Drought intensifies landscaping work on college campus


“We still have all of August yet,” said Tim Unruh, grounds­keeper at Tabor College, about this summer’s drought-like conditions.

Heat and lack of rain have added to the challenges Unruh encounters in maintaining a year-round attractive, inviting campus.

Unruh said last year marked 54 days at 100 degrees and higher.

TCDeepWatering
TCDeepWatering
  “We had a warm winter, too,” he added. “Plants matured a lot sooner because the winter didn’t set them back.”

Consequently, the growing season for flowering plants, like farm crops, has been early this year.

“Mums were blooming in June instead of September,” he said. “I had to pinch the mums after they were done blooming in June in hopes that they would bloom again on schedule in September.”

One outdoor priority project for Unruh involves reseeding sections of lawn on the main campus.

“We’re trying (to reseed) about a third (of the campus) per year to eliminate the bermuda,” Unruh said about the creeping variety of grass.

Last week, Unruh and his crew seeded a large section of lawn—between the Library and Student Center—after killing off the grass in that area.

“We’re planting a playground turf mixture, which is a blend that is durable if there’s traffic across it and has a high drought tolerance,” Unruh said.

The blend, made up of three different varieties of fescue, will result in a finer blade of grass.

TCLohrenzGarden
TCLohrenzGarden
“I like planting a blend,” he said. “The typical K-31 is a more coarse fescue and does not make a very nice lawn.”

Despite the anticipated hot days ahead, Unruh isn’t pessimistic about his summer seeding project.

“Hopefully, there will be a thick lush lawn with time,” he said.

This summer, Unruh said, the grounds crew is also focusing on rejuvenating the inner court area of the women’s residence halls, adding an automatic sprinkler system, trees, shrubs and other plants.

A third project is replacing sections of broken sidewalk on the main campus, he added.

Over the past two years, Unruh has been adding and replacing plants and shrubs on campus that do well year-round and have color.

He chooses plants that flower through three seasons.

Crepe myrtle shrubs, for example, are hardy plants and make a good choice for the campus.

“They’re heat-loving plants and thrive during this time,” Unruh said. “They have a long bloom period.”

In the Centennial Plaza, which is in the center of campus, double knockout roses have been planted because of their extended bloom time.

“They would still be blooming if it weren’t so hot,” he said.

Unruh likes introducing more native varieties that do well in the central Kansas climate, including prairie grasses and flowering plants such as goldenrods, Russian sage and sand hill plums, which bloom in spring.

He also includes perennials that give color and add more variety to the landscape, Unruh said, mixing in some sun-loving, drought-tolerant annuals, such as white vinca, yellow lantana and blue salvia.

He prefers planning for more of a garden effect rather than a shrub bed around campus buildings, Unruh said.

Of course, with the heat, watering shrubs, flowering plants, lawns and trees are a priority.

Unruh said he’s been doing a deep watering once a week.

He turns the water on and lets it run for one to two hours so the water gets down in the soil.

The dry, hot conditions are affecting evergreens and the bigger trees, too.

Some trees, such as Syca­mores, are losing leaves, he said, which is reaction to the drought.

“It’s doesn’t mean the trees are dying,” Unruh said. “They’re conserving moisture.”

As long as the stems are pliable, the plant will probably recover, he said, so continue watering once a week and be patient.

Unruh said his groundskeeping job is a good fit.

“I worked in a wholesale greenhouse setting for 13 years,” he said. “That really helped me become familiar with a lot of different varieties of plants that are good for this area.

“I worked in a nursery setting landscaping for about four years, too. It’s always been an interest of mine, so I’ve kind of worked in it from little on up.”

Unruh finds working with horticulture fulfilling.

“I’ve felt it as a calling to be a steward of the earth,” he said. “God has called me to make the world a more beautiful place.”


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