Featuring 160 trees, this 10-acre area is a daily stop for students and faculty as well as a gathering place for commencement and other special events. Keeping this landscape healthy and attractive is the job of Landscape Services at Ole Miss.
Jeff McManus, CGM, director of landscape services at the University of Mississippi, shares what it takes to keep The Grove vibrant.
By Turf Staff
From the Spring 2019 Issue
Please describe The Grove on The University of Mississippi campus. What are its characteristics and uses?
Designed as a place where students could relax and study, this 10-acre space is a unique area in the center of the campus. In 2004, we inventoried the trees; there are 160 trees, consisting of 50 species. [These include, but are not limited to, American Ash, American Elm, American Holly, Black Gum, Black Jack Oak, Black Oak, Burr Oak, Japanese Magnolia, Red Maple, and Sugar Maple.]
The turf is tall fescue. Generally, we use a tall fescue blend that can handle the deep shade of The Grove as well as the hot summer heat. Although tall fescue is a cool season grass and does great in the spring and fall, it does a fair job in deep shade if kept moist during the summer. Also, Bermuda grass is used in full sun areas.
The Grove is not flat terrain; there is a slight pitch in the sense that it slopes a bit. This lends itself to a stage area, where commencement is held. Every second Saturday in May, this area is set up with 15,000 folding chairs for that event.
The “claim to fame” for The Grove is tailgating for home football games; this has been since the 1950s. Up until 1991, cars and RVs were allowed in The Grove for tailgating. That year, there was a tremendous rain during a football game, and many vehicles became stuck. The university decided at that time it would no longer let cars or RVs park in the Grove, and it became a pedestrian-only area. That was when the popularity of The Grove really took off. Over the years, tailgating has evolved from bringing in tables and chairs, and escalated to tents set up by vendors. Currently, it’s been estimated that between 20,000 to 60,000 people gather there on these days.
The foot traffic poses a challenge in terms of soil compaction, which threatens tree root health. But The Grove is here for people to enjoy, so we try to make all this work together. One of the things we’ve done to facilitate travel through the area is to paint “emergency lanes” on game day. People can use these lanes to walk from one end of The Grove to another without having to walk through other people’s tents/areas.
How do you maintain the trees in such a well-traveled space?
Compaction is the big challenge with the trees, due to pedestrian traffic, especially during game day when thousands of people gather. Overseeding with the fescue seed and aerification helps to soften the soil. As the seeds grow, they push the soil, which helps the tree roots against compaction. Several times, we have performed vertical mulching, which also aims to loosen soil around roots to encourage growth.
What is the standard schedule of landscape care for The Grove?
We keep a number of perpetual calendars, one of those being for The Grove. This helps us, so we can master plan. In December and January, we mulch leaves, prune trees, repair damaged turf, and conduct tree replacement. In February through April, tasks are to aerify, overseed, fertilize, start irrigation system, mulch tree rings, start mowing, edge turf, prune trees, and perform tree replacement. In May through August, the team fertilizes turf, mows, edges turf, and the irrigation system is monitored and repaired. In the fall, during September through November, we mulch leaves. After the last home football game of the season, we aerify, overseed, and fertilize the turf.
During football season, on Friday, our department puts out 1,500 to 2,000 cans for trash and recycling. We’ve hired nonprofit organizations (e.g. Baptist Student Union, ROTC) to remove the approximately 70 to 90 tons of waste left by tailgaters after each game.
Why is synthetic turf used in front of The Grove stage?
The stage in The Grove is a popular spot, and groups seem to gravitate there—cheerleaders practicing or ROTC doing exercises, for instance. We were constantly having to replace the turf there, or roping it off and asking people to move. That has been a great solution for us to install the synthetic turf in front of the stage area.
What else is happening on the Ole Miss landscape?
There is a new $80 million STEM building planned, and the site is about 100 yards from The Grove. The project is on hold, while more money is raised for the building. Rather than keep a construction fence up, we are turning it into green space. We’ve already overseeded it, and we’re trying to get to where we can begin mowing it. Why not let people use the space, while the building is on hold?
To learn more about Landscape Services at The University of Mississippi, visit https://olemiss.edu/depts/landscape/.
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