Court Construction & Maintenance Guide: ‘Growing’ Pains?
For your facility’s greenery — and to save ‘green’ in your budget — work with a landscape design professional to avoid costly mistakes.
Ah, spring. The players are returning to the courts, lesson slots are filling up, there’s a very welcome backlog of racquets to be restrung and the landscaping for the courts is ready to bloom.
Or perhaps the landscaping is still on the to-do list. Particularly at a time when tennis facility managers are multi-tasking and feeling as though they’re being stretched much too thin, the gardened areas around the courts may wind up being completed at the last minute. That results in (let’s be honest here) a last-minute trip to the home and garden superstore where the buyer winds up staring with glazed eyes at row upon row of plants.
All in all, not a promising start for the tennis garden effect.
It’s no surprise that mistakes in landscaping are common. Here are a few to avoid:
- Not consulting with a professional in order to save money: Unless you’re knowledgeable about the science of landscaping, it’s easy to make the wrong purchases. The wrong plants, the wrong soil or fertilizer, too much mulch or gravel — it can all add up to problems down the road that require even more money to correct.
- The do-it-yourself approach, says Alex Levitsky of Global Sports & Tennis Design Group, LLC, in Fair Haven, New Jersey, is not cost-effective. Unfortunately, he adds, “Landscape budgets are vulnerable,” and are often the first things to be cut, particularly if other aspects of the facility need investment that season. Finding a landscape architect means eliminating the mistakes that can ultimately cost money. A professionally designed landscaping plan can be implemented year after year and will add up to better looks and performance.
- Not using a root barrier: Everyone has seen sidewalks that have been pushed up by tree roots. The same thing can happen to tennis courts if precautions aren’t taken. Nearby trees and shrubs can send out roots that cause damage to courts from beneath the surface. A root barrier, properly placed, will help avoid these problems. Note: Before installing the barrier, take the time to cut back any roots that are trying to sneak under your courts. A landscape architect can provide recommendations on how deep to install the barrier, based on the type of plant you’re trying to contain.
- Too much mulch: This is one of the easiest mistakes to make — and since everyone loves mulch, it’s the advice nobody likes to hear. After all, mulch is relatively inexpensive and it’s an attractive way of delineating space, providing a nice contrast with plantings and controlling weeds. Unfortunately, it tends to be overused, usually to the detriment of the landscaping system: It can keep plant roots from getting the oxygen they need; it can slow down evaporation from the soil, leaving roots waterlogged and vulnerable; it can act as an incubator, encouraging the growth of fungi and bacteria. And that’s just for starters. It can also, if used too close to the court, migrate onto the surface where it can cause staining or can even present a hazard to players.
- Blocking drainage from a court: A hard court drains in one true plane and has a very gradual slope: 1 inch in 10 feet, with a permissible maximum of 1 percent. That means that when water reaches the low side of the court, it needs to be able to exit the facility entirely. Unfortunately, overenthusiastic landscaping work can keep it from doing so.
Levitsky advises making sure there is a clear path for water to move. “Keeping grass 3 to 4 inches below the top of the playing surface makes it easier to maintain,” he notes. “Using a wide edging also helps.”
That overabundance of mulch mentioned earlier can create the same dam effect if packed too close to the edges of the court. Always check the perimeter of the court around the fence line and loosen any material that could trap water.
- Not using native plants: It’s easy to bring in the wrong types of plantings and learn — too late — that they are invasive, or just not suited to the soil and climate. A landscape professional can identify the best plants for a given area and save you from spending money on the wrong purchases.
- Not thinking through a particular choice of plant: Remember that bushes and trees that have berries, for example, may attract birds that make a mess on the court and on nearby surfaces. Other plants, such as weeping willows, beautiful though they are, constantly drop long, thin, whip-like branches that give the area a permanently littered look. Talk with a landscape architect, call a master gardener in the area or seek other professional assistance when considering accent plants.
- Not understanding the soil conditions of a given area: This is another area where the expertise of a landscape architect is invaluable. Some areas may not drain well because the soil has a high clay content, while others are softer and loamy. Still others may be sandy or dry. Levitsky notes that a professional will determine the porosity of a surface before recommending any landscaping course of action.
Properly planned, landscaping can do anything from simply sprucing up an area to creating a lush, verdant tennis oasis. Find a suitable professional partner and work within the context of your climate, your soil, and your budget — and watch your garden grow.
See all articles by Mary Helen Sprecher
About the Author
Mary Helen Sprecher is the managing editor of Sports Destinations Management Magazine, a niche business-to-business publication for planners of sports travel events, in addition to being an RSI Contributing Editor. She is the technical writer for the American Sports Builders Association and works as a newspaper reporter in Baltimore City.