Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Tree Bases

Tree bases are challenging areas to maintain, especially those under the fir trees.  These trees have very shallow root systems which compete for every bit of soil moisture near the surface.  In addition, the needles that fall from these trees makes the soil beneath them very acidic.  Basically, the conditions at the base of fir trees is extremely unfavorable for the culture of turfgrass.  When you can't grow grass in a certain area, inevitably you find soil, rocks, tree roots.....etc. or in essence a playing surface adverse to the playing of golf.  Check out the typical turf quality under a canopy of fir trees.
Areas like this are not attractive and not good for golf.  Now check out the typical conditions under the canopy of an oak grove.   
Notice there is grass covering virtually every square inch of the surface.  The oak trees are deeply rooted and compete very little for surface moisture.  For a good part of the growing season there is considerable sunlight under oak trees which is essential for turfgrass persistence.  It's not hard to imagine why oak prairie land such as that here at Tacoma is so perfect for golf.  Oak prairies are grasslands with gently rolling terrain and well draining soils.  Can you think of a better short description of desirable golf land?  Anyway, we do have some fir trees and they pose some serious challenges when you're trying to grow good turfgrass.  Sure they are messy and cause shade problems, but as I said earlier they are thirsty buggers and growing grass around the base of them takes a lot of work.
We try very hard to grow decent turfgrass around the base of some of the key fir trees which are near the greens and tees.  We've limbed up these trees to allow for sufficient sunlight and added sandy soil to cover the rocks and roots near the surface.  We hand water around these trees during the summer and use wetting agent products to relieve the drought condition caused by the thirsty shallow root systems.  To eliminate trimming the grass right around the trunk of these key trees we've worked at keeping those areas free of grass and dressed with mulch.  This practice adds another set of problems.  Keeping the mulch in place is difficult when we're constantly cleaning up after these trees using big debris blowers.  Keeping these mulched areas weed free requires hand pulling and hand applications of herbicide.  On top of that we have to consider playability and hitting golf shots from the course mulch is absolutely no fun.  Yes we could use some finer mulch around the base of these trees and you might think that's what we've done around the trees near the first green. 
The fact is we are not switching to a fine dark mulch to dress up around these trees.  Actually this dark fine mulch is just plain compost which we are using to aid germination of grass seed around the base of these trees.  We are trying a new solution around these key trees.  Actually I guess you could say we're trying an old solution which is to grow grass around them, but now we have a new tactic which is a little different.  The key to this new strategy is we're seeding these areas to straight chewings fescue.  Here's what it looks like when the new fescue grass emerges through the compost.  
So why do we think this is going to work?  Well, we've been experimenting.  Here's a look at a tree where we employed this strategy a couple of years ago.  
Obviously this is a very attractive and natural look.  With grass around thee trees we don't have to worry about using the big blowers near them.  You can definitely play a golf shot off this grass and best of all the maintenance of this tree base has been very simple.  The chewings fescue is very drought tolerant so it persists throughout the year without supplemental hand watering.  Also, the poor soil condition means the fescue grows extremely slow and that means very little mowing is required.  In fact over the past year I think we've mowed the fescue around this tree maybe 2 or 3 times.  We're hopeful this is going to be a long term solution for maintaining these challenging areas at the base of the fir trees.  

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