By: Kay Ledbetter

A turfgrass project aimed at finding a water-smart alternative to Bermuda and fescue grasses for the High Plains has been installed in front of the 1938-vintage “white house” at Bushland. The original headquarters of the Conservation and Production Research Laboratory, this facility is now jointly operated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service and Texas A&M AgriLife Research.

The project, titled Zoysia Turfgrasses for Residential and Commercial Landscapes in the Texas Panhandle, will be conducted by Dr. Brent Auvermann, AgriLife Research center director, Amarillo; Dr. Ambika Chandra, AgriLife Research turfgrass breeder, Dallas; and Dr. Gary Marek, USDA-ARS research agricultural engineer, Bushland.

Zoysia turfgrass is being studied by Texas A&M AgriLife and USDA-ARS to determine if it is water-efficient and cold hardy in Texas Panhandle landscapes. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Kay Ledbetter)

This demonstration will have a state-of-the-art irrigation system and two varieties, “Chisholm” and “Innovation,” recently released by Chandra and Dr. Jack Fry, Kansas State University turfgrass science professor, Manhattan, Kansas.

Zoysia, compared to other warm-season turfgrasses, generally produces higher quality turf requiring fewer inputs like mowing, nutrients and chemicals due to its natural tolerance to disease, insects, shade and salinity stress, Chandra said.

She has been breeding freeze-tolerant zoysia grass varieties as part of an ongoing project since 2003 with Kansas State.

“While zoysia’s low input requirements, strong shade tolerance and salinity tolerance make it an attractive option for use across the U.S., most species are still found in the southern U.S. due to low tolerance for freezing temperatures,” Chandra said.

The Dallas Center’s turf breeding program produced 640 zoysia hybrids in 2004 and sent them to Kansas to be evaluated for cold tolerance. The breeding lines that survived the cold were evaluated for aesthetic quality and a range of other characteristics, Chandra said.

Chisholm, licensed to Carolina Fresh Farm, is a medium-texture zoysia that is cold hardy into the northern region of the U.S. transition zone. It features rapid establishment and recovery rates as well as superior turf quality compared to Meyer zoysia. Chisholm underwent testing in the National Turfgrass Evaluation Program’s 2002 Zoysiagrass Test as DALZ 0102.

Innovation, originally KSUZ 0802 and licensed to Sod Solutions, features finer leaf texture and superior density to Meyer. It is a good option for landscapers and end users in the transition zone and beyond who are looking for a cold hardy hybrid for golf courses, yards, parks and commercial establishments.

“I expect both of these varieties to not only survive the Texas Panhandle climate, but to produce good turfgrass quality with limited resource input,” Chandra said.

sprinkler on new sod
Zoysia grass bred by Texas A&M AgriLife Research turfgrass breeder Dr. Ambika Chandra in Dallas. (Texas A&M Agriife photo by Kay Ledbetter)

Auvermann said half the sod in the Bushland side-by-side variety comparisons was laid on existing soil; the other side on existing soil amended with composted cattle manure to test what role fertility and organic matter have in its survivability.

“We think the zoysia grass will provide an alternative for landscape contractors for both residential and commercial markets,” he said. “Zoysia grasses act a little bit like Bermuda grass in that they creep and repair themselves. They also use less water than the fescues typically used for the landscaping projects in the Texas Panhandle.”

Traditionally, Marek said, there are three grass varieties available to homeowners for turfgrass – fescue, Bermuda and buffalo grass, with fescue using the most water. Fescue greens up earlier and stays green longer than other varieties, so aesthetically, it is generally more pleasing.

“However, fescue can use up to a half-inch of water per day on hot, windy days typical of the Panhandle summers,” he said.

“One of the benefits we hope to evaluate in this trial is to see if these zoysia varieties can compare to fescue grass in aesthetics while using less water,” Marek said.

In addition to the water use, the other aspect of the project is to determine how well the zoysia grass overwinters in the colder climate of the Panhandle, Marek said.

“If these two varieties prove adapted to our climate, as we expect, they ought to use significantly less water than our typical tall fescues, heal themselves, withstand the winters and maintain a luxurious, fine-bladed turf,” Auvermann said.

This project is funded in part by the federal Ogallala Aquifer Project.