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Turf Development on the Grow

New lawn grass cultivars offer better color, increased pest resistance, expanded utility
By Suz Trusty


Turf pros can compare the performance of turf cultivars at
one of the many turf field days scheduled each summer.

Turf pros can compare the performance of turf cultivars at one of the many turf field days scheduled each summer.
IMAGE COURTESY SUZ TRUSTY.

Are you weary of lawn care woes? Take heart. The industry is responding with innovations in turfgrass breeding and variety development for the market.

The National Turfgrass Evaluation Program (NTEP) coordinates multi-year trials at numerous sites, working with university cooperators to put multiple varieties of a species to the test in outdoor plots for side-by-side comparison. The variety entry/breeder sponsor list and testing site information for each current trial are listed on the NTEP website (www.ntep.org).

New tools expand precision testing throughout the turfgrass industry. With advancements in digital imaging and software, specific turfgrass attributes, such as wear resistance or salt or drought tolerance, can be monitored and measured at varying points during plant development and establishment and under specific growing conditions.

Dr. Jim Baird, assistant cooperative extension specialist in turfgrass management for the University of California - Riverside, says, "We're using digital image analysis to evaluate turfgrass cultivars for the Turfgrass Water Conservation Alliance (TWCA). Their testing program focuses strictly on the drought aspect. Once the plants are established, we subject them to dry down. When the digital image analysis shows they've reached 25 percent green color, we re-water that area and measure the plant's recovery ability." Details about the program are listed on the website (www.tgwca.org).

Make your match

Turfgrass breeders monitor the NTEP trials and other testing programs to compare their varieties to those of other promising cultivars within their own development programs as well as to the varieties of other breeders. Turfgrass breeders and developers also work with end users to arrange trials of their varieties in "real world" growing conditions of sites on which those varieties will typically be used.

Note the rhizomes in this piece of young sod. It's a feature
of one of the cultivars of Rhizomatous Tall Fescue from
Barenbrug USA.

Note the rhizomes in this piece of young sod. It's a feature of one of the cultivars of Rhizomatous Tall Fescue from Barenbrug USA.
IMAGE COURTESY BARENBRUG USA.

Baird says, "The major turf distributors use the testing data to help guide their formulation of proprietary blends and mixes targeted for specific regions and types of use."

John Jones, president of Omaha, Neb.- based United Seed, a regional wholesaler and distributor, says, "The better the seed variety, the better the performance and versatility. We follow the Nebraska, Iowa and Kansas NTEP trials. We can see each variety and make direct comparisons both visually and with the compiled data. We then work with six to eight breeders to select the best turf varieties of certified blue tag seed for our mixes and blends. We're continually adapting, bringing in the top new varieties as quickly as they become available."

Bluegrasses

"Kentucky bluegrass is the most widely planted lawn grass throughout the United States, including Colorado," says Dr. Tony Koski, extension turf specialist, Colorado State University. "It creates a dense, uniform, cushioned surface, with attractive dark green color. It's a strong sod-former and can recuperate from traffic injury relatively quickly because of its underground stems, called rhizomes. It's a cool-season grass with excellent heat and cold tolerance and excellent drought resistance, although it does become brown and dormant to survive prolonged drought."

Breeders are playing on these strengths in new variety development. Among the latest offerings from Jacklin Seed by Simplot are: 4-Season Kentucky bluegrass, and Rush, which has features making it highly competitive with Poa annua.

A new introduction in Barenbrug's HGT (Healthy Grass Technology) Kentucky bluegrass program, entered in the NTEP trials as BAR VV0709 and now named Barvette HGT, is making a strong showing in the transition zone.

Fullback, a bluegrass variety launched by Landmark Turf & Native Seed in 2012, is notable for its traffic and wear tolerance, strong recuperative ability and good disease resistance, including tolerance to summer patch. Another 2012 introduction is Noble with good disease resistance and traffic tolerance.

Kentucky bluegrasses perform well in blends, and are also well-suited for use in mixes.

