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PGR Cuts Mowing Needs of Parks and Playgrounds

Author Hal Dickey - August, 2007

“Mowing the grass requires more worker-hours and scheduling supervision than anything in our department, but we now believe we’ve found a way to reduce that significantly,” says Ed Jones, grounds manager for the Parks & Recreation Dept. of the City of Chesapeake, VA.   As an experiment in 2006, a grass growth regulator was sprayed on the turf at three neighborhood park sites, all of them under ten acres in size.

Jones said, “Unlike some of the highway right of way crews, we weren’t trying to give the grass a 3 month summer vacation--so we used Embark 2-S PGR at the recommended fine turf rate to see if it could slow the grass growth enough to make our mowing more manageable.”   It did that and more, according to David Echternach who schedules and supervises the Parks & Rec mowing crews.  “Mowing the sprayed sites went a whole lot easier and faster than normal, and we were especially impressed because of the extra rainfall and rain delays we experienced at other sites in June and July.”  The grass growth at some parks was so excessive, he said, that the overgrown turf had to be cut first with a brush cutter the day before the mowers went in.


Echternach planned to mow per the regular schedule but, as it turned out, the PGR sites required only three mowings versus four for untreated grass during a two month comparison.   Overall, the growth of the PGR-treated grass was slowed for about nine weeks, with the exception of a couple of uncontrolled areas maybe 40 by 75 ft. in size at one site.  Referred as “swamp grass” by Ed and David, this wet-area species possibly hadn’t yet emerged at the time the PGR was sprayed during the third week of May.

Ideally, Chesapeake’s parks get mowed on a 14 to 17 day cycle.  The frequency is subject to dramatic change, however--by wet weather, holidays, sick time, and equipment downtime.  “With the cushioning the growth regulation appears to offer, I think there may be a possibility of it giving us an extra three days at either end of the cycle,” explained Mr. Echternach.   As an example, he said if the forecast for the next week or so shows a strong possibility of 3 or 4 wet days, he would go ahead and try to mow early--on the 11th, 12th or 13th day of the cycle, if possible.  He speculates that while the grass is under the effect of the PGR, chances are the slower growth can extend the cycle several days, forgiving the mowing downtime and enabling him and his crews to get back on schedule.

Grounds Manager Ed Jones said they were pleased with appearance of treated grass-- mixed turf, mainly centipede grass.  The turf color was good and, except in the two patches of “swamp grass” mentioned earlier, there were no windrows or strewn clippings visible.   He said Chesapeake will likely be making major use of the PGR at a number of park sites mowed by his own crews. 

Jones suggests anyone considering the use of a grass growth regulator ought to be mindful of the importance of weed control.  “When the grass growth is suppressed, weeds can benefit from the lack of competition,” he said, adding that there are often several weeks during hot, droughty summer months when about the only thing the mowers is cutting are the weeds.  He decided to play it safe and sprayed a post emergence application Trimec broadleaf herbicide the first of May.  “We used it again tankmixed with the Embark when it was sprayed during the third week of May,” he pointed out, adding “Our broadleaf weed control was virtually 100%!” 

Mr. Jones has been employed 23 years by the city of 220,000 which is located adjacent to Norfolk and Virginia Beach.  Chesapeake has 67 park and playground sites comprising a total of 1,263 acres, excluding parking.
Hal G. Dickey is a free-lance writer/photographer who moved to Largo, Fla., in 2002 upon retiring from a long career in advertising and marketing of turf and ornamental products. Every summer, he returns to Kansas City and travels much of the country with camera and note-pad in hand.



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