According to the American Society of Landscape Architects, sustainable landscapes are responsive to the environment, are re-generative and can actively contribute to the development of healthy communities. In practice, this means developing a program that incorporates the use of cultural practices that maintain and protect the environment while meeting the needs of users and adding to the value of the community.
Sustainable landscapes require the least amount of inputs (water, fertilizer, pesticides) necessary to support the managed area. Over-fertilizing is costly and contributes to excess nutrient runoff that affects water systems; changes in weather have illuminated the need for more drought-resistant turfgrass cultivars and landscape plants; and pesticides need to be used thoughtfully to protect the environment.
Victoria Wallace, extension educator in sustainable turf and landscapes, works with the College’s faculty in turf and plant science, particularly members of the integrated pest management (IPM) team, to provide educational programs in sustainable landscape management for grounds managers for municipalities and schools and professionals in the landscape industry.
Wallace is involved with several projects that promote sustain able landscape education. She teams with Donna Ellis, senior extension educator and IPM program coordinator, to sponsor IPM workshops for school grounds managers, as Connecticut schools are mandated to maintain an IPM plan. The workshops have been popular with municipal grounds managers and school facility personnel who maintain athletic fields and the surrounding landscape properties. Municipal groundskeepers oversee the care of town and school athletic fields, recreational areas and landscape properties. School systems need to maintain safe athletic fields while adhering to state pesticide regulations.
“IPM integrates the application of multiple tactics in a variety of settings, through education and the selection of appropriate tools to provide sustainable, science-based approaches for the management of plant pests—insects, mites, diseases, wildlife and weeds, including invasive plants,” says Ellis.
Ellis continues, “The IPM Program incorporates all possible pest management strategies through knowledgeable decision making, using the most efficient landscape and on-farm resources and integrating cultural and biological controls. Program objectives include maintaining the economic viability of agricultural and green industry businesses, enhancing and conserving environmental quality and natural resources, educating participants on the effective use of biological control agents and educating pesticide users about the safe use and handling of pesticide products.”
In a project funded through the State of Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), Wallace has been working with Jason Henderson, associate professor and John Inguagiato, assistant professor, both in the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture, to evaluate exempt EPA minimum risk products as alternatives to synthetic herbicides. Connecticut schools cannot use products that list an EPA registration number, so there is need for viable alternative products.
“School grounds managers are challenged to maintain safe playing surfaces for the school properties under the current pesticide ban regulations,” Wallace says. “Products that are registered with the EPA have been tested to support product efficacy. Products not registered with the EPA have limited information or have not undergone scientific evaluation to substantiate the manufacturer claim,” Wallace says.
This project evaluated the efficacy of alternative products available to school groundskeepers to address weed management on athletic fields and surrounding school properties. In general, grassy and broadleaf weeds are problematic as they are disruptive to the athletic field playing surface, and may cause safety issues. A dense turf field provides cushion for athletics and play. “The primary risk associated with high weed populations on athletic fields is loss of vegetative cover with intense use,” says Henderson. “Certain weeds can dominate our cool-season grasses very quickly. The problem is that weeds cannot withstand the intense traffic and large portions of the field can be reduced to bare soil, thereby increasing surface hardness values. Athletic fields in this condition generate the most concern for increased injury potential.”
“There are also various cultural strategies that these school grounds managers can employ to maintain safe playing surfaces. Proper fertilization and cultivation are important to support turfgrass growth on intensively managed athletic fields,” Wallace points out. “Overseeding is another such strategy, so part of my work is to help them understand the value of overseeding and how they can incorporate these best management practices into their programs to maintain the playing fields.”
Wallace and Henderson currently are collaborating on a project focusing on overseeding practices for schools. They are working at three locations with different turf species, studying drought resistance as well as player safety. The project is funded through the New England Regional Turfgrass Foundation and the New England Regional Sports Turf Managers Association.
Wallace recently completed a collaborative project with Cornell University faculty and Maine Department of Agriculture staff to examine the effects of aggressive and repetitive overseeding on athletic fields. She continues to evaluate turfgrasses developed for low-maintenance use as a component of her program.
Wallace and other members of the turfgrass team organize the biennial Turf Field Day for commercial turf professionals, held at the UConn turf research facility. Attendees from across New England and New York tour stations that highlight turf research conducted at the College and learn ways to apply some of the latest management techniques in their own turf maintenance programs.
Jessica Lubell, associate professor in the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture, collaborates with the various teams. Her research focuses on identifying and developing native species for use in landscapes.