Leaf Debris Management, Frost Delays And White Grub Damage

By Adam Moeller, agronomist, Northeast Region
October 15, 2013

Leaf debris management is a major undertaking at golf courses each fall, even with specialized equipment. The labor costs involved with leaf debris management is often underestimated.

Golf in October at Northeastern courses is great. Fall colors, cooler weather, and less humidity are a great contrast from the hot, stifling heat of July and August. The fall colors and cooler weather come at a price unfortunately: 1) leaf debris management and 2) frost delays. 

It’s a simple ratio; as the number of trees increase on a golf course, the more leaf debris management is required each fall. At most facilities in the Northeast, a large part of the workday is spent managing leaves on the golf course this time of year. Many courses move leaves on primary playing areas and they are mulched or collected as time permits. That said, it is not uncommon for courses to utilize blowers, mowers, and vacuums for the entire day, only to repeat the same process for several weeks until all of the leaves are down. The labor inputs required to manage leaves in the fall is significant, which becomes even more challenging because most facilities have scaled back seasonal employee hours to save costs. The Green Section Record article The Hidden Cost of Trees is a great resource because it discusses the necessary costs associated with trees on golf courses. Trees can be great features on golf courses, but there are extra costs associated with them so that good golf conditions can be maintained. 

Poll Question  

If you are a golf course superintendent, please share with us the amount of time spent at your course managing leaf debris this time of the year by completing a simple poll. After you have answered the questions, you will see the current poll results. If you are not a superintendent, feel free to click on the link. However, please skip Question 1 and simply click on “Done” to see the poll results. USGA Green Section Fall Leaf Management poll. The results of this survey will be discussed in the next update from the Northeast Region. 

Frost Delays  

Frost delays are just starting to occur at golf courses throughout the Northeast as nighttime temperatures decline. Frost delays are frustrating for golfers, but the damage a few players, or worst yet the mowing equipment, can cause is far more concerning. The brief article and video Frost Delays is a good education material for golfers if questions arise. Trees that block morning sun will create longer frost delays because of their shade pattern, so removals or pruning may be the best long term solution. 


Turf damage from raccoons, skunks, and other animals has been observed on many golf courses recently. These animals are digging aggressively for white grubs in the soil, and damaging the turf so severely that replanting is necessary in many cases. Applying preventive insecticide applications for white grubs is a cost benefit decision. The severity of the white grub problem and/or tolerance for damage is different for each golf course, and insecticide applications should be based on these factors. 

Source: Adam Moeller (amoeller@usga.org)

Information on the USGA’s Turf Advisory Service

Contact the Green Section Staff

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