North Carolina State University’s Turfgrass Breeding and Genetics program, under the direction of Dr. Susana Milla-Lewis, has released Sola™ St. Augustinegrass. The grass, which has been evaluated over the past 11 years, had its much-anticipated name revealed at NC State’s 2022 Lake Wheeler Turfgrass Field Day held on August 10, before hundreds of turfgrass industry and landscape professionals.
Sola follows in the footsteps of long-standing cultivar Raleigh St. Augustinegrass from NC State, and adds several improvements including aggressive growth, shade tolerance, drought tolerance, and superior sod strength in combination with turf quality. While the new line is comparable to Raleigh in terms of cold tolerance, it possesses a better pest resistance package having better tolerance to chinch bugs and gray leaf spot.
“When the turfgrass breeding program was established in 2009, Raleigh was the only turfgrass cultivar NC State had released going back to the early 1980s. And despite it being old, it was still an important commercial cultivar that is widely grown” Milla-Lewis shared.
“We set out to develop something that would beat Raleigh and it’s exciting that it outperforms it in so many different ways,” Milla-Lewis said. “As the breeder, one thing I’m most excited about is that I think this grass is going to make producers very happy because it is very aggressive to establish and regrow, and the sod quality is great.”
Milla-Lewis anticipates the southern portion of the transition zone corridor will be one of the first areas where Sola will expand. She is eager to observe if this new cultivar will replace older St. Augustinegrasses throughout these regions over time. “This is an exciting day for everyone involved in the research and development of this new St. Augustinegrass cultivar. I am hopeful both growers and consumers appreciate Sola for its many improved characteristics and overall turf quality,” she commented.
Sola is the second cultivar to be released from Milla-Lewis’ breeding program within the past year. Lobo™ Zoysiagrass was released in November 2021. Select NC sod producers, turfgrass research, development, and marketing company Sod Solutions and the North Carolina Sod Producers Association (NC SPA) helped support the development of these grasses by teaming up to form Turf Research North Carolina (TRNC) in 2016.
Growers made financial contributions over a six-year period to fund the research and development of Lobo, Sola, and other turfgrasses yet to come out of the program. All NC SPA participating growers contributing to the program will have exclusive access to the grasses when they are released. Sola St. Augustine will be exclusively licensed through Sod Solutions for commercial production and marketing.
“This is a monumental day for the turfgrass industry. Dr. Milla-Lewis and her team have put in years of research and hard work towards this new St. Augustinegrass cultivar. We are thrilled to be a part of this process and cannot wait to see the success of Sola in the marketplace for years to come,” said Sod Solutions President Tobey Wagner.
Milla-Lewis reflected on her first presentations to the NC SPA back in 2009 and how the sod producers kept their faith in her as a new turfgrass breeder. “For the past 12 years, through many meetings and field days, I would show the program’s progress and promise something would come out of our work. Now here we are, with two new cultivars released,” she said. “They have been so supportive and incredibly patient. I am incredibly thankful to the NC SPA growers and the TRNC.”
Up Next: Centipedegrass
Up next for NC State’s Turfgrass Breeding and Genetics program will be a new centipedegrass cultivar. Promising lines are currently in the last stages of testing in on-farm trials at Mackilwean Turf Farm, Quality Turf, and at the Lake Wheeler Turfgrass Field Laboratory. Following an improved centipede cultivar, Milla-Lewis anticipates promising lines of St. Augustinegrasses, Zoysiagrasses and possibly fescues will be released from the program. But for now, the release and expansion of Sola is a top priority.