Winter care for your green spaces

Stephen Ensell, education officer for the British Association of Landscape Industries (BALI), stresses the importance of having an annual maintenance schedule for outdoor spaces and gives some tips for winter maintenance

The importance of maintenance of outdoor spaces cannot be over emphasised. We maintain our cars, heating systems, machinery, our houses, and even our health, because we recognise that a regular maintenance schedule prolongs their life  and helps reduce the risk of things going wrong and potentially causing injury.
The green spaces and sports surfaces that surround our schools and businesses are no different, especially in terms of safety and prolonging the life and usefulness of these areas. These spaces are often the first thing that people see when they arrive, and we all know the importance of first impressions, but it’s for more than just aesthetic reasons that they need to be correctly maintained. Whilst we may be very good at making sure they are well looked after through the spring and summer we may neglect them come the winter months when they are not used as much, if at all.

Create a schedule

Carrying out the appropriate maintenance at the correct time of year for outdoor spaces – whether landscaped areas, sports fields and surfacing, playgrounds or car parks – is of paramount importance, so if you haven’t done so already, a yearly maintenance schedule should be created to help you keep on top of these areas and plan for the maintenance activities that will need to be undertaken.
Plant growth cycles in particular need to be taken into consideration; these will influence when watering, mulching, pruning and plant replacement takes place. Whilst we are now in a dormant growth period, remember there are still tasks that need to be carried out to keep everything not only looking shipshape but also safe for the people that use and travel through these areas.
Grass will continue to grow at a minimum temperature of 14 degrees Celsius, so mowing may continue into the months that are unseasonably mild, subject to the weather and areas being dry enough.
Leaves and plant debris will need to be removed from grassed area to prevent lawns from dying and from walkways and hard surfaces to prevent pedestrians slipping and the surfaces becoming stained.
Plant and shrub growth will need to be checked and cut back appropriately if it is overhanging walk ways, cars parks or obscuring lines of sight for vehicles and pedestrians on the property. Rejuvenative pruning can take place throughout the winter and presents an opportunity to cut back hard those deciduous shrubs that have become overgrown, giving them a chance to produce new healthy growth, which in turn will produce a healthier shrub with improved flowering.
By evaluating any areas of soil that have been used as a ‘cut through’ causing compaction and leading to soil erosion or uneven surfaces, you can then alleviate the compaction by cultivation during the winter months and then replanting or grass seeding in the spring.

Preparing for ice and snow

It’s that time of year when potentially there could be a lot of ice and snow. Last year saw a 52 per cent rise in slips, trips and falls during icy and snowy conditions. A close eye should be kept on the weather, checking for warnings on local weather channels concerning potential ice and snow. There are specialty BALI contractors that focus on preventative and reactive gritting and snow clearance services so that outdoor settings don’t pose a hazard when conditions take a turn for the worse.
If you have good sized trees, now is the time to check for dead and diseased branches and have them safely removed by a reputable arborist.
Edges are something we take for granted but we are very reliant on them for guiding us and helping us navigate, whether that be the edge of a path, a road, a grassed area or planted border. When these become overgrown or obscured this increases the chance of injury from slips, trips or falls and damage from vehicles that can’t see where they should be travelling or parking. Make sure they are well maintained and clearly defined.

Play areas

Playground equipment and surfacing should be checked on a regular basis but, with these areas perhaps being a little less used at this time of year, it’s an ideal time to carry out a thorough visual check for signs of damage and wear and tear, along with a tactile test. Timber play equipment should be checked for cracks; anything exceeding 8mm should be reported. Moving parts should be checked and lubricated as necessary.    
Make sure the safety surface areas are clear of debris and trip hazards and check for signs of wear and tear and replace as needed. A professional inspection should take place at least once a year. If serious defects are detected the compromised equipment should be immobilised and repaired as soon as possible. All play equipment and surfaces should comply with European Standards of Play Equipment (EN1176) and or Surfacing (EN1177).
It’s also a great time to check sport surfacing. Continue to keep surfaces free of debris and keep off artificial grass in frosty conditions and when snow has settled as walking on the surface can damage the artificial fibres. It is also best to try not to remove snow once it has settled but allow it to thaw as removal can again damage the fibres. Avoid applying rock salt or grit as, once dissolved, this can cause contamination and damage to the surface. Specialist PDV salts and antifreezes can be applied by contractors to help prevent ice and snow settling; it is not, however, appropriate for all surfaces so specialist advice should be sort for your type of surface. One of the biggest problem’s artificial surfaces face at this time of the year is the potential to flood; with a build-up of contaminates water will be slow to drain, therefore regular brushing and the replacement of infill materials is essential to keep the areas draining adequately. If flooding and standing water persists then contractors may need to be contacted to carry out a deep cleaning process and restore the correct drainage properties. If ignored this will only continue to worsen as times goes on.
A BALI registered company that specialises in grounds maintenance will create a bespoke maintenance plan and carry out the maintenance all year round for your green space. Search for members in your area on

Promoting the industry to pupils

The landscape industry is facing a skills shortage and, to dispels the myths surrounding the industry and promote landscaping careers to school pupils and career changers, BALI has set up the GoLandscape careers outreach initiative. It’s a great time to join the landscape industry so why not invite an industry GoLandscape ambassador in your area to talk to your students about the exciting world of landscaping? Find out more at

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