Tree Management and Shade Issues

There is an ongoing debate on almost every golf course in the country. The conflict is between trees and turfgrasses. This leads to the debate between golfers, environmentalists and superintendents. In simple terms, superintendents are paid to grow grass. Turfgrass needs to “wake up” every morning, just like us, in order to begin its growing process on a daily basis. If trees prohibit grass from getting light early in the day, the process for growth starts later than it should. Think of it this way – if you and I have 8 hours of work to do and you begin at 7 a.m. and have until 3 p.m. to do it and I wake up at 11 a.m. and only have until 3 p.m. to do it, who will get it done? It is the same principle with grass. If some grass “wakes up” at 7 a.m. and other grass “wakes up” at 11 a.m. because of shade, the grass that is up at 7 a.m. is going to grow more and be a lot healthier than the other.

Trees absolutely enhance the beauty and playability of any golf course. Superintendents are in charge of managing an unnatural environment where trees and turf compete for light, water and nutrients. Trees impact almost every aspect of golf course management. The most severe type of stress is from lack of sunlight because it is required for energy production. When the amount of light is reduced, the plant can’t produce the amount of energy needed to grow. Turf, in shaded areas, produces thinner leaves, which in turn makes the turf less wear-tolerable and more susceptible to disease. Superintendents then do what they are supposed to do, mow grass. The plant is then subjected to more stress and is unable to grow and battle pests. This leads to the growth of weeds and other unwanted cultivars. There is also competition between trees and turf for available water. In our area, this is multiplied because of our recent drought.

There are a few management practices that a lot of superintendents utilize. Especially around greens, installing fans is very effective. The fans allow for more air movement, which is reduced by the trees, and they reduce prolonged leaf wetness. Also using less nitrogen fertilizers and applications of growth regulators that work well in shade areas will help combat the overall problem of shade. Superintendents also can institute a pruning regimen. By doing this they can nip a lot of these problems in the bud. Root pruning around greens has proven to be an effective tool with tree management. All these methods help manage shade issues without having to remove trees, but unfortunately there are some instances where removal is unavoidable.