Learning: Questioning and Challenging in Groundsmanship

There is a wealth of learning material available – online or offline – both open access, freely available and in closed platforms, especially those platforms managed by many colleges and Universities: The knowledge base is extremely broad.

Knowledge, understanding and then the effective application of that which has been learnt is fundamental to workers who wish to be considered competent, good and capable at their job.

However, interpreting and applying knowledge to workplace situations can be daunting, especially where many variables can interact in producing an outcome, and which can result from often many different routes. What I’m thinking of here is the managed natural environment, especially turfgrass situations. Groundsmanship may initially seem a fairly straightforward occupation, particularly as about 50%, or thereabouts in very general terms, of productive work is undertaken in mowing the grass.

There are many variables which can influence the production of an appropriate grass surface and to be able to gain a good insight into making the best use of available resources a considerable knowledge bank of many subject areas is needed. For example, groundsmanship needs to encompass scientific disciplines including:

  • Botany – plant identification, classification, …
  • Biology – studying the range of living organisms, pests, diseases, …
  • Chemistry – macro- and micro- nutrients, soil pH, …
  • Soil physics – soil drainage, particle sizes, …
  • Ecology – the relationship between organisms
  • Thermodynamics – impacts of temperature on plant growth; energy requirements of soil moisture conditions; …
  • Electromagnetism – impacts of light and shade on grass development, …

If you throw other elements into the required application of knowledge and understanding mix: communication skills (essential for dealing with users, members of the public, work colleagues …), planning, usage of grass surfaces, budget management, sustainability, weather conditions, regulatory constraints, … and it becomes clear that effective application of the available knowledge base can be extremely challenging.

It is easy to understand why manufacturers and suppliers of turf care products create glossy literature which offer an apparent easy solution to many of the challenging situations encountered in the management of turfgrass surfaces. There are not really any poor products – equipment or material – the challenge is ensuring that what is purchased is fit for purpose for the user, not what is in the best interests of the supplier, no matter how plausible they may make their sales pitch!

Good groundsmanship will involve questioning and challenging working practices and all potential purchases to ensure these are fit for purpose; if they are then that’s fine, but the decision needs to be informed in an impartial way. Why put on a range of products when essentially all that is need is an effective aeration programme!

Don’t just purchase some material because it worked well at site ‘A’ down the road, or it has had a positive statement of how well it worked by a well known industry member. It is unlikely you will get the same response or effect at your site due to the wide range of variables encountered within the managed environment.

Groundsmanship is a lifelong learning occupation; question and challenge literally everything you do and certainly question and challenge the often spurious claims made by many suppliers. You will even see claims made that contradict good agronomic practice, just because it doesn’t fit the needs of the product trying to be sold.

Make best use of your often limited resources – question and challenging is a cost-free and logical concept of good groundsmanship.

Chris Gray, 22nd August 2017