Organic strategy pumps up park grass

The grass is a lot more greener at City Hall Park thanks to a three-year program that has helped to cut back on chemical and water use.

Joe Pelz

Joe Pelz

The grass is a lot more greener at City Hall Park thanks to a three-year program that has helped to cut back on chemical and water use.

City of Red Deer head gardener Joe Pelz toured representatives from the Calgary Zoo, the Calgary neighbourhood of McKenzie Town, the Town of Sylvan Lake and several other municipalities through the downtown park on Thursday to show how successful an environmentally sustainable turf management program has become.

“We’re mowing it a little higher and we’re trying not to put as many chemicals down,” said Pelz, who’s looked after the park with 59 flower beds for the last seven years. “We’re changing the way we do turf.”

He and his team have noticed a change since hiring EnviroPerfect Solutions near Wabamun, 65 km west of Edmonton.

Tim Penstone of EnviroPerfect Solutions said it’s not the health of the lawn that’s so important, but what’s happening beneath it.

“Everything begins with the soil,” said Penstone.

Unlike other organic turf programs that just replace synthetic fertilizers with organic ones, Penstone said they address the entire ecosystem in the soil.

The key is to restore the natural biology that would normally be found in the soil when left on its own. Part of that involves adding a combination of organic and synthetic fertilizers. Plus, they add “micro-organisms and then we feed them.”

At City Hall Park, a granular organic-based fertilizer is used once in the spring and once in the fall. A liquid fertilizer, which involves a mixture of micro-organisms, is used once in July. A control site, located on the most westerly corner of the park and left untouched, looks less lush.

And it’s made a positive impact since first being used in 2009.

Pelz said the lawn is so green and lush that they could be mowing three times a week. Park visitors find it so soft, they’ll walk barefoot on it — something they generally didn’t do before. And there’s very few dandelion or clover problems.

“We’re going to continue with the program,” he said. “It is the environmentally friendly way and it’s building the soil structure.”

The program’s success has led to city parks staff implementing the same method at two sports fields.

“The city’s mandate is to be more sustainable and be more eco-friendly,” Pelz said.

He added that one day herbicides won’t be available due to legislation, so the city is ahead of the game.

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