Moving Really Big Trees At Arrowhead Stadium

Digging and transplanting a half dozen tall shade trees on a summer day when the forecast calls for a high of 94 F is a scary move. “Nobody wants to take a risk like that unless they absolutely have to,” said Head Groundskeeper Andre Bruce of the Kansas City Chiefs. And Bruce had to do just that—twice, in fact--during the summer of 2005 with six Seedless Marshall Ash trees over 15 feet tall on the grounds outside Arrowhead Stadium. “The timing wasn’t my call,” Bruce said. It was a subsoil water leakage emergency that required the temporary removal of the six-inch caliper trees from the lawn of The Pavilion building.

Located opposite Arrowhead Gates E and D-2, The Pavilion is an air-conditioned, tent-style “building” used on game days for hosting corporate guests, and at other times for meetings, parties and receptions. Completed in the fall of 2000, the 13,500-square-foot, rigid-truss structure and the customer-constructed soil base for its lawn and landscape were almost an afterthought, placed on top of the new quarters of two operational departments. These were Engineering and Groundskeeping, the departments most directly affected by water leakage which, starting in 2005 occurred after any significant rain. Both departments also had key roles in correcting the problem.

Proactive Problem-Solving

At 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, June 29, a Big John Tree Spade was hauled in from Colonial Nursery, a major ornamental grower and design-and-build landscaper in suburban Blue Springs, Mo. For starters, the spade pulled a 90-inch plug, opening the first hole in a strip of low-maintenance turf between a perimeter road and an Arrowhead employee parking lot. “It also was as close to the Grounds Department as any space available on the complex,” Bruce pointed out, explaining that he and his assistant groundskeepers wanted to keep a watchful eye on the trees after transplanting.

The distance between The Pavilion and the transplant site was only 800 feet, so the trees were transported one at a time in the Big John’s clam-shell spade. As soon as it had lowered three of the transplants into place, Chiefs’ spray-tech Terry Lee began spraying them with anti-transpirant. The water truck was already there, its operator drenching each hole with water before and after each transplant was set into the ground. Cutting the evaporative losses by coating the leaves with an anti-transpirant and keeping the root zones well supplied with moisture from the water wagon were what saved the day--and the trees--said Bruce.

Landscaping Legacy

The many trees and shrubs, as well as the flowers and lawns around the stadium, practice fields and field house, traditionally have received priority attention, and the work isn’t contracted out. Bruce and one of his key assistants, Scott Martin, try to stay up on what’s new and needed in landscape nutrition, insect pest management and disease control--even the use of anti-transpirants.

The landscaping around the grounds at Arrowhead Stadium is the envy of most professional sports venues. This is partially due to the keen interest in the trees and the ornamental landscape of the late Lamar Hunt, Chiefs owner and one of the owners and founders of the American Football League in 1961. Hunt had put the team into play in 1963 in an old municipal stadium the team shared for eight years with Kansas City baseball teams, first the Athletics, then from 1968 through 1972 with the Kansas City Royals. The inaugural game at Arrowhead was August 12, 1972. Hunt decided to move his Dallas Texans to Kansas City, leaving the Dallas/Fort Worth market to the NFL Cowboys. On May 26, 1963, the former Texans were rechristened the Kansas City Chiefs. Hunt passed away in December 2006.

Tips For Anti-Transpirant Application

An anti-transpirant application is customarily included in typical Colonial Nursery tree-transplanting operations. Select trees are sprayed prior to digging or, if not, they are sprayed at the job site immediately after planting. However, Bruce opted to handle the spray application with his own crew, as the Chiefs had the sprayer, an experienced technician and a supply of an anti-transpirant in the chemical store room. “It’s a … product we’ve applied for years, generally in November, as winter protection for certain trees and shrubs,” he explained. Winter damage to ornamentals around Arrowhead Stadium is practically unknown. With Kansas City’s weather extremes, one never knows when winter may bring adverse effects from freezing temperatures and desiccating winds. “Providing a winter ‘overcoat’ to susceptible varieties and exposed plants in open areas probably has helped us look good in the spring,” Bruce said.

“Moving these six large trees out of the way, then taking them back to their original site and replanting them was our first time using an anti-transpirant in the summer. Overall, four applications were made.” A follow-up treatment was made in July after an extreme hot spell when there were references to several more near-hundred-degree days in the forecast.

Forth And Back Again

Sportsfield turf management is the forte of the Chiefs’ grounds crew, of course. The crew shines at sodding, seeding and sprigging Bermuda grass and over-seeded perennial ryegrass, as well as Kentucky bluegrass at its Wisconsin training camp. It maintains a total of 6 ½ natural-grass playing fields for the Chiefs.

Meanwhile, the cause of the leakage around The Pavilion and the interfacing with its subterranean neighbors had been pinpointed and corrected. After Bruce and crew resodded the lawn and replaced shrubbery, Colonial Nursery brought back its Big John Tree Spade, and the six Seedless Marshall Ash trees were again transplanted in front of the Pavilion. August 16 was moving day and the temperature reached the mid-eighties. To minimize transpiration and help prevent wilting and leaf drop, the trees again were sprayed with an anti-transpirant, and the diligent watering schedule was resumed.

A couple days later, the Arizona Cardinals came to Arrowhead for the Chiefs’ pre-season opener. The Cardinals won 20-16. However, many Chiefs staffers still felt like winners due to the successful reopening of The Pavilion and the restoration of the landscape. For the tens of thousand of fans passing by, it looked almost as though nothing had changed since the previous season. The Chief’s Engineering and Groundskeeping departments wouldn’t have it any other way.

Hal G. Dickey is a freelance writer with over 35 years of experience in the professional turf and ornamental industry. A professional photographer, writer and former Advertising Director and Public Relations Manager for PBI/Gordon Corporation, he is known by many lawn and landscape contractors, golf course superintendents, turf producers and grounds crews for his insatiable curiosity and genuine interest in every aspect of the turf and ornamental management industry.