Branching out at The Crossings at Carlsbad

GCSAA Class A superintendent Jon Christenson partnered with the city of Carlsbad to plant trees in the course's parking lot.


Aerial view of Ghost Creek golf course
Families were among the 70-plus volunteers at an Arbor Day tree-planting event at The Crossings at Carlsbad in Carlsbad, Calif. Photo courtesy of the City of Carlsbad

It would have been quite simple for the staff at The Crossings at Carlsbad to plant trees in the clubhouse parking lot, but Jon Christenson realized there was a better way.

Christenson, corporate director of golf maintenance for JC Golf, which manages the golf course for Carlsbad, Calif., contacted the city to see if there was a way the course could contribute to a community-service project.

“We had asked what we could do to help the city, what we could do for community involvement,” says Christenson, a GCSAA Class A superintendent and 36-year association member. “We wanted a way for the golf course to be more a part of the community. It’s a city-owned golf course, and it’s very busy. There’s a full-service restaurant open to the public, a great view of the ocean.

“We wanted to do more for the city, so we asked, ‘What can we do?’ They said, ‘Oh, this is perfect timing. We do this Arbor Day event every year.’ And we were in the middle of a landscaping project for the clubhouse …”

It’s pretty obvious to see where this is heading.

That’s how on April 27 — technically, the day after Arbor Day, but critically a Saturday — more than 70 volunteers turned out to plant 25 trees, ranging from 15-gallon pots to 24-inch-box trees at The Crossings.

“It was a great day,” Christenson says. “It was just a packed house. We maxed out on volunteers.”

In fact, volunteer turnout was intentionally limited. The course was open for play that day. Rather than close the parking lot for a bigger event, which naturally would have hindered course accessibility, the decision was made to limit the planting project instead.

“We easily could have gotten triple the volunteers,” Christenson says.

Naturally, most of the work — aside from the actual tree planting — was performed before the big day.

The city’s landscape designer compiled a list of suggested varieties, and an arborist helped select the trees most appropriate for the site.

“It was quite an undertaking,” Christenson says. “The arborist would say, ‘Yes, that would work great in that spot,’ or, ‘No, it won’t,’ taking into account the 3-foot-wide finger in the parking lot some of these would be planted in. They had to consider where the roots would go, and we had to put root barrier in, and we had to take into account the branching, so cars could still park close to the tree.”

Ultimately, the varieties were selected: Brisbane box, evergreen pear and western redbud.

As it turns out, Carlsbad is mad for trees.

The city has a robust Community Forest Management Plan and a list of approved trees for city parks and medians. Any property that removes a public tree must plant two to replace it.

Carlsbad has been recognized as a Tree City USA community for 20 years. Part of that designation is that the city must spend at least $2 per capita on its community forest program.

As he researched the Tree City USA designation, Christenson learned a few facts.

First, he learned Carlsbad is one of only 159 cities in California with that designation.

“So that’s kind of a big deal,” he says. “I didn’t know Carlsbad was that much of a tree city.”

He also learned it costs only $9 to water a tree annually in Carlsbad, and the average lifespan of a tree in Carlsbad is eight years.

“Nine dollars is cheap,” he says. “And I think it’s interesting the lifespan is only eight years. People think trees last forever.”

Another group of volunteers dug the holes at The Crossings the day before the big event. Planting-day volunteers watched a demonstration from city staff on how to plant a tree properly, from ensuring the holes were deep enough to planting to mulching and watering afterward. 

The entire process was remarkably sustainable. 

The tree planting was part of a parking lot revamp that also included an irrigation renovation that replaced wasteful sprinklers with drip and bubbler irrigation. The mulch was provided by the city as part of a city-wide mulching program in which trees felled in the city are ground to mulch and provided to residents.

Even the water, which was administered by a certified city staffer, was reclaimed.

“The whole thing was just great,” Christenson says. “The best part about it was the community involvement. They were people who’d never been on a golf course before. That was the neat part about it. We had entire families that came and planted a tree. I overheard parents say, ‘That’s our tree. We’re going to come back and watch it grow.’ That was the coolest part of the whole thing.”

Andrew Hartsock is GCM’s editor-in-chief.