Knowing Your Landscape Best Management Practices

When sweeping for a property management company or commercial property owner, contractors can best position themselves as indispensable by not only pointing out problems with the property, but also by offering solutions.

Knowing best management landscaping practices can help you offer those solutions:

Broward County in Florida offers guidelines to keep landscapes visually appealing while conserving water, reducing pollution and protecting the environment. With the drought continuing to drip most of the country, this is helpful to many areas.

CONSERVE WATER AND SAVE MONEY

According to Broward County, “it is estimated that we each use from 25 to 50 percent of our water for irrigation. Over-watering favors the growth of water-loving weeds and pests and also creates runoff, which may carry fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides into nearby waterways.”

They recommend a tune-up of irrigation systems. If you see a nozzle that is pointing into the parking lot, or has been damaged by a mower and isn’t spraying, then you can report it to the property owner or manager.
Other tips:
• When not under water restrictions, limit irrigation to just twice per week in the summer and once per week in the winter—this will stimulate the development of a deep root system and increase drought resistance.
• Water your lawn early in the morning and deeply (3/4 – 1 inch of water per week).
• Add a rain shut-off device to your sprinkler system, or use a rain gauge and turn off your system when the lawn has received 3/4 to 1 inch of rain.
• Plant native and drought-tolerant plants which will conserve water.
• Ensure plants are properly placed to meet sunlight, drainage, irrigation and space requirements.
• Hire licensed professionals.
• Recycle yard waste into mulch and compost.
• Over-watering creates opportunities for fungus and disease.
• Mow at the recommended height for your grass species.
• Maintain St. Augustine and Bahia at 3-4 inches, Bermuda at 0.5-1.5 inches, and Centipede at 1.5-2 inches. This produces a lawn with better tolerance to environmental stress.
• Mow frequently, as a general rule, once per week.
• Try not to remove any more than one-third of the grass blade per mowing.
• Practice “grasscycling,” or mulching by leaving clippings on the ground.
• Make sure grass clippings do not blow into water bodies or onto impervious surfaces such as sidewalks.

The University of Maryland says, “Cool season grasses (fescues, bluegrasses, ryegrasses) naturally go into a semi-dormant state during summer’s heat and drought. Many Bay-Wise Marylanders take steps to conserve water and mimic Mother Nature by not watering during summer. Others try to keep their lawns growing during this time by watering. If you choose to irrigate, do so only when your lawn and landscape need water. Efficient watering is an important key to reducing runoff and maintaining a healthy Maryland landscape.”

FERTILIZER

Maintaining a healthy vegetative cover will reduce the amount of phosphorus, nitrogen, and other nutrients and pollutants from entering the storm water system. Many people use fertilizer to maintain a green lawn and healthy plants. Most fertilizers contain phosphorus which pollute our water when it runs off.

“Experts agree that in South Florida, the soils are sufficiently rich in phosphorus, so that additional phosphorus is not required to support plant growth. However, most fertilizers on the market contain a combination of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Homeowners can assist in Everglades restoration by selecting slow release fertilizers low in phosphorus and by limiting fertilizer application, as well as following careful methods of application when needed. This will reduce the amount of phosphorus that can potentially impact our waterways and the Everglades.”

The University of Maryland agrees, “When applied at the wrong time or over applied, fertilizers can create salt problems in the soil. They can also affect winter hardiness, exaggerate pest problems and make plants grow excessively (which can mean more mowing too!). Excess nitrogen and phosphorus (two components of fertilizers) can leach out of the soil and pollute groundwater. These two nutrients can also wash off landscapes and pollute surface waters and eventually, the Chesapeake Bay.”

FERTILIZING TIPS:

• Use a slow-release fertilizer with low or no phosphorus (with a middle number 2 or less, such as 13-0-13).
• Apply fertilizer using smaller applications rather than a large, single application. Follow the label. The label’s the law.
• Postpone fertilizing when more than 1 inch of rain is expected.
• Use a tarp under the spreader when filling or emptying to prevent spills. Make sure fertilizer does not fall onto sidewalks or impervious surfaces during application. If this happens, sweep granular fertilizer onto the lawn, NEVER hose it off.
• Do not apply fertilizer on lawn areas within 10 feet of water’s edge.

MULCHING

The University of Maryland recommends mulching to help the soil retain moisture and moderate soil temperature while preventing erosion and weeds. “By mulching you’ll use less water, have healthier plants and fewer weeds. Mulch should be three inches or less in depth. Deeper mulch can rob plant roots of water and encourage shallow rooting, which is harmful to plants during drought. Never use freshly ground organic material, like brush or hardwood bark, as mulch. It robs nitrogen from the soil and can cause plant yellowing. Allow these materials to age for at least six months before using.”

Remember that each area of the country is different. Learning more about your native plants will help you make sound recommendations to property managers. Check with your local university or landscape association, many of them offer landscaping best management practices.

story by Jennifer Taylor

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