Turfgrass scientists focus on drought toleranceAug. 12, 2008
Dr. Mike Richardson, Department of Horticulture
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Dr. Aaron Paton, Department of Horticulture
By Howell Medders, University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture
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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Some grass varieties can go without water in the summer for up to 60 days with no damage and even retain some green color, says turfgrass scientist Mike Richardson, a horticulture professor with the University of Arkansas System’s Division of Agriculture.
Drought tolerance was one of many topics at the Turfgrass Field Day Aug. 6 at the Arkansas Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Fayetteville. Most of the 190 visitors were turf industry professionals from throughout Arkansas and adjoining states, said Aaron Patton, assistant professor and extension specialist.
Attendance was up 60 percent over last year, Patton said. “We try to make it worthwhile for people to spend the day with us. We vary the topics, and we added a trade show this year, which seemed to be popular.”
Richardson said turf scientists conducting drought tolerance research nationwide hope to provide the basis for a “water star” seal that the public can rely on to signify superior drought tolerance.
“It’s the same idea as the ‘energy star’ for appliances,” Richardson said. “We haven’t worked out all the details, but I think we’ll get there.”
Drought tolerance research is conducted in a new 35 x 130 ft. “rainout shelter” at the Arkansas Agricultural Research and Extension Center. Plastic sheeting over a 17-foot-tall frame and open sides allow sunshine in but keep rain off the test plots.
The first year of rainout shelter tests revealed significant genetic differences in drought tolerance, but additional data are needed before publicizing results, Richardson said. Results will help plant breeders develop varieties with superior drought tolerance.
Richardson sees several other big reasons for documenting drought tolerance in turfgrass varieties. One is that most people tend to over-water, which sets turf up for disease and pest problems.
A second reason is that when water is in short supply, the first restrictions are often on watering lawns, golf courses and athletic fields.
A third reason is to reinforce the idea that turfgrass is “green,” meaning environmentally friendly. The balance of environment benefits versus the water and other inputs required, when properly managed, add up to a positive impact, Richardson said.
“Turf tips,” upcoming events, and Division of Agriculture research and extension project reports are available on the Internet at http://turf.uark.edu.
Bachelor’s and graduate degree programs in “horticulture, landscape and turf sciences” are offered by the horticulture department in Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.