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Chicora's Conservation Administrator Debi Hacker is also trained in horticultural maintenance and is a member of the PLANET, International Society of Arboriculture, South Carolina Nursery and Landscape Association, and the Alliance for Historic Landscape Preservation. We are well aware of the importance of appropriate grounds care -- while at the same time protecting the historic monuments in the cemetery. We are happy to assist in developing appropriate maintenance specifications, as well as to provide consultations on maintenance and landscape issues.

We're often asked what a cemetery should be spending on maintenance -- a broad question since salary rates, benefits, overhead, and other factors vary tremendously from one part of the country to another. A cemetery may also have significant resources that it spends poorly . . . or few resources that it manages wisely. Here, however, are some figures we have found in various studies - use them with caution:

  • In 2004 a Colorado Spring, CO cemetery reported spending $18.44 per grave on maintenance (calculated by dividing number of graves by annual salaries, benefits, and operating expenses less capital expenditures).
  • In 2007 a Santa Monica, CA cemetery reported spending $8.71 per grave, although this cost included only salaries ($392,000 for a staff of 6 tending 23 acres). Since staffing at this cemetery slid precariously from 14, it is likely that this estimate is very low and should be used with caution.
  • The City of Jacksonville, FL rejected a maintenance bid (low) of just under $30/acre for its cemeteries. A second effort resulted in a projected bid of $50/acre.
  • The Veterans Administration estimates that burial site development costs approximately $150,000 per acre.

A recent Michigan study found that the bulk of landscape funds in their cemeteries were used on labor costs as shown in the chart on the left. A New Jersey study found somewhat similar results, although their labor costs were only 70% (with 54% spent in-house and 16% out sourced). A category termed "Equipment and Operation" accounted for 19%.

The Michigan study found that while 92% of the grounds crews mowed and trimmed, 84% conducted spring clean-ups, 69% did fall clean-ups, and 43% edged, only 1% did core aeration, only 3% did routine soil tests, only 8% put down mulch, and only 18% ever fertilized.

Curiously, the number one lawn care problem cited by those surveyed was drought - which could be fought with such activities as core aeration and mulch. The second rated problem were weeds -- yet only 22% of the crews used herbicides and only 13% ever renovated or overseeded their lawn areas.

Here are examples of some typical landscape problems:

Inappropriate pruning that destroys the beauty (and health) of the plant.

Failure to control fire ants and other pests.

Trees that are allowed to grow up around stones and fences.

Dead and dying trees that endanger the public . . . and stones.

Inappropriate mowers and mower techniques.

Inappropriate use of herbicides.

We have developed a series of informative documents on landscape issues that may help with your cemetery landscape problems. All are Adobe Acrobat .pdf files.

Best Practices for Cemetery Lawn Maintenance provides a quick overview of critical landscape maintenance issues, explaining why some maintenance activities are so damaging to cemeteries and steps that you can take to minimize the threat.

Sample Landscape Maintenance Contract is a sample contract or specifications for cemetery maintenance that also includes typical costs for various landscape maintenance activities. This may provide you with a starting place for developing a workable agreement with your landscape maintenance firm.

Appropriate Fertilizers for Cemeteries explains why some fertilizers are more damaging than others because of the salt they contain -- and provides you with a guide to some of the more common fertilizer types.

Removing Climbing Plants from Stone and Masonry provides guidance on dealing with ivy, kudzo, and poisonous plants from a cemetery setting.

Cemetery Maintenance Inspection Form can used to ensure that maintenance activities are being carried out correctly and consistently.

Cemetery Maintenance Program Summary will help you determine the types of landscape maintenance that are necessary in your cemetery.

Cemetery Plant Documentation Form provides a standard approach to documenting historic plantings in your cemetery. Remember, these plantings are part of the landscape and they, too, must be preserved.

How to Manage Cemetery Grass During a Drought by Debi Hacker and Michael Trinkley for Turf Magazine.


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