Another variety drawing interest, says Koski, is Bella Bluegrass. "It's a vegetative variety, with only one licensed sod grower in a state, though plugs are available nationwide," he says.

While bluegrass reigns in much of the cool-season turf region, improvements in other grass species are providing multiple options.

Making the Most of Scant Moisture

Seeding a non-irrigated residential property in northeast Ohio is risky business. Establishing high-quality turfgrass on properties with thin turf and bare areas on relatively new homesites requires more than a little serious care. This is true even if the seed is put down in late August, traditionally the best time of the year to begin establishing a lawn of cool-season turfgrass.

Yes, you'll educate the homeowner on the need to keep the seed moist until it germinates and gets established. And yes, the homeowner will likely nod his head and promise to follow your instruction, but things happen, right? We're all human.

Doug Tronge, whose meal money depends on giving customers green, beautiful lawns, knows the risks, so he decided to try something new to minimize those risks on several residential properties he seeded in August 2012. He bought and used a product called Hydretain, which its manufacturer, Ecologel Solutions, LLC, describes as a blend of humectant and hygroscopic compounds that "attract free water molecules from the air within the soil matrix."

Tronge, who owns Greensman Inc., Akron, Ohio, seeded several of the new non-irrigated properties under his care using the product and several without it. As he had never used the product previously, he was just being cautious even though the summer of 2012 was the hottest and one of the driest ever-recorded in Ohio. It turns out he would have been well advised to use the product on every property he seeded this past August.

"Actually, I could hardly believe how well the lawns that I used the material on came in," says Tronge. "They were definitely thicker and fuller. It was easy to see."

Here's how he used Hydretain, although he cautions that, given different conditions, for example a wetter summer or on irrigated lawns, he would have seeded the lawns without using the product. The cost of the product - he purchased and used the granular formulation in a 40-pound bag - is an expense that must has to be passed on to the client, he points out.

In the referenced Tronge seeding projects, he was able to sell lawn aerations along with seeding.

First, he ran over the property with an AERA-vator aerator attached to the front of his Grasshopper tractor. After fracturing and creating openings in the soil, he filled the hopper of a Lesco spreader with Barenbrug seed (perennial ryegrass on one lawn, turftype tall fescue seed on the others) walked the properties that he had just aerated. Then he filled the spreader with starter fertilizer and walked the properties a second time. Wanting to make sure he had worked the seed into the soil, he finished the jobs by lightly running the AERA-vators over the properties a second time.

"I waited until I could see rain in the forecast. We had been in a super drought and I needed to get the lawn seeded just before it rained," he recalls. That's also when he applied Hydretain to help the soil retain moisture when the rain did come.

Tall fescues

Tall fescue is a durable, cool-season grass used primarily for its traffic, heat and drought tolerance. Some varieties also contain endophytic fungi that provide natural disease and insect resistance.

Jones says, "The early introductions, like K-31, were wide-bladed, clumping grasses. The new, lower-growing, turf type tall fescues have finer leaf blades and better quality overall. We now include them in mixes. We also recommend overseeding them into established bluegrass lawns."

Barenbrug introduced spreading tall fescues and continues to improve its RTF (Rhizomatous Tall Fescue) blend as it brings new varieties into production. Along with rhizome production, these tall fescues exhibit improved brown patch resistance and color, reduced plant height, and active growth earlier in the spring and later in the fall.

Tim Moore, consultant to Newsom Seed, a regional distributor based in Fulton, Md., reports growing requests for the lateral spreading tall fescues, with Spyder LS used most frequently.

Ryegrasses

Perennial ryegrass is an aggressive cool-season grass, with good traffic tolerance and insect resistance, often selected primarily for its rapid germination and establishment.

Moore says, "With the perennial ryegrasses, resistance to gray leaf spot is a primary concern. Newsom Seed is using Stellar GL, Apple GL and Paragon GLR."

