Unearthing the World of Cemetery Turf Care

Compared to golf course superintendents, cemetery groundskeepers certainly have less fussy clients. But like golf superintendents and sports turf managers, cemetery groundskeepers deal with turf damaged from weather events, foot traffic, vehicle traffic, limitations from budget constraints and more.

As the UF/IFAS Extension Brevard County commercial horticulture agent, I work with golf and sports turf often, but I wanted to learn more about its close cousin, cemetery turf. So, I set out on a journey along the Space Coast and beyond to find out more. Not only did I learn more about how these turf management sectors are related, but I also discovered some local mystery in Brevard County as well.

Keeping Cemetery Lawns

Cemetery groundskeepers, also known as greenskeepers, caretakers, sextons and sometimes gravediggers, are responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of cemeteries. Their duties can include mowing the lawn, pruning trees and vegetation, planting grass of over newly established graves, and sometimes digging graves. Sometimes they might also have to set and align headstones, build mourners’ shelters, and erect casket lowering devices.

Like golf superintendents and sports turf managers, they also must contend with wet conditions. But the main issue with wet conditions in cemeteries is that saturated soil will cause new gravesites to sink, often to only about 18 inches above the vault.

When fresh graves have sunk or turf has been lost, these sites will be re-seeded with some mix of cultivars suitable for the area. One cemetery supervisor in Virginia in Turf Magazine in 2008, reported using a mix of rye, Kentucky fescue and grass seed for shade and sun.

Turf cultivars suitable for cemeteries in the southeastern US were evaluated in a 3-year study in the early 2000s in Mississippi. They looked at the mowing requirements and weed competition without regular fertilizer applications for St. Augustinegrass, centipedegrass, zoysiagrass, bermudagrass and an ultra-dwarf bermudagrass. They found for overall performance, aesthetics and low inputs; St. Augustinegrass worked well.

Cemeteries in Brevard County

In Brevard County, there are several important and historic cemeteries, including the Cape Canaveral National Cemetery in Mims. It is here that one can find the final resting place of the first female U.S. Naval Admiral and Director of the Naval Nurse Corps, Alene Bertha Duerk. Also here is the grave of World War II Tuskegee Airman Edwin Cowan, a B-52 pilot with more than 500 hours of flight time.

Cape Canaveral Cemetary in Mims, Florida, Brevard County. Photo by Bonnie Wells

Another historic cemetery in Brevard is Lagrange Cemetery in Titusville, which was established in 1869. It is the oldest cemetery on Florida’s lower East Coast and contains gravesites of many pioneer families including Tom J. Cockshutt, founder of the Lagrange Church, Mims, for whom the town of Mims was named, and Colonel Henry T. Titus, founder of Titusville. It also is the final resting place of the social reformers Henry and Harriette Moore.

Several major league baseball players are buried in Melbourne, including Andy Seminick, Jake Early, Jimmy Pattison, and Les Sweetland.

But the most mysterious and interesting cemetery I visited was old, quaint, and eerie Georgiana Cemetery, also known as Crooked Mile Cemetery, just off Crooked Mile Road in Merritt Island. The cemetery is most famous as the burial site of Ethel Allen, a local murder victim who was just 19 years old when she was found dead and mutilated on the banks of the Indian River Lagoon in 1934. Nearly a century later, her murder is still a cold case and the possible suspect was never found.

Georgiana Cemetery, off Crooked Mile Road in Merrit Island, Florida, Brevard County. Photo by Bonnie Wells

The grisly circumstances surrounding her death, along with the eerie atmosphere of the old cemetery with tall trees overcome with Spanish moss, make the many ghostly sightings seem real. Many locals believe Ethel’s ghost haunts her final resting site here. Ethel’s grave stone is homemade and stands out among the other graves marked in the cemetery.

