps of consistent improvement.

These strategies have helped me over the years in a variety of situations. I hope to remember these points as I establish the direction of my TurfNet blog. They have worked well at times and not so well at others. I have also not had to use all of them together. Each situation has its own peculiarities.   Quite honestly sometimes in the thick of things I'll forget some of the lessons I have learned. This is only normal. The key thing really is to keep trying to learn and do your best. Most people see that and appreciate it.

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

You Can't Play Baseball in a Tallgrass Prairie... and Killdeer Won't Nest on a Soccer Field

We are pleased to welcome Joe Fearn to TurfNet as a contributing blogger. Joe is the Grounds Supervisor at Drury University in Springfield, Missouri, and is an ISA Certified Arborist/Municipal Specialist and PGMS Certified Grounds Manager.   Several years ago I was talking to a local member of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). I was asking about a quandary I was faced with and I wanted another perspective. I had recently taken note of a patch of neglected and disturbed ground in a linear park I oversaw. This area was construction debris, no maintenance, and was only weed whacked to keep woody plants out. Yet it had a uniform stand of Japanese Bromegrass that looked amazing.     What I wanted to know was what I could grow in my park to look as beautiful and uniform, with as little intervention? This person?s answer was Tallgrass prairie. That made a lot of sense based on environmental factors and the prevalent soil structure, but you can?t play baseball in a Tallgrass prairie. You lose the bases and balls. So I became a little more accepting of the turf type tall fescue I had, and started looking for ways to make it as environmentally compatible as possible. Mow higher, organic fertilizer, IPM, etc.   Now that I am managing the grounds of an urban university, I am often taken back to my initial question of what to grow? My belief is that landscapes are created too often with far too little assessment of what the purpose of the area is. Because just like baseball needs the proper sports field environment, a Killdeer needs the proper environment too. Killdeer won?t nest on a putting green. People need the right environment for their needs also.   The vast majority of our campus is turf. In many areas we do not need turf. It has simply come into being because no one argues with it. Don?t get me wrong, I love turf.     As a grounds manger, landscape designer, sports fan and golf course worker, a nice stand of turf is absolutely necessary to achieving many of our required results. My point is while turf is better than concrete, in terms of ecological services, it is short of a natural ecosystem in its potential. Environmental service and value is becoming increasingly important every year.   Thankfully and appropriately, many of the golf courses I read about on TurfNet are expanding the mix of plant systems on their courses. But just like I believe irrigation professionals (Golf Course Superintendents, PGMS Certified Grounds Mangers, etc.) are not who should be targeted with water conservation plans (we are aggressively conserving already), as an industry we should be pushing ourselves further, and setting an example for homeowners also in terms of evaluating the appropriate use of turf.      This area at a resident hall was underperforming turf. We struggled for several years to overcome compaction and foot traffic but it was always ugly turf. Rather than continue, we changed direction. Now we have an area that is aesthetically improving while also improving ecological services (water infiltration, pollinators, bird and insect food source/habitat). Several stone paths accommodate foot traffic without disruption. It is a case where turf was never the answer.   The use of turf is the default paradigm, the reasonable use of non-turf natural systems in the landscape needs more proponents. Landscapes should be more natural as a default, then turf introduced where it makes sense, rather than turf as default, and natural systems introduced where there is left over space. The many strongly pro-environment/pro ecology golf course and turf mangers give me hope this is happening. 

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

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