Spring is just around the corner, but students may have noticed that Old Main Hill has remained decisively brown.
Last fall, a full-time university employee mistakenly applied weedkiller to the turf on Old Main Hill. They meant to use 2,4-D, an herbicide that does not harm grass, but accidentally mixed in glyphosate, a broad-spectrum herbicide and grass-killer.
“The person who sprayed informed us of the mistake after that fall, when we could start to see something wasn’t right,” said Rob Reeder, the director of Facilities Maintenance. “We went back and discovered the issue.”
Reeder said the employee has been applying herbicides for years, and they also mixed the batch of fertilizer that was applied.
“There was a container that was mislabeled, which we feel caused the problem,” he said. “We think that maybe one of this persons’ assistants might have mis-mixed or mistaken the container for something else.”
An investigation is ongoing. Reeder said he is not certain where the issue lies, but he said he has remedied the situation.
“We have gone through our mixing area, separated all the chemicals, so there are two distinct locations at the opposite end of the room so this cannot happen again,” he said. “Mistakes happen. We’ve dealt with this internally.”
But Old Main is not hopeless this season.
“It’ll grow back,” said Paul Johnson, department head and professor in the Plants, Soils and Climate Department.
Johnson has been with the university for 18 years, and t’s not uncommon for him to receive calls for advice after incidents like this, as his area of expertise is turf-grass — “all these things we walk on and play on and trample on.” When Reeder called him last fall, Johnson said he felt bad for him.
“Fortunately, we will not have to re-sod,” Reeder said. “We’ve been working with experts in the college of agriculture who’ve given us advice on what to do without major expense.”
Under the direction of Johnson, Reeder tined the hill and replanted with a mixture of bluegrass and rye. The seeds will germinate in the next couple weeks and — slowly — turn green.
“We’re expecting full recovery,” Reeder said.
Last week facilities applied another seeding and a top dressing in order to agitate the seeds, catalyzing germination. Kentucky Bluegrass and perennial rye are both commonly used in the region.
“They’re well-adapted to our relatively cool climate. They can take a lot of traffic, like you see on the Quad. There are not many grasses that can tolerate the amount of activity we see out there,” Johnson said. “The rye grass will germinate faster, and so it’ll see a quicker green.”
Johnson said as the weather warms up, the seeds will start to germinate. He has no reason to believe the seeds will not germinate, he said.
“You would not pick that to happen anywhere on campus,” Reeder said. “Anywhere to occur on campus would be a misfortune and something that would need to be addressed. Unfortunately it happened in a high-visibility area.”
Reeder said the hill will be green for commencement, whether the seeds germinate or not. If needed, facilities will dye the grass.