Ethel Allen’s homemade headstone in Georgiana Cemetery in Merritt Island, adorned with many offerings including flowers and a mirror. Photo by Bonnie Wells
Taking the Knowledge with Me

When I started this journey, I thought I’d learn more about managing cemetery lawns in Brevard County or in Florida, and I hoped to talk to some local cemetery groundskeepers. What I learned was that many of the cemeteries here, with the exception of the national cemetery, are managed by large turf management companies rather than a single groundskeeper of old. I also found that cemetery lawn care is a unique niche of turfgrass management, and one that doesn’t seem to have been heavily researched in the state. What I leave with though is a deeper understanding of the challenges these lawns face and of the mysteries and stories that surround them. For more information about cemetery lawns in Brevard County or if you have information to add, please contact me at bcwells@ufl.edu or follow me on Twitter at @BrevardPlantDr. To find more about more about some of the people whose final resting place is in Brevard County, visit the links below.














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Posted: October 29, 2020

Category: Agriculture, , SFYL Hot Topic, Turf, Work & Life
Tags: Featured, Special Topics



March 29, 2022

Hi Laura, Currently, we do not have any permaculture classes. Our horticulture agent, Sally, might have some information on it though. You can contact her at sasc@ufl.edu

Laura Branton
March 27, 2022

Do you have classes regarding Perma Culture? My daughter-in-law was talking to me about this and I am hoping you have available information. Thanks


February 10, 2022

Hello, We have another pressure canning class coming up on March 5 from 10 am to 12 pm. You can find it on our Eventbrite page: https://www.eventbrite.com/o/ufifas-extension-brevard-county-18496539748

Flo Fernandez
February 10, 2022

I was wondering if another pressure canning class is coming up? I missed the one this month unfortunately and am very interested in learning this skill!


November 17, 2021

Hi Dianna, I have a post scheduled to go out on 11/24. If you would like to receive our class list sooner, we have a newsletter that goes out on the 3rd Monday of every month! You can subscribe to it here: https://bit.ly/3CxvPY4

November 16, 2021

When will they post December classes?

Laura Dearinger
October 12, 2021

Dear Dr. Wells, I admire your work to find the happy environmentally friendly balance of natural ecosystems within golf courses. We have found many supporters who wish to reinvent the abandoned , privately -owned West End golf course on Newberry Road in Alachua County, and are reaching out to our County government for their support as well. The golf course was the core of our West End Village neighborhood ; we have a dream to revitalize it. Looking forward to contacting you at a later time! Thank you.

Bonnie C. Wells, DPM

October 11, 2021

Hi Laura, Thanks for your comment! I missed it earlier, I apologize. Please feel free to quote me and reach out if you have any questions. Several of our golf courses have become certified with Audubon International for their conservation efforts! I also have an article you may be interested in here, page 16: https://cdn.ymaws.com/www.ftga.org/resource/resmgr/turf_digest/2019/ftd_septoct_2019.pdf

October 11, 2021

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October 9, 2021

Pls specify, as well, Bonnie, which of the plants in your table r native to Florida.

October 8, 2021

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September 29, 2021

You're welcome. Glad I could provide useful information. Thanks for reading.

September 20, 2021

This is actually the kind of information I have been trying to find. Thank you for writing this information about preschool playground equipment

Laura Dearinger
September 5, 2021

I am a huge fan of Greenspaces/ Golf Courses. I love the statement you make underlining the importance of golfcourse superintendents as “stewards of the land. “May I please quote you ? I’m writing our commissioners to help save an abandoned for sale golf course! I love seeing deer, red tailed hawks, Sandhill Cranes on this former course. I’ve also seen a pair of pileated woodpeckers, a flock of egrets, and bluebirds.


August 23, 2021

Hello Michael, It's possible that the class in Cocoa is already full. Please contact the instructor, Gus Koerner, at (321) 633-1702 ext. 52320 or email him at gkoerner@ufl.edu for further information.

