Annual Tree Trimming To Improve Turfgrass Performance July 5, 2019 By Steve Kammerer, Ph.D., regional director, Southeast Region

This large tree has received seasonal pruning over many years to minimize negative effects on turfgrass quality and playability.

Trees and turfgrass can cause issues if not continually managed. In the Southeast, summer is a good time to perform pruning of problem trees to allow better air flow and sunlight penetration. Some tree species, like live oaks, can produce a lot of shade – negatively impacting turfgrass health on putting greens, tees, fairways and roughs alike. Trees that obstruct a large amount of sunlight and never drop all their leaves are especially problematic for turfgrass. Extensive winter shade on bermudagrass that does not go dormant usually results in thin or no turfgrass in the spring.

Trees that are injured by hurricanes or tropical storms often have a latent response to the damage, taking two or three years to begin dying. Pines are a good example of this phenomenon and dying pines attract pine bark beetles, a pest that can extensively damage living trees. Identifying and removing damaged trees early can prevent greater tree loss later. Read the USGA article, “Hurricane Hangover,” for more information on this issue.

Trees like magnolias and ficus trees – e.g., banyan trees or strangler figs – can be especially troublesome on a golf course. They do not respond well to pruning and these trees have characteristics that do not lend themselves to coexisting well with turfgrass. They also require continuing leaf and debris cleanup.

Ideally, tree trimming should also include pruning, removal or grinding of surface roots. Trees like bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) produce a preponderance of surface roots – sometimes called “knees” – that can break mower blades, cause cart mishaps, interfere with hitting shots, and potentially injure golfers that strike these roots during a swing.

Lastly, sick or damaged trees and limbs can break and cause damage to the course. If you haven’t done so in a while, conduct a hole-by-hole evaluation of your trees and proactively address problem areas. If you need help with evaluating tree plantings as they relate to turfgrass health, playability, tree quality and aesthetics, a USGA tree evaluation visit is something to consider. Tree pruning or removal will pay dividends down the road, and summer is a good time to conduct this work because it is easy to assess the health of the tree and the turf.


Southeast Region Agronomists:

Chris Hartwiger, director, USGA Course Consulting Service –

Steve Kammerer, Ph.D., regional director –

Patrick M. O’Brien, agronomist –

Addison Barden, agronomist –

Information on the USGA’s Course Consulting Service 

Contact the Green Section Staff

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