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Harness the elements: landscape planning through effective use of weather forecasts

Anyone working in an outdoor environment will be mindful of the effect weather can have on both personnel and the work being carried out. Landscaping covers a multitude of tasks and the weather will have an impact on the effectiveness of undertaking both hard and soft landscaping. Using weather forecasts to inform operations can help to ensure the best use of available resources, saving time and money.

Soft landscaping is often best undertaken during drier weather in order to minimise the problems associated with working with saturated earth but, conversely, dry spells will mean that trees and plants may need additional watering. Using rain forecasts to inform planning in both of these situations can ensure that water is not wasted when rain is on the way and that time is put to the best use if ground is waterlogged.

Temperature forecasts also have a part to play in determining the best time to plant or prune.

New plants will have the best chance of thriving if the conditions are right for that particular species, and pruning is often best undertaken just before new growth might be expected as this ensures the fastest healing. By ensuring tasks such as these are undertaken at appropriate times, there is not only greater assurance of the work being beneficial to the park or garden, but time resource is not wasted on inappropriate work. Temperature is also a factor to be taken into consideration with regards to laying turf. While this isn’t usually a winter task, it can be undertaken at any time of year provided that the ground isn’t frozen.

Hard landscaping work can also be weather dependant, and forward planning can be aided by weather forecasts in order that resources (both in terms of time and materials) are not wasted, and that work is effective. Very wet weather can cause problems both during landscaping works and following completion if ground is liable to landslips or subsidence. The properties of the earth in a particular area can determine the likelihood of the ground swelling or shrinking due to the weather and landscaping choices, and landscaping preparations should take this into account.

Hard, frozen ground can also cause problems as digging becomes difficult. Air and ground temperatures also have significant impacts on concrete. Concrete should not be laid onto surfaces covered in ice and the air temperature needs to be taken into consideration to ensure that the concrete will gain strength at the best possible rate. Insulation can be used to good effect when laying concrete in cold weather, ensuring the most appropriate curing speed without the risk of cracking and degrading.

If your responsibilities incorporate grounds maintenance this often includes ensuring site safety which will be paramount in the case of customers with public access sites. Landscape volatility with regards to landslips and cracking caused by adverse weather and freeze/thaw effects, can all impact on site safety. Having accurate and timely weather forecasts can help predict the conditions which could cause these types of problems and inform operational planning to mitigate the effects of the weather.  

Many horticulture and grounds maintenance companies have expanded their portfolio in recent years to include additional services and ensure year-round business. With regards to site safety, this often includes the gritting and salting of car parks, access roads and footpaths.

Using site-specific road surface temperature forecasts can make a big difference to the way you operate and the confidence your customers have in your services. Treating surfaces unnecessarily will waste money, but gritting at the right times will help ensure staff and visitor safety.

Ground Control, one of the UK’s leading commercial landscapers, has been using the Met Office’s forecasting service for a number of years in order to stay ahead of the weather in maintaining service delivery and ensuring the safety of its people. Ground Control’s Winter Operations Manager, Andy Simpson, explains how forecasts are used all year round:

"The incredible changeability of the UK climate means we are always on our toes no matter what season it is. During the warm summer months, we use live weather updates to inform our teams of safety essentials for the day, such as water breaks and the best times to cut. The large amounts of rain in 2014 meant that many of our sites were growing at a much faster rate than usual, therefore we used the data to meticulously plan our summer visits in such a way that we could stay one step ahead of the weather."

"The winter season is a whole different ball game as we now look for dropping temperatures as opposed to rising ones. Our unique temperature-triggered programmes mean our teams work in tandem with live weather forecasts to know when to grit and when to be on call for snow fall. Weather forecasting really is at the hub of our business all year round."

Horticulture can be particularly sensitive to the elements, and landscaping tasks require optimum conditions in which they should ideally be carried out to give the best long-term outlook. Using accurate weather forecasts can help direct resources appropriately and also ensure site safety for staff as well as the visiting general public. The range of forecast information available means that users are able to access data that is relevant to the activity they are looking to undertake or be aware of potential weather impacts that may affect business operations or public safety.  Like Ground Control, you can keep one step ahead of the weather wherever you operate.

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