By Stacie Martin
Gathering Place is known for its sustainable and diverse landscape features including prairies, flowers, trees, and a variety of plants. Additionally, the multitude of pathways, attractions, and activities lead to a particular, unique plant underfoot- turfgrass! Turfgrass is invaluable in a Park setting, giving visitors the opportunity to run up hills, enjoy events, and have delightful picnics.
Turfgrass can require more maintenance than trees, shrubs, and perennials, but sustainably managed turfgrass provides a wide range of benefits to the environment. Benefits include:
Turfgrass reduces runoff by slowing the speed of flowing water
prevents erosion by catching and filtering sediment in water
cleans carbon dioxide from the air
replenishes atmospheric oxygen
cools surface temperature
and supports microbial populations in the soil
Just to name a few!
Gathering Place has 8 acres of ‘Latitude 36’ Bermuda Grass. ‘Latitude 36’ was developed at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater to be cold hardy to the global latitude of 36 degrees. One reason this turfgrass was chosen is because of its quick green-up in the spring and its ability to self-heal, or quickly grow in bare spaces. Bermuda Grass grows best when planted in full sun. Some tips we incorporate into our turfgrass practices include proper mow height, managing nutrients, aeration, organic practices, and safety.
‘Latitude 36’ has a recommended mowing height of 3/8 inch to 1.25 inches. This low mowing height causes more aggressive tillers, or side shoots, which root into soil and fill in bare spots. The turf crew mows based on how quickly the turfgrass is growing. To prevent stress on turfgrass, it is recommended to remove no more than 1/3 of the leaf blade. When turfgrass is growing rapidly, we often mow twice a week.
To help manage nutrients, we sent a soil sample to OSU’s lab. This was Gathering Place’s first soil test, prior to any fertilizer applications, and it was a surprise! It showed that our phosphorous and potassium were too high. This can be a problem, as phosphorus can bind to the soil and can contribute to an inability to absorb micronutrients. Now, we only apply nitrogen as needed. We mulch our turf clippings into the lawn to add organic nitrogen and monitor growth carefully.
Our lawns are popular spots for reading, picnics, and soaking up some sun! However, foot traffic on the grass contributes to compaction. Compaction occurs when the air space is squeezed out of the soil. When soil is compacted, the loss of air space means a reduction in water percolation and a reduction in space for roots to grow. To help combat compaction, we aerate and topdress. When we aerate, we pull plugs of soil out of the turfgrass. When we topdress, we add sand back into the empty spaces to help improve the structure of the soil. This process de-compacts the soil.
Continued maintenance, beyond mowing, is important to keep turfgrass healthy. Repairing divots helps keep the ground smooth in order to mow at an even height. Re-sodding larger damaged areas helps prevent weed growth. This year, we plan on adding some additional drainage to areas as well.
Keeping a healthy stand of turfgrass is the best defense against weeds, insects, and diseases. We practice “Integrated Pest Management” at Gathering Place, which is an environmentally sensitive approach to control pests. Compaction, over-application of fertilizers, and stressed turfgrass are all factors that lead to an increased risk of weeds, insects, and diseases. Scouting, or searching for issues, is one way we catch issues early. Early detection of issues allows us to use beneficial insects, such as nematodes, and other organic approaches.
Safety is also a consideration for turfgrass. We use a remote-controlled mower on our steepest hills to help us stay safe. We also use an extension for our string trimmers to help prevent back injuries. These items are in addition to pants, safety glasses, gloves, and ear protection.