Pickseed USA's recent introductions include: Wicked (SRX -4RHD), a top performer in the new NTEP trials; Karma (PSG 10401) with a spreading growth habit and superior gray leaf spot resistance; and Bladerunner II (PSG 85QR) exhibiting quick rhizome development and ability to withstand traffic. Seed Research of Oregon (SRO) launched SR 4650 (PSG 3701), which shows excellent wear and gray leaf spot resistance. Sideways (PSG S84) has an active spreading growth habit combined with strong wear and stress tolerance.

Monterey IV, new in the fall of 2012 from Jacklin Seed by Simplot, is gray leaf spot resistant. Their late 2011 introduction, CSI-Rye, is tiller-forming, with fine-textured, high shoot density, fast germination and slower top growth for reduced mowing requirements. JS501 and Replay are two of Jacklin's new Gly-Ryes that have been bred and hybridized from a natural mutation to tolerate rates of glyphosate that obliterate Poa annua.

Barenbrug USA has introduced RPR (Regenerating Perennial Ryegrass) varieties, classified as "stoloniferum," with superior wear tolerance, and has also launched several turf-type annual ryegrass introductions. Their SOS (Super Over Seeding) program allows the end-user to fine-tune their bermudagrass overseeding program for establishment, spring transition, color, and turf quality by adjusting the percentages of both the turf-type annual and the perennial ryegrasses.

Recent perennial ryegrass introductions from Turf Merchants, Inc. (TMI) include Pizzazz 2 GLR (PR909) and the new Pangea, which features dark green color, compact growth, and high resistance to gray leaf spot. TMI's research incorporates digital imaging analysis in breeding ryegrasses with better salt tolerance for those who irrigate with effluent/salty water. It has resulted in their 2012 introduction, Saltinas (KSA).

Other turfgrasses making a strong showing for salt tolerance are the Paspalums and TMI's new Oceania Maritima, the first commercially available puccinellia maritima.

Bermudagrasses

Bermuda is a low-growing, drought-resistant, warm-season grass that spreads by rhizomes and stolons to form a dense, fast-repairing lawn. It thrives in full sun and has fair salt tolerance. It goes dormant in cold weather, greening up when temperatures warm. There are both vegetative and seeded varieties.

Breeders are pushing the northern boundaries by developing new varieties with increased cold tolerance and early green-up. Northbridge and Latitude 36, 2012 introductions, demonstrate cold hardiness equal to Patriot, an industry standard in that category.

Waltz reports those two varieties are performing well in Georgia's NTEP trials. "We are seeing more Celebration going into the Atlanta area," he says. "TurfGrand does well here, except in shady spots. Tifway419 is the tried and true standby."

Many of the new seeded bermudas also demonstrate late-season cold tolerance and early-spring green up. They are pushing seeding dates, too. Hollywood, Jacklin's 2011 introduction, can be seeded when soil temperatures are in the 70s.

Zoysiagrass

Zoysia is also used for warm-season lawns which, like bermuda, goes dormant in cold weather. Diamond zoysia, a 1996 cultivar introduction from Texas A&M, is a popular choice.

A more recent introduction is Zenith, the first hybrid zoysiagrass cultivar that can be established by seed. However, Waltz says, "Sodding is the choice for both home and commercial property zoysia lawns due to the fast establishment and uniformity. Empire is popular in some areas, while Palisade is grown more in the southern part of Georgia. JaMur and Zeon are frequently used cultivars. JaMur is a blue-green, medium-textured grass with good drought tolerance. Zeon has moderate drought tolerance, but a finer texture. Both form a dense lawn that holds up to traffic and recuperates well after wear."

Expect more zoysia variety choices in the future. A partnership formed in 2012, involving 21 Florida sod producers from the Florida Sod Growers Cooperative (FSGC) and the University of Florida turfgrass researchers, is on that quest.

The bottom line is, no matter your region or the level of turf maintenance you provide, there are - and will continue to be - excellent new turfgrass options to fit your needs.

Suz Trusty is a partner with her husband, Steve, in Trusty & Associates, Council Bluffs, Iowa. She has been involved in the green industry for over 40 years. Contact her at suz@trusty.bz.