Turfgrass needs to be drought tolerant, shade tolerant and disease resistant in order to thrive in Texas. A Texas A&M AgriLife Research turfgrass breeder discussed genetically engineered St. Augustinegrass events and hybrids bred to meet these criteria during the recent Texas A&M AgriLife Turfgrass Field Day in College Station.
Ambika Chandra, Ph.D., a turfgrass breeder in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences based at the AgriLife research and extension center in Dallas, and Lucas Freshour, from Scotts Miracle-Gro, are working together to test Pro-Vista St. Augustinegrass for the Texas turfgrass industry.
“ProVista is a new technology developed by the Scotts Miracle-Gro Company by introducing genes into Floratam and Raleigh, two very old and very successful cultivars of St. Augustine grass that have worked very well in our industry,” Chandra said. “The result is a St. Augustinegrass that is resistant to glyphosate-non-selective herbicide. It also has a dwarfing effect, which limits the vertical growth of the plants and reduces the frequency of mowing.”
“Scotts has been working on this for 22 years and ProVista St. Augustine is already commercially available in Florida,” Freshour said. “We expect to have 2,000 acres in commercial production by the end of the year, but we don’t want to push those too hard in Texas because we need more cold hardiness here. That is where Chandra’s hybrids come in.”
Chandra explained that she is crossing the base genetics developed by Scotts with elite germplasms developed by AgriLife Research to create a cultivar that will flourish in the Texas environment.
“At the end of the day, we are looking not only for reduced mowing and glyphosate resistance, but also for drought tolerance, shade tolerance, disease resistance and other traits that are important to us here,” Chandra said.
One of the challenges of this breeding effort is that Floratam is sterile. The maternal plant does not produce enough nutrition for the embryo to develop into a mature seed. To overcome this, Chandra and her team use embryo rescue technology – removing the embryo 21 days after making pollinations and growing it in the lab in a sucrose-based tissue culture medium.
Advance lines and hybrids with the ProVista technology are being tested in College Station and Dallas, as well as at Milberger’s Landscape and Nursery, a turfgrass producer near San Antonio, TX, where they are evaluating the cycle of production and how well it can be harvested for sod.
During the field day, participants had the opportunity to look at the test plots, which had been sprayed with glyphosate 10 days prior, to see the effect on the new hybrids, the parent cultivars and St. Augustinegrasses without the ProVista technology. Research Assistant Syed Ahmed explained that the plots are all mowed to 3 inches and monitored for weed pressure.
“In the check plots we manually pull weeds, but we spray Roundup® on the others and watch to see if it gets dinged up or not,” Ahmed explained. “So far the ProVista is a success.”
The field day also highlighted other research being done at the College Station facility, including evaluation of alternative landscapes, the use of spent coffee grounds as a soil amendment, the effects of wetting agents in sandcapped systems, options for controlling Poa annual bluegrass and more.
The annual field day alternates locations each year, with the next to be held at the new research and extension Center in Dallas.