October 7, 2015

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University of Minnesota golf course could become national model for greener practices

via @StarTribune

A University of Minnesota scientist says many golf courses could be a lot more friendly to the environment if they were engineered to use different turf grasses that require less water and fewer chemicals. Turf grass specialist and Prof. Brian Horgan wants to use 14 years of research to convert the university’s entire Les Bolstad Golf Course to those practices, making it a national model for thousands of other aging courses that need to be renovated.

“This is an area that’s ripe for leadership,” Horgan said, since about one-third of the nation’s 15,000 golf courses need to be renovated in the next few years with updated drainage and irrigation systems and other improvements.

Horgan said some courses, especially in Minnesota and other northern states, might benefit from switching grasses, as well. Most links usually plant bentgrass, Kentucky bluegrass or some of each.

But a different type — fine fescue grasses — typically require less water, less fertilizer, fewer pesticides and less frequent mowings. Horgan and others have been studying different varieties of fescue as part of the “Science of [the] Green” initiative.

“We’re trying to make sure we’re identifying the best way to be better stewards for the environment by utilizing the right grasses and using the right management systems,” he said. Sustainability includes both economic and environmental stewardship.

Golf courses often have about 100 acres of managed turf, including 30 acres of ­fairways and 50 acres of rough, Horgan said.

Fescues also are more easily damaged by golf cart traffic, said Eric Watkins, University of Minnesota associate professor and turf grass breeder, who works with Horgan.

But Watkins said that fine fescues overall seem to “hit the mark” for use in Minnesota, and he and others are studying whether some of the weaknesses can be overcome by mixing fescue varieties, breeding or other strategies.

Watkins said it’s time to increase some of the research and see how alternative grasses behave on a fully ­functioning golf course, such as the Les Bolstad links.

“A lot of golf course superintendents want to see what these grasses look like and play like on real fairways, and how they’re managed on a wider scale,” he said. “Maybe the grasses play a little differently, and we could also learn more about what golfers think.”

Mark Johnson, associate director of environmental programs for the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, said that Science of [the] Green and turf grass research at other universities have been important in the past and will be even more significant in the future.

“A golf course is a professionally managed landscape,” he said, “and these are all steps in the right direction as we talk about sustainable operations and proper use of natural resources.”

Ahead of the curve

Johnson said the golf industry is doing its part and is “ahead of the curve” in funding turf grass research and making changes, but in some parts of the country is facing greater regulations on fertilizer use and proposed restrictions on certain pesticides.

Horgan and Watkins will continue to research different properties of fescues and other grasses, and said that no decision has been made yet about whether the Les Bolstad golf course will eventually become a living laboratory for them and others across the country. It also is unclear whether different grass might be used on putting greens and tee boxes, which constitute about 4 acres on a typical golf course.

U regents have included renovation of the Les Bolstad Golf Course in their six-year capital plan, but will need to make more specific decisions. Horgan said the renovation he’s proposing will require full administrative support and private funding.

Adding interest to the potential project is the California drought and water shortages elsewhere, Watkins said. Typically those golf courses use different grasses, he said, but the historically dry conditions are helping golfers, businesses, farmers and the general public to understand the importance of conserving water everywhere.

“It’s certainly affecting the way that people think about how we use water on landscapes, even here in Minnesota,” Watkins said.

Got Rust? Send in a sample

University of Wisconsin Turfgrass Rust ResearchRustPlant

In 2013 the Department of Plant Pathology at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, in cooperation with the Wisconsin Sod Producers Association (WSPA) and Sod Growers of Mid America (SGMA), initiated a series of experiments investigating the reasons behind increases in rust injury to cool-season turfgrass observed over the past several years. The project includes 4 primary experiments:

  • Use of molecular and morphological means to identify rust species associated with turfgrass found in sod production, home lawns, athletic fields, and golf course management from around Wisconsin, the Midwest, and the country.
  • Determination of inherent resistance to the multiple rust species in multiple genetic families of Kentucky bluegrass.
  • Inclusion of varying amounts of tall fescue mixed with Kentucky bluegrass and the impact on rust development.
  • Impact of nitrogen source and fungicide timing on rust development.

