A seasonal approach can make grounds maintenance simpler for FMs, says Gareth Ihmig.
03 June 2019 | Gareth Ihmig
Grounds maintenance can be costly. Consider an unexpected bill for tree surgery after neglecting care of wooded areas or discovering that cutting back winter grounds maintenance visits hasn't produced the expected savings because of the added costs of reinstating lawns.
The pitfalls can be hard to avoid without dedicated subject matter expertise.
However, here are some seasonal tips for FMs trying to get the most from their outdoor spaces. Remember that in any given season, the work you've done in the preceding period is often the key to success.
Late spring is ideal for planting bedding plants and hanging baskets, but FMs and site managers should also develop effective KPIs to measure quality and, where needed, update the organisation's maintenance spécifications - for example, sward length of grass.
Meet with grounds maintenance teams to outline a programme of works and schedule for the season ahead but keep this going regularly to review, discuss and rectify any problems.
Also important at this time of year is updating compliance folders, including staff training records and assessments for risk and COSHH compliance.
"A wildflower meadow is visually interesting and supports pollinators"
Summer is the most intensive period of activity with grass cutting and pruning. But it's also a good time to evaluate potential site improvements as you can best assess a site and understand what changes could add the most value to end users or the client.
Seek opportunities for multifunctional improvements, such as aesthetic changes that also encourage wildlife. A wildflower meadow, for example, is visually interesting and supports pollinators. A feature of this sort improves the site's environmental impact and saves money too, with reduced area of lawn for mowing.
Regularly check KPIs and review strategies to stay in budget such as agreeing to maintain sward length of lawns at 60 millimetres rather than 50mm to reduce visit frequency. Manage risk by checking for invasive species such as Japanese knotweed or giant hogweed.
Schedule site improvement works such as planting and arboriculture activity as well as any tree surgery to keep wooded areas healthy and safe.
This is also a good time for a comprehensive review of landscape assets and management and maintenance plans. A subject matter expert can add value at this time by advising on improvements and developing a set of output specifications aligned to key objectives, such as environmental or well-being objectives, rather than just frequency of visits.
Consultation with an expert can also identify opportunities to change the landscape to replace trees or shrubs with species that require lower maintenance.
Autumn is ideal for reviewing and releasing PQQ and tender documentation for tendering during the quieter winter period.
Many try to cut costs by reducing maintenance during the winter but it is during the coldest months that lawns can be treated to grow healthily and moss-free during the summer.
During winter, grounds maintenance teams should focus on conditioning the grounds to get a head start for spring.
Collect leaves and debris because decaying leaves on lawns or hard-standings can form a substrate that allows weeds to germinate. Additional weed control and chemical treatments during the summer growing season are unwanted and costly.
Health and safety is also a concern as reduced grounds maintenance can lead to more tripping hazards or dead wood on trees.
Take a joined-up approach to outdoor FM with regard to winter gritting. Grounds maintenance teams should use the weeks when snow and ice clearance is a priority to monitor grounds maintenance requirements that arise. They should also undertake gritting operations in a way that won't harm landscapes, so salt must not damage green areas that will later need restoration.
Gareth Ihmig is director at GRITIT