Selecting Sod

Whether you do or don’t believe in global warming, drought conditions are definitely evident after reviewing the U.S. Drought Monitor (www.drought.unl.edu). One way that municipalities and park agencies can lessen the demand on local aquifers is to carefully select the type of sod used in greenbelts and athletic fields. The variety of turfgrass in today’s market is vast and, in many cases, distinct to certain regions of the country. Modern turfgrass, with all of its science and engineering, is far different than the backyard grass you used to mow growing up. The turfgrasses of today are more efficient at managing common stresses (cultural, chemical and environmental). The direct or indirect byproduct of this development has been sod that is drought-resistant.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Erin Boyd Wilder with Sod Solutions about drought-resistant turfgrasses. Her family has been farming in North Florida for six generations, and has been in the sod business for over 20 years. Wilder understands turfgrass, as well as where the industry is headed; this is illustrated as she fields a few questions on drought-resistant/tolerant turfgrasses and the best management practices to follow:

1. For states experiencing drought conditions, turfgrass that can reduce a municipality’s water use is in great demand. What type of performance can today’s turfgrass offer?

There are many turfgrass varieties marketed today, including some that were developed in the 1950s. It is clear, however, that the future of turf–and landscapes in general–demands grasses that use less water, fewer chemicals and less maintenance. Therefore, more advanced grasses have been developed that require fewer inputs while retaining good aesthetics.

2. What is the difference between drought tolerance and drought resistance?

Drought tolerance is the ability of a turfgrass to go dormant (turn brown or off-color) during the active growing season due to insufficient water, and then recover when water returns.

Drought resistance is the ability of a turfgrass to stay green for a period of time without water, while maintaining acceptable quality standards.

3. What are some general water-use requirements for these grasses?

The answer is simple–don’t overwater! All turfgrasses, once established, require ¾ to 1 inch of water once a week early in the morning. Although soil type and climate do play a role, the amount of water is of particular importance.

4. What are some water-use problems or traps professionals encounter, and what are the corrections needed to resolve these issues?

Again, the most common problem is overwatering. Upon installation, new turf should be watered only as needed to keep the turf moist for the first two to three weeks. Once the turf has rooted, the rule in question #3 applies. Watering early in the day allows the surface to dry and avoid disease from excess moisture; the cooler morning temperatures and low light also help avoid high evaporation rates. Soil types, as well as the season, can dramatically alter one’s water needs. Check with local experts for specific conditions and recommendations.

5. What is an example of a drought-resistant turfgrass?

St. Augustine grasses are drought-resistant. These grasses have received a lot of negative press lately, and have been touted as “thirsty” grasses or “water guzzlers.” This reputation is undeserved and probably compounded by the fact that homeowners have a tendency to overwater. Actually, St. Augustine grasses generally have good-to-excellent drought resistance. Palmetto and Floratam St. Augustines will hold their green color for a longer period of time during droughts. St. Augustines, however, are not very drought-tolerant, and may be severely damaged during extended periods without water.

Note: The description below is an example of a drought-resistant St. Augustine; however it is not necessarily a representation of all varieties.

Characteristics

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