As part of the rust species identification project, we are looking for rust samples from your turfgrass! It doesn’t matter what species of grass, and it doesn’t matter what type of turf (sod, golf, home lawn). If you see rust on your turf, please submit it to the Turfgrass Diasnotic Lab for identification using the following simple steps:

  • Pick or cut 5 to 10 turfgrass plants affected by rust from the base of the plant near the soil, including both leaves and stem. Roots do not need to be included.
  • Wrap all plants together in aluminum foil, do NOT wrap in moist newspaper or paper towel.
  • Place wrapped plants in a standard business envelope (4.125 X 9.5 inches), include completed Rust ID Submission Form, affix postage, and promptly mail to the Turfgrass Diagnostic Lab at 2502 Highway M, Verona, WI 53593.
  • Please remember to complete and include the Rust ID Submission Form when submitting the sample.
  • Not sure if you have rust present on your lawn? Check out our Rust Disease ID page for more information. Still not sure? Submit it anyways and we’ll identify it regardless.

Perennial Ryegrass Seed Production

by Garett Heineck

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Seeding your lawn this fall? Here are some considerations (Part 2 of 2)

Previously I wrote about the different renovation options for fall seeding of lawns and about the various attributes of cool-season lawn grasses.  This week I wanted to discuss the mixtures and blends of grass seed that are on the consumer marketplace.  If you’ve ever walked into your local big box store or garden center looking for grass seed, the different products available can be fairly intimidating.  To be honest, I often have a difficult time finding the right mixture, because it only takes one bad ingredient to produce a poor quality lawn.  With that in mind, let’s take a look at several categories of grass seed mixtures that are available to you.

Midwest Mixtures, Northern Blends, Sun and Shade Mixtures

Many companies sell seed mixtures under these names.  Generally, these mixtures will contain a large percentage of Kentucky bluegrass, with perennial ryegrass and strong creeping red fescue included.  For existing average quality lawns this is a good mixture of species, and chances are your lawn already has some of these species established.  Perennial ryegrass will be the first species to germinate, generally 3-5 days after planting, and the other species will fill in over a 10-30 day period.  Bluegrass and ryegrass do not perform well in the shade, so creeping red fescue is a great addition to this mix for its shade tolerance.  Below are three examples of these mixtures.

Northern blend

Northern Blend (Performance Seed) seeded July, 2014. Picture taken July, 2015. Seed mixture includes: ‘Blue Angel’ Kentucky bluegrass (9.71%), ‘Kenblue’ Kentucky bluegrass (9.64%), ‘Ginger’ Kentucky bluegrass (9.51%), ‘Stallion’ perennial ryegrass (33.68%), ‘Boreal’ strong creeping red fescue (23.87%), and ‘Gulf’ annual ryegrass (9.69%). Cost = $2.39/lb of seed.

Midwest mixture

Midwest Mix (The Scotts Company) seeded July, 2014. Picture taken July, 2015. Seed mixture includes: ‘Jump Start’ Kentucky bluegrass (9.48%), ‘Right’ Kentucky bluegrass (7.71%), ‘Midnight II” Kentucky bluegrass (3.0%), ‘Wendy Jean’ strong creeping red fescue (8.5%), ‘Treazure II’ Chewing’s fescue (4.87%), ‘Silver Dollar’ perennial ryegrass (7.55%), and ‘Defender’ perennial ryegrass (6.83%). Also includes 50% Super Absorbent Coating. Cost = $10.39/lb of seed.

Sun and Shade

Sun and Shade (Barenburg) seeded July, 2014. Picture taken July, 2015. Seed mixture includes: ‘Baron’ Kentucky bluegrass (13.8%), ‘Barderby’ Kentucky bluegrass (4.59%), ‘Bargita’ perennial ryegrass (19.85%), ‘Barlennium’ perennial ryegrass (14.52%), ‘Tam 90’ annual ryegrass (14.74%), ‘Frazer’ Chewing’s fescue (9.73%), ‘Predator’ hard fescue (7.46%), and ‘Contender’ strong creeping red fescue. Also includes 7.5% Water Saver Seed Coating. Cost = $3.72/lb of seed.

The mixtures above would be consider standard lawn mixtures for Minnesota.  You will notice that two of the mixtures have annual ryegrass included.  Ideally I suggest to choose mixtures without annual ryegrass because it will compete with other grasses during establishment and it will not persist for longer than one year.  However, the inclusion of a small percentage of annual ryegrass in a seed mixture will not cause long lasting issues in lawns.

