Turf Wars: Grass vs. Trees

September 9, 2020 · 2 minute read
Turf Wars: Grass vs. Trees

I’ve consulted with many people on how to “adjust” their trees to allow the grass around more light and generally be happier. I do it, of course, but the problem is, I’m just not a fan of grass — at least not manicured grass.

I’m not really sure why this is. I like the color green, and I like things that are soft under my feet. I mean there’s no real reason to dislike grass itself. It isn’t poisonous or really have any offensive odor. In fact, I like the way fresh cut grass smells, I always have. But still, there is something that turns me off about “nice” or “manicured” grass. I think It goes beyond physiology to what exactly the grass is. I think it’s what having good grass represents to me. Good grass means being free of weeds and bare spots. Maybe free of any variances in color. It takes a lot to maintain good grass. It’s usually quite time-consuming or expensive or both. 

I guess that’s why I chose arboriculture for a career. Trees seem to hold some kind of mystery to me that grass can’t match. Mature trees have a story, and they’ve seen the changes that only can be seen with undisturbed time and patience. They’re wise. Manicured grass isn’t wise. It’s usually paid for, and sometimes it’s the result of the removal of those mysterious trees. A client said to me once, “I love the shade of my trees, and, anyway, the moss and clover are still green”. 

Before I knew there was actually a biological reason for it, I noticed while climbing around in trees that grass and trees don’t get along. They just don’t seem to handle being right next to each other well. You may think that a tree would have the upper hand because it’s bigger and its roots are deeper, but that’s not the case. Most of a tree’s feeder roots that absorb water and nutrients are in the upper few inches of soil. It’s a constant battle; Later I learned that another part of this invisible warfare is a sophisticated and intriguing phenomenon called allelopathy. Trees and turf both release natural chemicals that act like herbicides to slow the growth of surrounding plants. Also, trees and grass typically need a mediator like mulch to help lessen the chance of injury from the battle. 

So, sometimes it’s difficult for me to know how to respond to “We need to cut the trees so we can get grass” because my response may be unpopular and shouldn’t be what I may be thinking, which is: Why?