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Profile: Tom Dew of Texas A&M . . .a Texas Size Job




''We are in charge of the image of the university,''[ says Tom Dew. ''The landscaping is marketing that never stops and how much is that worth? While everybody knows it's really important, we're always having to educate people on its impact on campus.'' INSET: Tom Dew, Landscape Superintendent at Texas A&M University.
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Tom Dew started working at Texas A&M University in 1982. Before that he worked at the University of Texas for five years. Growing up Houston, he worked at a nursery in his teens and then went to Sam Houston State University where he earned a B.S. in horticulture/crop science.

One of the largest campuses in America, Tom Dew has responsibility for 5,200 acres plus the 350 acres for the Research Park. The university is located in Southeast Central Texas and the surrounding area is often referred to as "Aggieland."






In addition to heavy clay soil, College Station has very high water salinity, with six independent wells seven to eight miles from campus. The sodium molecules bind with clay molecules and form a sort of crust, making it really hard to penetrate. Because of this clay they cannot grow salt sensitive plants such as azaleas and gardenias.


Texas A&M, located in the town of College Station, holds the distinction of being the state's first public institution of higher education. Opening on October 4, 1876, the school was funded through the Morrill Act in 1862, which auctioned land grants of public lands to establish endowments for colleges. Located in Brazos County, which donated 2,416 acres of poor farmland, A&M was initially established as the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas, commonly known as Texas A.M.C. In 1963, the Texas Legislature renamed the school Texas A&M University, to reflect the institution's expansion into academics and research. The letters "A&M" no longer have any explicit meaning but are retained as a link to the university's past.

Railroad tracks bisect the campus, with the area to the east known as Main Campus. It includes the main academic buildings for the colleges of geosciences, as well as dormitories, and dining halls. To the west of the railroad tracks lies West Campus, which includes most of the sports facilities, agricultural programs, and the George Bush Presidential Library.






Texas A&M was one of first schools to have a remote irrigation system back in the 1970's. Still used today, it works off tone signals. Now 800 acres are irrigated and that raises issues. They have an estimated 40,000 sprinkler heads (25,000 spray and 15,000 rotor) and 210 irrigation controllers.


Great School, Great Staff

Dew's Landscaping team has 128 employees. The university also employs a few student workers who will work in the summers. "Some students have really helped with the GPS tree inventory," says Dew. "If we get into a pinch and need some help, we contract out some day-workers." The peak times for staffing needs are early spring and late fall.

"We all share in ownership of the campus," Dew continues. "I've noticed through the years, there's a formula with folks. Once you get 'em fired up, they will do a good job. We dwell on the good stuff. When someone messes up-that's a learning experience. When people feel like it's their real estate, they will take ownership."

Dew works Monday through Friday from 8 AM to 5 PM. His staff works 7 AM to 3:30 PM. Dew's philosophy when it comes to his staff is, "Tell me and I might forget. Show me and I might remember. Get me involved and I'm committed. I try not to use the word 'I' or 'boss'," said Dew.






Snapdragons are seen here in one of the display beds on campus. Dew likes marigolds as a backup plant and always has them on hand because they can be pulled and replaced easily. This is most evident when marigolds get mature and red spider mites become a problem. When this occurs, smaller and younger ones can take their place that will grow until the fall. They are currently coming up with heat resistant petunias as well.


A Texas Size Campus

"This campus is so big we can't water the whole campus in one night," said Dew. "The last 7 years have been a challenge. Because of budget cutbacks, we've lost some positions. But the campus has been growing. We're trying to work smarter, not harder. We've been trying any methods or tools that save time," said Dew.

"We care for around 2000 acres, all of which gets mowed. Of those 2000 acres, 900 are manicured extensively.

We've developed a map through the PGMS that shows priority maintenance areas for landscaping," said Dew. "When they started trimming the budget we had to make a decision to either make the whole campus a 5 (on a scale of 1-10), or divide it up and make important areas like the entrance look like a 10."

There are more than 555 trash receptacles on campus that are cleaned out every morning and afternoon. Dew's landscaping philosophy is "Clean, green, well-defined."

"We have a very unique campus," said Dew. "While it is a very large campus, it has a feeling of community. Everyone takes time to say hello and speak to each other."






With an ISA certified, licensed urban forester on staff, all the trees are tracked through a GPS system that keeps track of growth and health. At the moment 70 percent of all the trees on campus are Quercus Virginia live oak. Early in the year they have to look out for oak wilt. For the team to prune every tree on campus the way they need to be pruned, it would take seven years, according to Dew.


Large Irrigation Issues

800 acres are irrigated and that raises issues. "We have an estimated 40,000 sprinkler heads (25,000 spray and 15,000 rotor) and 210 irrigation controllers," says Dew.

Texas A&M was one of first schools to have a remote irrigation system back in the 70's. Still used today, it works off tone signals. One tone turns it on - two tones turn it off. Plus, there is a button in the physical plant office that can shut down the whole system in case of an emergency. Rather than upgrading the system, which would be extremely expensive, they have added to it over the years.

"In the mid summer, it gets so hot the plants don't take up the moisture. July and August are the hottest months. We use a lot of gypsum to combat the sodium. The mowing is divided up throughout the grounds, with the main areas on east and west campus," said Dew.






