Landscaping crews gather outside a public library in SE DC for training on shrub pruning and inlet cleaning.

The gardens in DC are dormant in January, but the landscape maintenance crews are not. Without weeds to pull or perennials to maintain, the crews can tackle larger maintenance tasks like mulching, cleaning out inlets, and pruning overgrown shrubs. This also means it is the right time to support landscaping crews by providing training on these important tasks.

People may think of landscaping crew jobs as “unskilled labor,” but this is inaccurate. To properly maintain Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) practices like bioretention gardens or conservation landscaping, a crew needs to have in-depth knowledge of the life cycles of both native and non-native perennials, shrubs, and trees. On top of that, they need to have a strong understanding of how each green infrastructure practice works to ensure that the maintenance performed is enhancing that function and not hindering it.

Jason Swope of CCLC explains the function of a bioretention garden.

As part of the Alliance’s public GSI maintenance project in DC, we have partnered with the Chesapeake Conservation Landscaping Council (CCLC) to provide training for each of our contractors to help turn their crews into experts in green infrastructure. Training has evolved over the last several years as a result of the needs and feedback provided by the contractors. Currently, maintenance crew members are provided a four-part training series, offered in two languages, covering topics from an introduction to stormwater management to hands-on maintenance demonstrations.

The training schedule kicks off each spring with Chesapeake Bay Landscape Professional (CBLP) Crews, a short workshop open to all new crew members. This class provides a broad overview of stormwater management and an introduction to GSI practices. The following trainings are customized to the contractor’s projects, where we bring the training to them. The summer training focuses on reading site designs, creating maintenance plans, and identifying plants for the specific projects being maintained by that contractor . The fall training covers specifics of invasive plant management, more plant identification, and garden assessments. We wrap up the series with a winter training on woody species (shrubs and bushes), pruning, and inlet maintenance and replacement.

A springtime CBLP-Crews class gathers in Rock Creek Park.

CBLP-Crews is a standardized training CCLC regularly hosts, but the other three trainings have been developed and customized to specifically meet the needs of our DC maintenance contractors. After offering the standardized Crews training, we found it difficult to maintain engagement with the large group of participants. We decided to split the groups up and hold individual trainings for each contractor so we could answer their questions and focus on their specific needs. Additionally, we shifted the location for each training to one that is currently being maintained by the participating contractor, to meet them where they were. This significantly helped increase contractor participation, as crew members are familiar with the garden’s design.

Last fall, we brought on a fourth contractor with a predominantly Spanish-speaking crew. To ensure they receive the full benefit of the training sessions, we worked with CCLC to add a Spanish-speaking instructor to conduct the training in Spanish simultaneously with the English training. This new addition to training sessions reduces barriers for crew members whose first language is not English.

Scott Rupert conducts a pruning training in Spanish.

Having customized and evolving training is vital to sustaining projects for the long-term as it allows our contractors to improve and build their knowledge. With each training, we learn new ways to better help our crews access and engage with the training. Adapting our training sessions builds valuable trusted partnerships and helps our contractors become experts in green infrastructure.

The team prepares to rebuild an inlet after a demonstration.

This innovative approach to Green Stormwater Infrastructure maintenance not only ensures that new and existing green infrastructure installations remain effective but it simultaneously provides education and green jobs for our contractor partners in DC.

There is plenty to look forward to with our GSI work. Stay up to date with all of the Alliance’s Green Infrastructure efforts, from landscape restoration to workforce development below.

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