Dense Shade Mixtures

In a perfect world there would be consistency among species that are included in shade grass mixtures, but this is not the case.  Many companies will label [Read more…]

Seeding your lawn this fall? Here are some considerations (Part 1 of 2)

Lawns in Minnesota take a beating.  This is no surprise due to the extreme weather swings that we have from season to season and even within seasons.  Fortunately this year has been a banner year for lawn care with plenty of rain, mild temperatures and low dew points.  However, the current ten day forecast is setting us up to have some of the highest temperatures we’ve seen this summer, with dew points in the 70’s.  We may have another month of hot weather and then it will be time to seed bare areas in your lawn or conduct lawn renovations.  With that, now is the time to start thinking about seed selection and purchasing.

Depending on the condition of your lawn and your goals going forward, I may recommend one of several renovation options and seed mixtures.  Ideally, this work would be carried out from mid-August to mid-September.  Renovation strategies can be grouped into four categories:

  1. Lawn improvement- conducted when less than 20% weeds or bare soil are present. The goal is to utilize existing grass species and determine the factors leading to poor lawn quality and correct these.  Often, recommended practices for improvement will include aeration, fertility, seeding, and weed control.
  2. Partial renovation- conducted when 20-40% weeds or bare soil are present. This process requires stressing the existing vegetation to reduce the competitive advantage of existing species, while overseeding with new (possibly different) turf species.  Depending on the weeds present, herbicides may or may not be recommended.
  3. Species conversion- conducted when greater than 40% weeds or bare soil are present, but there are no major soil issues. This process requires killing the existing vegetation by the use of non-selective herbicides or solarization (plastic sheet) and overseeding with new turf species.  The species conversion process allows you to change the function of the lawn (ex: low input, no mow, high traffic tolerance) by establishing new species in a short period of time.
  4. Complete renovation- conducted when greater than 40% weeds or bare soil are present, and soil remediation is required. This process is essentially the same as the species conversion except soils will be tilled, graded, and possibly amended with organic matter or nutrients.

For more detailed information about all of these renovation strategies and in-depth detail on how to conduct the species conversion, view this webinar: Lawn Renovation

No matter which renovation strategy you choose, selection of the proper seed will be critical to the long term success of your lawn.  I would generally suggest utilizing a mixture of several turfgrass species to overseed with, but let’s discuss the species individually and next week we’ll look at some mixtures that are available to you.

Mixtures vs. Blends

Mixtures are different from blends.  Blends of grass seed include only one species, for example Kentucky bluegrass, and most blends would have 3-4 different varieties of that species.  Mixtures of grass seed include two or more species and greater genetic diversity.  Mixtures are often utilized for lawns that have differing microclimates (ex: sun and shade).


Leaf texture differences between tall fescue (left), Kentucky bluegrass (center), and fine fescue (right)

Cool Season Species for Minnesota Lawns

Kentucky bluegrass is the most widely used species in Minnesota lawns due to its high aesthetic quality, adaptation and stress tolerance.  If you have an existing lawn, chances are that a good majority of it is Kentucky bluegrass.  Additional benefits of Kentucky bluegrass include its cold tolerance, drought survival through dormancy and high recuperative ability.  However, downfalls with this species include a high water requirement, frequent mowing and high fertility needs.  There is a wide range of genetic diversity in Kentucky bluegrass and Seed Research of Oregon has put together this great classification of the different varieties: Kentucky Bluegrass Classification.

Perennial ryegrass can also be a high quality species, although its poor tolerance to winter and summer stresses make it undesirable in many cases.  Perennial ryegrass is included in many of our Midwest mixtures due to its incredible germination and establishment rate.  If quick establishment is desired, perennial ryegrass can be used, but I would suggest not using more than 25% perennial ryegrass in your seeding mixture.

