Successful IPM and NLC programs follow a systems-based approach that incorporate a set of steps into a decision-making framework. The MGG Lawn & Land Forum identified seven essential components to this framework. They are:
Midwest Grows Green’s Natural Lawn Care (NLC) Technical Assistance Program can help any park district, school or municipality implement the seven essential components for a comprehensive NLC transition on sports and recreational fields.
“The Technical Assistance Program addresses the unique needs and concerns of each project,” said Vytas Pabedinskas, the program’s contracted soil scientist and founder of Save our Soil, LLC.
The Technical Assistance Program delivers its services to clients in three phases: (1) the NLC Audit of all lawn maintenance practices performed by the client, (2) the Three-Year NLC Management Plan that refrains from the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers on one to two chosen turfgrass fields and (3) the implementation of recommendations from both the Phase I NLC Audit and Phase II Three-Year NLC Management Plan.
“The three Technical Assistance Program Phases work together to ensure the success of the NLC transition,” MGG’s Ryan Anderson asserted.
The second essential component of “Increasing Cultural Practices” forms the backbone for the majority of the recommendations from both Phase I and Phase II. Pabedinskas visited two Technical Assistance Program pilot parks of the City of Elgin, IL’s Lords Park and the River Forest Park District, IL’s Keystone East Park. The condition and history of the soils at both parks most influenced Pabedinskas’ recommendations in the Three-Year NLC Management Plan.
“The origin of [Lords Park’s] soil can be traced back to the glacial activity that occurred in Northern Illinois,” Pabedinskas explained. “The park has a challenging topography. Not a lot of flat areas, but a lot of rolling hills and basin areas. This indicates different soils throughout the park.”
Pabedinskas did not find different soils at Keystone East Park. Rather, Pabedinskas defined the Keystone soils as urban with a high clay content greater than 35 percent, “You see compaction and stressed turf. With all the regrading and resurfacing that has happened over the years you get thin soils.”
Pabedinskas found thin soils on both parks. Soil profiles that change to heavy clay at low depths (i.e. =< 5 inches) qualify as “thin soil” according to Pabedinskas. Thin soils significantly limit root growth. Pabedinskas recommended that both Elgin and River Forest Park District source compost to build a “thicker” and less compacted soil profile that improves turfgrass rooting.
MGG’s NLC Technical Assistance Program offers policy templates, product sourcing assistance and community engagement support to ensure the successful implementation of Pabedinskas’ recommendations over the next three years.
“MGG has a lot of experience with community engagement support in the form of presentations, signage, press releases and social media posts,” Anderson said. “All this work helps manage the expectations of the River Forest and Elgin community members during the NLC transition.”
To learn more about the NLC Technical Assistance Program, please visit bit.ly/MGGassistance.
Ben Grimm oversees grounds management and outdoor integrated pest management (IPM) for the Iowa City School District that serves 14,000 students across 5 different cities.
Grimm thoroughly maps and collects data of the district’s 60 playgrounds and 511 acres to develop a management plan that avoids pesticide applications on more than 70% of the district’s turf. Tools Grimm uses include aerial imaging to record square footage of sidewalks and grass areas and i-Tree Canopy software to monitor tree canopy and prairie growth.
These tools help Grimm categorize and prioritize the district’s fields into A, B, C and D areas. For the highest priority A and B areas, Grimm employs heavy seeding rates and aeration, a balanced fertilizer program, regular mowing, irrigation if possible and top-dressing with organic matter (engineered wood fiber).
The school district uses smart designs to improve efficiency, reduce labor and reduce pesticide use. This includes placing signs on fences and walls and positioning obstacles such as trees and flower beds to match mowing widths. Grimm places site amenities such as benches or bike racks close together and on top of hard surfaces to reduce the time needed to mow around them or apply herbicide.
Technicians must positively ID the pest or weed and follow an extensive protocol to approve a pesticide application on Iowa City School Grounds.