You may have already figured out that trees and turf don’t always get along. This makes a lot of sense if you look in the wild. Lots of trees grow in certain areas, while other areas are dominated by grass. There are areas where small meadows pop up in forests, and there are other areas where lone trees stand out in the prairie. Both of these conditions are a normal part of ecological change, but they are not the dominant situations. In the case of the trees in the prairie, the trees are specific pioneer varieties. Even using those in the landscape can present some problems for maintaining turf grass. So what is a homeowner or landscape manager to do?
WateringManagers need to look at the different growth and needs of each plant type and look at the areas they can compromise at. One of the key points is watering. Bluegrass roots only go down eight inches (if even that) while the main feeding roots of trees go to 18 inches. Most trees need deep, infrequent watering while turf needs whatever it takes to keep the top layer of soil damp. This is not always easy to do, but with modern sprinkler controllers and water conserving rotors you can give a zone a deep watering once a week for the trees and an additional one or two shallower waterings through the rest of the week for the grass.
RootsThe roots of the tree are going to make things tough for grass near the tree, and turf care near the tree often damages the tree. This is a simple fix with a tree ring. A tree ring is a circle around a tree with no grass growing and mulched about four inches deep. The ring needs to be at least three feet across for new trees, but it should be bigger for larger trees. This does wonders for keeping lawn mowing equipment from scraping tree bark and makes it much easier to mow around trees. Just be sure not to pile the mulch too deep or up against the trunk. Tree rings also look nice, and the most beautiful and respected landscapes in my area use tree rings.
SunlightKeep the trees properly trimmed. Dead and sick wood prevents light from getting down to the grass. Overly thick branches from too much pruning blocks huge amounts of light. Chose trees with less dense tops. Maples and oaks are well loved, but they are going to create a lot of shade no matter how you maintain them. A honey locust, on the other hand, lets enough light through that turf rarely suffers under one. Also consider planting a shade-tolerant grass blend such as our Fine Fescue Blend. This is the least used solution, but the one with the greatest likelihood of improving the condition of turf grass already shaded by mature trees.
Even though they usually grow in different areas in nature, trees and turf can get along and even complement each other. If you are having problems, step outside with my list and you will be sure to find some good solutions to your plant conflicts!