Roadside Research

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We currently have several projects funded by the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

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Regional Roadside Turfgrass Testing Program

Principal Investigator: Eric Watkins, Professor

In our previous work testing roadside turfgrasses, only sites in Minnesota were utilized; however, year-to-year variability in weather does not allow for sites in a single state to provide information on the tolerances of these grasses to the many stresses found on roadsides.  This project entails a multi-state approach, where roadside turfgrass trials are planted throughout the northern United States, that will greatly improve the chance that during any given year, we will be collecting data on important stress tolerances.  We will also examine the same cultivars for stress tolerances in controlled environments.  Taken together, these studies will provide data that improves our knowledge on roadside turfgrass stress tolerances resulting in better recommendations for state DOTs and ultimately financial benefit to public agencies. This project has four overall objectives:

  1. Institute a multi-state roadside turfgrass testing program.
  2. Develop a data collection and reporting system that provides the most recent research results to state DOTs in a timely manner.
  3. Increase collaboration between University research programs that work on roadside turf.
  4. Demonstrate the usefulness of regional roadside turfgrass research to increase collaboration between Departments of Transportation in future years.

Expanding the Success of Salt-Tolerant Roadside Turfgrasses through Innovation and Education

Principal Investigator: Sam Bauer, Assistant Extension Professor

Newly introduced salt-tolerant grass mixtures show great promise on our roadsides.  However, their benefits will not be realized if sod and seed installations fail due to being installed incorrectly as has recently been the case.  Failures can occur for many reasons, such as improper pre- and post-installation watering, poor soil preparation, seasonal weather influence, poor rooting of fine fescue grasses cut for sod, and lack of nutrients, but we have found the primary cause is due to inadequate/improper watering after installation.  For this project, we are addressing this issue with the following objectives:

  1. Investigate alternative means of irrigating new installations of salt tolerant seed and sod mixtures.
  2. Evaluate these new irrigation methods in comparison to current practices.
  3. Develop an online voluntary training and education program for installers of roadside turf.
  4. Develop online maintenance training for homeowners that receive new salt-tolerant grass installations. 

This project will benefit MnDOT and the contractors that establish roadside turfgrasses by identifying a more economical and effective means of irrigating salt-tolerant seed and sod.  Proven successful installation techniques will also encourage the adoption of these promising grass mixtures.

Regional Optimization of Roadside Turfgrass Seed Mixtures

Principal Investigator: Eric Watkins, Professor

Failed roadside turfgrass installations can happen for a number of reasons, often due to using the wrong species for a given site. Current MnDOT specifications for roadside turfgrasses suggest statewide planting of mixtures grouped into five broad categories such as low maintenance turf and high maintenance turf.  We will investigate the impacts of possibly the three most limiting environmental conditions (heat, salt, ice cover) on multiple cultivars from individual turfgrass species.  This will allow us to make recommendations reorganize the mixture specifications so that   Our specific objectives are to:

  1. Obtain new, unbiased data about the performance of newer cultivars and under-studied species when grown in harsh conditions similar to those found on roadsides
  2. Provide knowledge that can be integrated into an educational plan we will be developing through a previously funded project
  3. Work with MnDOT to change turfgrass seed mixture recommendations based on our results

Taken together, our results can save public agencies significant amounts of money on re-installations as well as reduce the environmental challenges associated with roadside vegetation failures. We believe that this is the obvious next step in our roadside research program and believe that the economic benefit to Minnesota taxpayers will well exceed the cost of our work. Using the right turfgrass species for a specific area will provide the best option for long-term success of roadside turfgrass installations.