By: Beth Ann Luedeker

Contact: Dr. Ben Wherley - [email protected]

Members of a collaborative research project funded by the USDA Specialty Crops Research Initiative recently met at the Scotts Miracle-Gro turfgrass facility at Texas A&M University for an update on the project. The group is studying the persistence, survival and recovery of warm-season turfgrasses under limited irrigation and long-term drought in an effort to produce more sustainable urban landscapes.

group of 28 turfgrass researchers
Collaborating researchers from multiple universities gathered in College Station for their biannual meeting.

This group is comprised of twenty-four researchers from Texas A&M, the University of Florida, Oklahoma State University, the University of Georgia and North Carolina State University. These researchers are replicating trials in their respective states to better understand which turfgrass varieties are best suited for use in landscapes where water may be limited.

According to the presentation made by Kevin Kenworthy, Professor, Plant Breeding from the University of Florida, there are an estimated 40 to 50 million acres of turf in the United States, potentially three times more acres than irrigated corn, and the turfgrass industry has a multi-billion dollar impact on the U.S. economy. As water resources become more limited and the population increases, urban water restrictions will most likely increase.

people looking at plots with small squares of different grasses
Dr. Ambika Chandra, Texas A&M AgriLife Turfgrass Specialist in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences (2nd from left), discusses the drought tolerance research with Dr. Kevin Kenworthy of the University of Florida.

Urban landscapes need to adapt to these changes.

With water scarcity concerns, we are seeing increased pressures by regulatory agencies to incentivize or mandate removal of turfgrasses from landscapes in many parts of the country because they are perceived as lacking drought tolerance,” said Dr. Ben Wherley, Associate Professor of Turfgrass Ecology in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences at Texas A&M.

group of people standing near research plot
Dr. Ben Wherley discusses coffee grounds research currently being done at Texas A&M. This is one of many other research projects underway at the university in addition to the SCRI drought research.

“This project aims to cooperatively develop improved grasses that can withstand and perform well even under extremely limited, infrequent levels of irrigation commonly mandated during water restriction periods in many parts of the southern and western U.S. Considering the environmental, ecological, and social benefits of turfgrasses to the landscape, this group’s efforts are more important than ever,” he said.

The group, which is made up of turfgrass breeders and physiologists, meets two times a year, rotating between the collaborating campuses.

Since the project’s inception, this group of researchers have identified 140 advanced lines of bermudagrass, zoysiagrass, St. Augustinegrass and seashore paspalum for short-term drought stress and released several cultivars, including TamStar St. Augustinegrass, which was created at Texas A&M, TifTuf bermudagrass (UGA), ‘Tahoma 31 bermudagrass (OSU), FAES 1312, 1313 and 1319 zoysiagrass (UF) and FSA 1620 St. Augustinegrass (UF).

Three people talking near research plots
Dr. Becky Grubbs, AgriLife Extension Turfgrass Specialist- College Station, and Dr. Ben Wherley discuss the research with North Carolina State researcher, Dr. Grady Miller, during the field tour.