Michael E Focht
August 21, 2021

Hello! the Hunter Safety Class is NOT listed on the FWC class list.. My son needs the class, it has been canceled twice..he is signed up for the 3 hour virutal on AUG 24th, but if this cancels, we would like to do the 28th class in Cocoa.. Please advise! Thank YOU! Mike

August 19, 2021

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July 17, 2021

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Bonnie C. Wells, DPM

July 7, 2021

Hi Chris, Yes, these are "Florida-Friendly" plants, meaning they are low impact, environmentally friendly, use less water and reduce pollutant loading to Florida waters. Learn more here: https://ffl.ifas.ufl.edu/ Thanks! Bonnie

Chris Harmon
July 1, 2021

Hello, I just want to clarify... Under "Florida Friendly" cloumn, are you saying the plants do well in the Florida environment OR the plants are dangerous because of the ability to spread and damage the environment like Kudzu in Georgia? I live in Boca Raton, in Palm Beach County, which I believe is Zone 10.

June 18, 2021

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March 29, 2021

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February 16, 2021

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Manuel Mota
January 6, 2021

Hello I am an umble person from Portugal(europe). I´m navigate in Internet looking for Abandonnated churches, cemeteries, old monuments (castles,hotels,factories,etc.) I like to see. (I fill sad.) Manuel Mota mota@jardicentro.pt

November 27, 2020

What's up colleagues, nice article and nice urging commented at this place, I am truly enjoying by these.

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Bonnie C. Wells, DPM

November 9, 2020

Hi Mia, the Duval County Extension office should be able to help you with that question. Dr. Kerr is the commercial horticulture agent there, his email is CKERR@COJ.NET. Thanks for reading!

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Bonnie C. Wells, DPM

November 9, 2020

Awesome Frank, will do! Thanks so much for the suggestion. :)

Frank Galdo
November 9, 2020

Please, please, please add the FL native climbing aster! (Symphyotrichum carolinianum) The incredible explosion of fragrant purple flowers arrives in November & December, at a point when many other FL wildflowers are fading. To me, the flowers smell like sweet, warm sugar cookies! It's always loaded with pollinators too... Perfect for wetter soils - along the edges of ponds, swales, etc. Thanks, Frank Galdo - Program Coordinator, Florida-Friendly Landscaping, UF/IFAS Extension Pasco County Pics & info: https://flawildflowers.org/flower-friday-symphyotrichum-carolinianum/ http://hawthornhillwildflowers.blogspot.com/2009/11/climbing-aster-symphyotrichum.html https://twitter.com/PascoExt/status/1243217796705763329

June 28, 2020

These plants are very hard to find for purchase. Do you know anywhere in the Jax area? Thank you

suba suba
June 11, 2020

It as hard to find experienced people in this particular topic, however, you sound like you know what you are talking about! Thanks

Gus Koerner

May 13, 2020

Thanks and you're welcome! - gus

Gus Koerner

May 13, 2020

Thanks for your comments! There are so many math and physics principles practiced and demonstrated in archery! If an instructor can remember to point them out while the kids are on the range, he or she can really reinforce what is taught in the classroom. All the instructor has to do, is find the appropriate teachable moment and take advantage of it. gus

Graham Mitchell
May 8, 2020

This is a great use of math an angles to help improve your archery shooting range. When teaching a beginner having them line up a 90 degree angle will be helpful for them to take the same stance each time. Thank you

Diesel Wold
May 6, 2020

Informative, Thanks for this.

Gus Koerner

April 30, 2020

Thanks for your comments! I feel the same way. - gus

April 30, 2020

fishing is a awesome hobbit. I want fishing again and again.

Gus Koerner

March 26, 2020

Hey Steven! Thanks for your comment. I suggest you get into hunting with a multi-tiered approach, making sure you are comfortable in the woods, you know the laws and regulations of what you plan on hunting, and starting small - with small game that is. Hunting, which includes dispatching small game takes the same skills as hunting large game but with less input and intensity. If you can successfully bag your first raccoon (for example) and process it all the way to the table, you'll be well on your way to hunting larger game as you gain experience. If you haven't taken it, or done it lately, enroll in your local Hunter Safety class by your state game division. They can help. Go out into the woods and scout around. Go to the range and perfect your skills. All these things will not only prepare you for hunting, but will help you decide IF and how you want to go ahead. I hope that helps! - gus

Steven Rinella
March 25, 2020

Great share. I am new in hunting. Should I start with deer hunting? What your recommandation?

