For busy facilities managers, grounds maintenance is just one of many competing priorities and with pressure to keep budgets under control it can be easy to prune your investments in GM in ways that end up costing more long term. Whether it’s 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 cost savings due to the added costs of reinstating lawns, the pitfalls can be hard to avoid without dedicated subject matter expertise. In many instances this is the same dilemma familiar to anyone in facilities management – how do you best balance the potential costs of acting reactively versus the added investments needed to develop plans and specifications for effective maintenance?
However, with the breadth of skills and responsibilities involved in modern facilities management only increasing, not all FMs are fully equipped to take a more strategic view of grounds maintenance and adopt a more cost-effective PPM (planned preventative maintenance) orientation. However, a grasp of the basics can go a long way and help FMs with responsibility for outdoor areas to start to think about the lifecycle of outdoor spaces to better manage the seasonal nature of grounds maintenance. Doing so is the key to managing your landscapes, budgets and contractors alike.
How to approach your year strategically
To gain a high level understanding of the grounds maintenance year, the two infographics included with this article are a great place to start. Naturally every business and every site is different, but together these offer a useful starting point that can be adapted to your requirements. The Grounds Maintenance Planner can be used to track your teams’ or contractor’s current work and service reports and gives a sense of what to expect now and the coming months. The Soft Landscaping Planner provides an understanding as to the optimum times to make improvements or changes, such as extending beds, creating more naturalistic areas or planting.
Don’t cut back excessively in colder months
Without doubt, summer is the most intensive period for lawn care and turf management, but activity is seasonal and should continue right throughout the year. In the attempt to cut costs, many organisations significantly reduce grounds maintenance during the winter, for example by reducing the number of site visits. However, this can be a false economy: some of the most beneficial care is carried out in the coldest months to help lawns grow healthily and free of moss during the summer, and this is true for grounds maintenance as a whole: In any given season, the work you’ve done in the preceding period is often the key to success.
During winter, grounds maintenance teams should focus on conditioning the grounds to get a head start for spring. Collect leaves and debris that can build up and destroy lawns. Cut the frequency of site visits in winter, and you simply add more cost in springtime to bring these areas back up to standard. Neglecting clearing decaying leaves on lawns or hard standings can also form a substrate that allows weeds to germinate. This then requires more weed control as well as unnecessary and costly chemical treatments during the summer growing season.
A less obvious implication of cutting back on grounds maintenance during certain times of year relates to health and safety, as risks on site – e.g. tripping hazards, or dead wood on trees - may not be identified and mitigated in time. Here too, there’s a case to be made for a more joined up approach to outdoor facilities management with regard to winter gritting. It clearly makes sense for grounds maintenance teams to use the weeks when snow and ice clearance is a priority to also monitor grounds maintenance requirements that arise. Teams should also undertake gritting operations in a way that doesn’t impact landscapes i.e. by allowing salt to damage green areas that will later need restoration. Avoiding such inadvertent costs requires careful planning and management, however engaging a contractor that offers both gritting and grounds maintenance services can ensure that a more holistic approach is taken.
Preparing for summer
From a horticultural point of view, late spring into early summer is an ideal period for activities such as planting bedding plants and hanging baskets. However, this is when FMs and site managers also need to get to work developing effective KPIs to measure quality and – where needed – review and update the organisation’s maintenance specifications (e.g. sward length of grass).
Now is the time to meet with grounds maintenance teams to explain any changes and to provide an outline programme of works and a schedule for the season ahead. This isn’t a one off activity but rather a good way to kick off an iterative process - set regular review meetings to discuss and rectify any issues. A further essential activity at this time of year is to update compliance folders, including staff training records and risk assessment and assessments to stay compliant with COSHH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health) regulations.
Managing the peak summer season
Summer is the most intensive period of activity during the year with the vast majority of activity focused on the demands of grass cutting and pruning. However, when outdoor spaces are at their most busy, also use this time to evaluate potential site improvements. This is the time you can best assess a site and understand which changes could add the most value to end users or the client.
Seek out opportunities for multifunctional improvements, such as aesthetic changes that also encourage wildlife. A great example of this is the creation of a wildflower meadow that both adds visual interest and supports pollinators. As well as improving a site’s environmental impact, this sort of feature can have a financial benefit too. For instance, during the grass-growing season you may need to schedule 26 weekly visits for mowing. However, converting a less trafficked area of a site to a meadow could help to reduce the number of visits while still maintaining a high standard overall.
Again, throughout the summer it’s essential to continue to communicate and review activity with grounds maintenance teams to ensure that specifications and quality standards are being adhered to and KPIs met. This process can allow for adjustments to specifications as needed to help stay in budget, such as agreeing to maintain sward length of lawns at 60mm rather than 50mm to reduce visit frequency. From a risk management perspective, summer is an important time to monitor sites for reportable invasive species such as Japanese Knotweed or Giant Hogweed and plan control measures into new plans.
Autumn provides a great time to schedule site improvement works such as planting and arboriculture activity. This is also an ideal point in the year to plan any tree surgery necessary to keep wooded areas healthy and safe.
This is also a good juncture to more comprehensively review your landscape assets and management and maintenance plans and specifications. This is a point where subject matter expertise can really add value: when seeking to make improvements, engage with a landscape expert to develop a comprehensive set of output specifications that is aligned to your key objectives – e.g. environmental objectives, workplace wellbeing – rather than just focused on the frequency of visits. If cost is a factor, then this process can also help to identify opportunities to change the landscape to replace trees or shrubs with species that require lower maintenance.
When tendering for grounds maintenance contracts over the quieter winter period, autumn is the ideal time to review and release PQQ and tender documentation.
About GRITIT Grounds Maintenance
GRITIT provides Award Winning Winter Gritting, Snow Clearance & Grounds Maintenance across the UK. As the first company to specialise in Winter services we recognised the potential and value of bespoke technology. Automating weather monitoring and service activation, activity tracking and communications, we developed a reputation as an innovator and leader in proactive winter-risk-management for a wide range of business-critical clients. Learn more at www.gritit.com.