High-visibility areas such as this public square require different levels of maintenance service than would others.
PGMS High-visibility areas such as this public square require different levels of maintenance service than would others.

Imagine one of your town's residents sitting on a bench in a local park in beautiful weather. Bikers glide by, and the cheery banter of pedestrians can be heard. The resident notices the vibrant turf, clean patios, and a kaleidoscope of colors provided by masses of flowers. A sycamore tree offers shade and the fragrance of jasmine and the sight of colorful shrubs delight the senses. The area is free of litter, sidewalks are neatly edged, and gurgling water cascades off a nearby sculpture. The setting is ideal; it makes people feel great.

Regular care and maintenance of any landscape can have a profound, positive impact on its appearance. Amount of rainfall, exposure to the sun, soil conditions, topography, foot traffic, intended and unintended uses, expectations, and resources all help determine maintenance priorities and schedules. What separates effective grounds managers from the rest of the pack is how well they use the resources available to them.

Organizations like the Professional Grounds Management Society (PGMS) provide several resources for the grounds superintendent to determine the best maintenance approaches for different sites, ranging from education to publications to certification programs.

As described in the PGMS publication, Operational Guidelines for Grounds Management, there are three general approaches to managing a site's grounds. The first is a zone approach—assigning a specific supervisor and crew to a particular area. This approach creates a sense of ownership, allows for continuity, increases job satisfaction, facilitates job supervision, and allows a workforce to demonstrate a sustained commitment toward making the grounds a better place.

Another option is to take a broadcast approach, the advantage of which is having crews of specifically trained people cover the whole site doing a certain type of work. In such an approach there would be an herbicide crew, mowing team, and tree crew, rather than having separate crews maintaining each area. This avoids duplication, nurtures cooperation, and allows personnel to respond to problems in a timely manner.

A third approach is to combine aspects of the zone and broadcast approaches. This involves having general crews with overall responsibility for specific areas whose efforts are augmented by roving crews of specialists. This allows a unified workforce to handle peak demands, such as mowing during the rainy season or snow removal during winter months.

Once a public works department makes a commitment to a specific approach, it should determine the level of maintenance that will be the standard goal for each zone of a site. According to the Operational Guidelines for Grounds Management, there are six levels of attention based upon the time dedicated to a maintenance task.

The first level of attention is one of very high expectations that should be reserved for a special, high-visibility area requiring maintenance levels beyond the norm. Level 2 is the standard level of attention one would expect to see on a regular, recurring basis. Levels 3 and 4 are lower than the norm and result from having insufficient staff to maintain a standard landscape (Level 2). Finally, Level 5 is one step before the landscape is allowed to return to its original state (Level 6).

This publication provides a full matrix of standards of turf care, fertilization, irrigation, litter control, pruning, disease and insect control, snow removal, surface care, repairs, inspections, and floral planting for each level of service mentioned above. Used in conjunction with PGMS's Grounds Maintenance Estimating Guidelines, these matrices allow grounds professionals to calculate what level of service is feasible based upon the number of staff members under their direction.

— Eric Grammer is the communications manager for PGMS (www.pgms.org), headquartered in Baltimore.