Peter Jones: How the correct planting and pruning of trees can benefit the golf course

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir October 30, 2011 14:23

Peter Jones: How the correct planting and pruning of trees can benefit the golf course

Winter time brings an opportunity for tree management work, but the lopping or removing of trees remains an emotive subject for many a golf club member, which can create problems and frustration for the course manager if there is not an agreed tree management plan to work to.

Typically, it’s the old, old problem of communication, and being able to inform and educate those members who have tree-hugging tendencies as to why certain trees are causing problems or need to be removed.

Privately-owned clubs have less of a problem with carrying out this type of work, as the course manager and the owner can make decisions on more of a commercial basis, often without interference from the golfers.

Of course, the majority of us love to experience the wonderful delights associated with trees, such as the first green leaves in spring, the sound of a woodpecker, the aesthetic quality that trees can bring to the landscape and not to mention the satisfaction of planting a tree (hopefully in the right place) but as some trees continue to get bigger they can create problems which are not only detrimental to the fine turf areas on the course, but also become more and more expensive to deal with year-on-year as the scale of the problems continue to grow.

What is as much of a concern as not being able to remove problematic trees is the fact that individuals and businesses see now as the ideal time to embark on tree planting campaigns in an attempt to reduce the CO2 in the atmosphere.

A single tree can absorb a tonne of CO2 in its lifetime, which makes planting trees an ideal way of reducing a golf club’s carbon footprint, so will we see pressure groups and enthusiastic members urging their clubs to plant more trees next year? Well let’s hope not!

Many courses are still left with the legacy of the 70s when the ‘Plant-A-Tree in ’73’ campaign urged everyone in Britain to get involved with tree planting. This was followed a year later by the ‘Plant some more in 74’ campaign, since when some 20 million trees have been planted in the UK under the guidance and support of the Tree Council.

While these figures are excellent news for the countryside, the same rules do not generally apply for the golfing landscape, especially where trees were crammed into tight spaces between fairways and planted too close to greens and tees.

Tree mania was all the rage then, and the cycle looks like it’s about to come round again, but this time on the pretext of reducing carbon footprints. Let’s hope that this time round the vast majority of these trees can be planted in new woodlands and forests, rather than on golf courses.

I once attended a club committee meeting where a committee member informed those present that he had secured a deal from the local authority for 5,000 trees to be planted between the fairways on the parkland course. I strongly advised against this proposal but my views were outweighed by the ten excited people around the table who couldn’t resist a bargain.

To cap it all, the trees were planted by the local authority and spaced too close together to get a rough mower in between. Needless to say, I haven’t been back there since, but have heard that strimming the rough in between the trees is now their most time consuming job.

More often than not, the main problems associated with trees are shade, poor air movement, leaf litter and debris, increasing tree surgery costs and problems associated with tree roots.

Poplars and conifers were two of the most popular tree species to be planted in the 60s and 70s, mainly to create backdrops to greens and to separate fairways.

Where people had the foresight to think ahead, indigenous slower growing varieties (for example oak and beech) were also planted and many are now becoming large enough that the conifers and poplars can be removed, as can be seen in the following pictures.

Tree roots are a slightly more subtle problem, and it can be difficult to estimate just how much damage is being caused as they generally go unseen. If proof of the vigorous nature of some tree rots were needed, I can recall a project in Manchester where the roots of the poplar trees were found some 30 metres away from the trees.

In cases where a tree is considered to be too close to a tee or green but it has strong architectural, aesthetic or strategic value, then the problems associated with the roots can sometimes be dealt with by root pruning and the installation of a vertical root barrier.

Root pruning alone is not a long term solution as a substantial amount of re-growth can occur within a year of pruning and therefore a barrier creates a better solution.

Care and advice should also be taken when planning the project as the severance of more than 30 per cent or roots is likely to induce the slow dieback and eventual death of a mature tree.

Typically a trench is dug which severs the roots and a plastic membrane is installed vertically in the trench. Great care must be taken to ensure that roots can not penetrate where the barrier is joined, by following the manufacturer’s recommendations. Proprietary brands of root barrier material are available, such as Terram Root Guard Plus, Hy-Tex Root Barrier G3 and DuPontTM Green Vista Root Barrier, all of which are geomembrane reinforced products.

Alternatively, a roll of 1200 gauge damp proof membrane from the builders’ merchant can prove to be a cheaper alternative if installed carefully

The management of trees can present yet another interesting facet to the role of course managers and greenkeepers in maintaining courses, and quality not quantity is a rule of thumb to adopt when planting trees for the future.

Crown thinning, crown reduction and crown lifting are skills that are normally best left to specialist tree surgeons, of which there are normally many locally based.

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir October 30, 2011 14:23
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