Winter Tree Work – More Than Just Pruning

By Bud White, director, Mid-Continent Region
December 11, 2013

Tree root competition can impose significant problems for turf health. Notice the distinct line of improved turf health where root pruning had been performed the previous winter.

Probably the most common “winter job” on the golf course is tree management, at least for golf facilities with any considerable tree population. However, many golf facilities have cut the tree maintenance budget in recent years thinking that trimming a tree is inexpensive because it is something the grounds staff can do in the winter in their downtime. 

Course officials and stakeholders should be made aware that trimming is only part of the tree work needed each and every winter. Tree maintenance on a golf course can be an overwhelming amount of work. In addition to regular trimming, other key aspects of proper tree maintenance include: 

  • Tree removal – Dead or damaged trees, those deemed problematic to turf health in important playing areas, or that unduly interfere with play should be removed.
  • Root pruning – Tree roots directly compete with turf for soil nutrients and water. Tree root competition is often overlooked as a cause for poor turf performance, so pruning feeder roots every few years is needed, especially around greens and tees.
  • Raising tree canopies – Removing low-hanging limbs not only improves airflow throughout the golf course for healthier turf, but it can also speed pace of play because golfers will have fewer obstacles, in this case limbs, to negotiate.
  • Clearing understory vegetation – This is important because it improves and maximizes airflow throughout the golf course. Removing understory brush should always be maintained toward the prevailing wind corridors during the summer months as well as the corresponding, opposing corridor so maximum airflow is achieved across green and tee complexes.
  • Sucker growth removal – Tree suckers need to be routinely removed so tree canopies remain open and healthy as well as aesthetics improved.

Root pruning is easily accomplished with a root pruning attachment, wire puller or trencher. The first two are much less work, however. The extension of tree feeder roots can be 100 percent beyond the drip line of trees and the deterioration of turf quality can be significant. In fact, arborists have used the analogy of a wineglass positioned on a dinner plate as the relation of a tree’s canopy to its extensive root system. 

Tree maintenance is an annual winter task, and inadequate funding can affect tree health, turf health, playability and course aesthetics. Annual tree work often requires purchase or rental of specialized equipment such as lifts and chippers. When using chippers, a side benefit of tree work is that it generates mulch that can be utilized in other areas of the golf facility. 

Finally, conference season is upon us. Listed below are two regional conferences that I hope you will put on your calendar. Excellent educational sessions are available for a wide variety of staff members, including assistants, mechanics and spray technicians. Your general manager, golf professional and course officials would benefit as well.

Dec. 16-17, 2013 

Heartland Green Industry Expo (Common Ground Conference, Overland Park, Kan.)

Jan. 22-23, 2014 

Arkansas Turf Association Annual Conference (Hot Springs National Park, Ark.)

Source: Bud White (

Information on the USGA’s Turf Advisory Service

Contact the Green Section Staff

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