Gus Koerner

July 8, 2019

I'm glad you enjoyed the article! gus

Gus Koerner

June 19, 2019

Great to hear Joe! Send me a picture of it. gkoerner@ufl.edu I'd love to see it! gus

Joe Pavlik
May 12, 2019

Haha I did it I made awing bone call . Thanks for the information .

Saptarshi Bhattacharya
March 6, 2019

Thank you for your nice blog post. Keep it up.

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Bonnie C. Wells, DPM

March 5, 2019

Thank you very much, Gary! I have been impressed with the BMP efforts of the Brevard turf professionals I've visited and will most definitely be helping with the implementation of new programs and certifications in environmental stewardship. Stay tuned!

Basudeb Das
March 5, 2019

Thank you for your post. Keep it up.

Gary Chaney
March 4, 2019

This is a great article Bonnie. Thank you very much for taking the time to visit the courses and talk to the superintendents. I am sure that you were pleased with the knowledge and effort they use daily to be stewards of the environment. Many are BMP Certified but we need more to get this certification and implement new programs to make the best agronomic and environmental decisions on a daily basis.

Holly Abeels

February 18, 2019

The counties currently involved in the FL Horseshoe Crab Watch Program are Franklin, Taylor, Dixie, Levy, Hernando, Pinellas, Manatee, Martin, Indian River, Brevard, Volusia, and Nassau. There are some counties that will be incorporated in the future including those in Southwest Florida (and Collier county). Here on the East Coast of Florida we see horseshoe crabs nesting between December-May depending on where you are. On the Gulf Coast of Florida they see them nesting in the spring and fall (Feb-May and Aug-Oct). It's unknown what the nesting time is in southwest Florida. If you ever do see horseshoe crabs please report them to the FWC Wildlife Hotline for horseshoe crabs at this link: https://myfwc.com/research/saltwater/crustaceans/horseshoe-crabs/ (click on Report Your Nesting Horseshoe Crab Sighting). You can also download the free FWC Reporter App and report sightings through your mobile device (https://myfwc.com/news/all-news/sighting-app/).

Kenneth S. Ridlon
February 17, 2019

Is any yagging being done in Collier County? When is the best timr of yr to watch for mating crabs? Several yrs ago I was doing daily searches at Tigertail beach/lagoon. Found a good number that I sexed, measured etc. Never knrw where to send tbe data. Any contact person for this area?

Holly Abeels

December 3, 2018

Thanks Michael. I've put you down on my list and will be in touch once training dates are set.

Holly Abeels

December 3, 2018

Thanks Ivan. I've put you down on my list and will be in touch once training dates are set.

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Linda Seals

November 29, 2018

Hi Erin, unfortunately I do not have another one planned. I will keep your email address and let you know if we have another one.

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Linda Seals

November 29, 2018

Hi Cynthia, this class was in August. I don't have another one planned.

Ivan green
November 26, 2018

I'm in for a mid Brevard county location.

Cynthia Adkins
November 14, 2018

Would you please provide me with more information, like date and cost?

Michael Lee
November 13, 2018

I'm interested and can work for Kirk in Indian River County or Holly in mid to south Brevard.

maghfirah pustaka
November 5, 2018

thank you for the info, very interesting

Erin Carrigan
October 17, 2018

Is this going to be offered anytime soon? I was registered for a previous course but it was cancelled. Thank you. Erin

Gus Koerner

October 11, 2018

Thank you Mary. Feel free to call me anytime to discuss youth shooting sports in our region. Gus 321-633-1702, Ext. 52320

Mary Watkins
September 27, 2018

Gus, We shoot lever action smallbore and pistol cartridge rifle metallic silhouette at Seminole County Gun and archery and Chuluota Sportsmans Club on second Saturday and second Sunday of each month. Also smallbore and Hunters Pistol at Chuluota SC. Mary Watkins

Bradley T.
June 14, 2018

We have just posted an article about the Tegu Lizard being spotted in Brevard County.

Randy Moore
May 22, 2018

Thanks Mr. Gus!

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