Fine fescues have been receiving a lot of attention recently because of their ability to survive low maintenance environments.  Fine fescue is a category of about five different species that are often mixed together.  These species include hard fescue, slender and strong creeping red fescue, Chewings fescue, and sheep fescue.  Like perennial ryegrass, the fine fescues germinate very quickly.  Fine fescues are often the best performing species in drought trials and no-mow turf situations.  They are also adapted to shade or full sun.  For more information on fine fescues for lawns have a look at this short video: Fine fescue

Tall fescue is a coarse fescue species that has been gaining popularity due to its shade and traffic tolerance, as well as its ability to avoid drought through an extensive root system.  I find myself recommending tall fescue more and more.  Tall fescue is a bunch type grass and it can be unsightly when overseeded into existing lawns, so I generally recommend using it for new seedings or utility turf areas.  When tall fescue is greater than 75% of a stand it looks very comparable to a Kentucky bluegrass lawn, and it will require less inputs of water and fertilizer.  Tall fescue is also very shade adapted.  For more information on tall fescue have a look at this short video: Tall fescue

For a more detailed explanation of the turf species visit this short video: Grasses for Minnesota Lawns

Next week we will look at the various seed mixtures that are available on the consumer marketplace.  Stay tuned

Diagnosing Lawn Problems (50 minute recorded webinar)

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Nutrient Pollution in the Mississippi River-Twin Cities Watershed: How Outreach Efforts can be Informed by the Relationship Between Individual Water Pathway Knowledge and Lawn Maintenance Practices

By Madeline Leslie, Graduate Research Assistant

Residents of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Metropolitan area are lucky enough to have a plethora of valuable water resources on their doorsteps. Numerous lakes and streams are available for swimming, fishing, boating, and other recreational activities. However, in part due to their being located in densely populated urban areas, these bodies of water sometimes can become too polluted to be used for recreation, or even to support native aquatic life.  One major source of pollution is excess nitrogen and phosphorus running off of land into lakes, rivers, or streams. These nutrients are found in fertilizers as well as naturally attached to soil particles, and can cause large algae blooms in water bodies. The reduced water clarity and low oxygen levels that often accompany such blooms are detrimental to aquatic plant and animal life and also make for very unpleasant swimming conditions. In addition, some types of algae that form these blooms can produce toxins that are harmful to people and their pets.


Figure 1: Illustration of the relationship between impervious surfaces and surface runoff

While efforts have been made to improve water quality in the state, such as the passage of the Minnesota Phosphorus Law in 2002, many problems still exist. In 2013, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) published a report[1], which found that over half the lakes assessed in the Mississippi River-Twin Cities Watershed were impaired by nutrient pollution. Which begs the question: where is all this pollution coming from? The answer is that most urban areas have an overabundance of impervious surfaces, such as streets, driveways, parking lots, etc. As demonstrated by a diagram created by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Figure 1[2], impervious surfaces do not allow rainwater to infiltrate into the ground. Rather, the runoff water drains into the storm sewer system, which in the Twin Cities is not treated, but heads directly to a lake, river, or stream.  Along with the runoff water goes any excess fertilizer or loose soil that might be in someone’s yard or driveway, and there you have it: nutrient pollution.

In urban spaces where land is divided up into numerous small parcels, controlling what runs out of each yard is very difficult, as there are multiple reasons why nutrient runoff might occur. However, most homeowners can make minor changes to the way they manage their lawns and gardens in order to reduce [Read more…]

There’s Still Time to Register for the MNLA Residential Lawn Care Forum


2014-2015 Snow Mold Trial Information is now available

Visit this link to view the latest snow mold fungicide research reports from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Dr. Paul Koch

Spring Preemergent Applications for Crabgrass

Every year around this time I start receiving questions regarding when to apply preemergent herbicides for preventing crabgrass establishment in lawns.  Crabgrass germination is driven by soil temperatures and because of this we cannot rely on a calendar date to tell us when to apply our preemergent products.  The reality is, if we wait too long and miss the window of opportunity to apply crabgrass preventers, these products will not do much for control of crabgrass.  For this reason I like to rely on a couple of website resources that help to determine when to make these applications.  The first website that I like to use can be found here: http://www.gddtracker.net/  This is a site operated by Michigan State University and the model uses air temperature predictors to determine when to apply crabgrass preventers.  Simply select the tab “Crabgrass PRE”, enter your zip code, and the map will be created.  Below is the current map for Minnesota.  As you can see, we are just getting into the time for optimum prevention of crabgrass with preemergent herbicides.  Based on the extended forecast calling for sub-50 degree air temperatures, we still have plenty of time to get these products down. For a more detailed explanation of how to utilize this website for crabgrass prevention, see this great post from Dr. Aaron Patton at Purdue University: http://purdueturftips.blogspot.com/2013/04/when-should-i-apply-my-preemergence.html 



The other website that I like to use is the University of Minnesota’s Climatology Working Group Site: http://climate.umn.edu/  [Read more…]