Ensuring green spaces remain places of growth

The British Association of Landscape Industries looks at what public sector organisations should be doing to ensure that their green spaces and gardens are in the best condition for the upcoming months

Given the mild winter experienced throughout the British Isles during 2019/2020, and the fact that grass continues to grow – regardless of season – if temperatures are above 14 degrees Celsius, a schedule of mowing is likely to start from early this year, providing areas are suitably dry. The first few cuts of the year for turfed areas should be higher than usual. Water-logged areas should not be mowed until they can sustain the weight of pedestrians and machinery.

Remedial works to improve drainage may be performed on areas that suffer from persistent water-logging throughout the year. The main cause of water-logging is usually compaction, but French drains or perforated plastic pipe may also be considered to ensure large areas of turf are useable throughout the year. Many variations of drainage can be installed with minimal disturbance to an established surface.

Regular aeration is considered essential on golf courses and competitive sports pitches, but may also be applied to general sports fields to great effect. Lack of aeration caused by compaction from human and machine traffic (particularly during wet weather) can result in restricted movement of air, water and nutrients – essential for the healthy growth of grass - through the soil profile. The solution is to use tractor-mounted equipment which uses an implement to penetrate the surface of the turfed area and create additional space within the soil to benefit the rooting system of grass. Of relevance to managers of amenity areas, this process will result in turf more resistant to water-logging, healthier growth and better rooting, meaning grass is more resilient to drought. 

Areas of turf that have become worn or damaged may be replaced during the early season to encourage new growth more resilient to traffic later in the year. Seed or turf may be used, depending on the desired speed of recovery, budget and maintenance available. 

Planted beds
Tender shrubs, ornamental grasses, specimens grown for winter stems and spring and summer-flowering shrubs should be pruned in the spring to encourage new growth and flowering, together with the correct form. The removal of dead, diseased or dying growth may also be undertaken during this period. Pruning activities carried out after March must only be carried out after checks for nesting birds. Mulch may be applied to beds to supress weed growth, or cultivated by hand where time allows.   

Deciduous tree maintenance is generally undertaken during autumn and winter, or in isolated cases during summer to avoid species-specific pathogens present during spring. However, dead, diseased and dying limbs may be removed from specimens during spring as a safety measure, and coppicing maybe undertaken during early spring to promote new, young, growth. As with smaller shrubs, due diligence should be shown in relation to nesting birds; beyond March only trees requiring essential works should be pruned, following a thorough inspection for nesting birds.

Guards, tree supports and irrigation systems on younger specimens may also be inspected and corrected.

Play areas (Inc. sports surfacing)
Playground equipment and surfacing should be checked on a regular basis, but with these areas perhaps being a little less used at this time of year, it’s an ideal time to carry out a thorough check through visual checks for signs of damage and wear and tear, along with a tactile test. Timber play equipment should be checked for cracks and anything exceeding 8mm should be reported. Moving parts should be checked and lubricated as necessary. Make sure the safety surface areas are clear of debris and trip hazards and check for sign of wear and tear and replace as needed. A professional inspection should take place at least once a year. If serious defects are detected, then equipment should be immobilised and repaired as soon as possible. All play equipment and surfaces should comply with European Standards of Play Equipment (EN1176) and or Surfacing (EN1177).

It’s also a great time to check Sport’s surfacing. Continue to keep surfaces free of debris, and in frosty conditions and when snow has settled, keep off artificial grass as walking on the surface can damage the artificial fibres. It is also best to try not to remove snow once its settled but allow it to thaw as removal can again damage the fibres. Avoid applying rock salt or grit as this, once dissolved can cause contamination and damage to the surface. Specialist PDV salts and antifreezes can be applied by contractors to help prevent ice and snow settling, but is not appropriate for all surfaces, so specialist advice should be sort for your type of surface. One of the biggest problem’s artificial surfaces face at this time of the year is the potential to flood, with a build-up of contaminates water will be slow to drain, therefore regular brushing and replacement infill materials is essential to keep the areas draining adequately. If flooding and standing water persists, then contractors may need to be contacted to carry out a deep cleaning process and restore the correct drainage properties. If ignored this will only continue to worsen as times goes on.

BALI Members
BALI Registered Contractor members such as Mitie, Glendale, Ground Control, Idverde, Nurture, John O’Conner and Continental Landscapes are members of BALI’s National Contractor Forum (BALI-NCF). BALI-NCF members are responsible for managing the maintenance of a wide range of green spaces and gardens; from those in small town centres to iconic public spaces visited by millions of visitors each year. Maintenance contracts fulfilled by BALI-NCF members are likely to include every aspect of green space maintenance, including formal gardens, recreation areas, as well as those within housing associations.

In 2017 BALI member Idverde was awarded a BALI Principal Award in recognition of its excellent maintenance of Bexhill Park, East Sussex. The 2.6 acre site, which includes a walled garden, rose garden, rhododendron collection and pond features colourful borders with seasonal planting. The site is not without challenges, however, and during winter areas of the site are prone to flooding.  This is managed carefully to ensure the safety of visitors and disturbance of the site. As an ISO 14001 accredited contractor, Idverde reduces waste generated as far as possible by composting green waste. Reduced peat and peat-free mediums are also used, and use of chemicals in the garden avoided as far as possible.   

BALI member John O’Conner is responsible for the management of Alexandra Palace and curtilage, covering over seven acres of open parkland that hosts over two million visitors each year. This major tourist attraction plays host to high-profile events including concerts, weddings and major exhibitions. John O’Conner provide services at this site ranging from grass cutting and weed control through to woodland management, litter collection, graffiti removal and winter maintenance throughout the year.  With high volumes of visitors and varied events, John O’Conner manage patrols of the park and work closely with external management teams to ensure additional litter collection needs are catered for.

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