The school is so large that they hold three separate graduation ceremonies a year. The landscaping team sets up floral arrangements on the stage for each ceremony. They have 9000 square feet of greenhouses, where they grow a number of annuals and perennials throughout the year.


Organization is the Key to Success

The landscaping department is organized into five divisions to cover the work that needs to be done. They are: East Campus; West Campus; Heavy Equipment Department (HEQ); Landscape Trees and Plant Services.

The Heavy Equipment Department (HEQ) includes dump trucks for concrete work, and big machines for asphalt maintenance. There is a lot of construction and building growth on campus.

As far as mowing equipment is concerned, the team uses over fifty 72-inch riding mowers. "I've seen it change through the years," said Dew. "In the 1970s we used mainly Jacobsen mowers. In the 1980s we began using Toro Groundmasters but they began getting expensive. Now we are using a lot of Exmark mowers, which we like a lot." (coincidentally, Exmark is owned by Toro).






Dew's Landscaping team has 128 employees. The university also employs a few student workers who will work in the summers. Some students have really helped with the GPS tree inventory. If they get into a pinch and need some help, they contract out some day-workers.


Landscape Trees

With an ISA certified, licensed urban forester on staff, all the trees are tracked through a GPS system that keeps track of growth and health. 70 percent of all the trees on campus are Quercus Virginia live oak. "Early in the year we have to look out for oak wilt. For us to prune every tree on campus, the way they need to be pruned, it would take seven years," says Dew. "We look at safety first then aesthetics, but the tree disease, oak wilt is a major problem."

Plant Services

The first thing that stands out in any plant's existence is the kind of soil they have to grow in. In addition to heavy clay soil, College Station has very high water salinity, with six independent wells, (an 18-inch line, and a 24-inch line), which are 7 to 8 miles from campus.

"The sodium molecules bind with clay molecules and form a sort of crust, making it really hard to penetrate," said Dew. "Because of this clay we cannot grow salt sensitive plants such as azaleas and gardenias."

They have 9000 square feet of greenhouses, where they grow a number of annuals and perennials. They keep these flowers growing throughout the year in case they are needed. This department is also in charge of the school's irrigation system.






The team utilizes an extensive stable of mowers, consisting of 28 72" riding mowers, six 60" mowers, a 120" shredder, three 114" shredders, a 180" mower, three 96" mowers and a boom slope mower. The also use six 48" walk behind mowers and eight 21" push mowers. About 85 percent of the turf is common Bermuda grass, and 10 percent is St. Augustine. The other five percent is a mixture of zoysia, and Bermuda hybrids.


Chemicals

"We like to use IPM methods when it comes to chemical usage. We were one of the pioneers of IPM in the fifties. As a last resort we use herbicides, broad leaf weed killers."

The campus has several ponds - where aquatic herbicides are used. As for pest control, the team employs 24 pesticide applicators. Fire ants are a big problem that is treated in the early spring and fall with a growth regulator. The team uses "delta dust" for spot treatments.






There are two to three plantings a year. Traditional plantings such as pansies, snapdragons, dianthus, and winter annuals are planted before Christmas. The summer plantings are installed each year by the first of June.


Turf

85 percent of the turf is common Bermuda grass, and 10 percent is St. Augustine. The other 5 percent is a mixture of zoysia, and Bermuda hybrids. They overseed in the winter with annual ryegrass. "This campus is so big so we can selectively showcase different areas," said Dew.

Planting Schedule

There are two to three plantings a year. Traditional plantings such as pansies, snapdragons, dianthus, and other winter annuals are planted before Christmas.

The summer plantings are installed each year by the first of June. "Periwinkle is a good plant, but we are having a Phytopthera fungus problem with it as of late," said Dew. "Marigolds are a backup plant and we always have them on hand. When they get mature however, red spider mite can become a problem. We like marigolds because you can pull them, and then put a smaller one in the same place and they will grow until the fall. We are currently coming up with heat resistant petunias."






The team employs 24 pesticide applicators. Fire ants are a big problem which is treated in the early spring and fall with a growth regulator. The team also uses "delta dust" for spot treatments. As for fertilizer, they had a wet winter and spring this year so not as much fertilizer was needed.


Flowers for Every Need

"We grow coleus for use in the biology classes, the students do experiments including injecting dye into leaves to study cell composition.

The school is so large that they hold three separate graduation ceremonies a year. The landscaping team sets up floral arrangements on the stage for each ceremony. "We have used the same arrangements on stage since 1968," says Dew. "We then take cuttings from each arrangement to grow the next batch."

Altenanthera are used on the signature beds as you are drive onto campus through the main entrance. "We could make the whole campus look like C class, but I'd rather make the most important areas of campus look first class," said Dew. "In the back of my mind I always wanted to be a farmer," says Dew.

"I even had my own landscaping business in Austin. I've been so fortunate to be doing something I really like doing."

"Tell me, and I might forget. Show me, and I might remember. Get me involved and I'm committed."

Looking Great!

"We are in charge of the image of the university," said Dew. "The landscaping is marketing that never stops and how much is that worth? While everybody knows it's really important, we're always having to educate people on its impact on campus. It's really taken for granted."

Dew's advice for students is, "Do something you like doing, and once you've found it, go for it."


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October 20, 2019, 5:59 pm PDT

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