Turfgrass species traditionally used in residential and commercial lawns in Minnesota, such as kentucky bluegrass (P. pratensis) and perennial ryegrass (L. perenne), can require significant management inputs to maintain acceptable cover and quality. For instance, perennial ryegrass generally has better quality at lower mowing heights (3.8 cm compared with 5.0 or 6.3 cm); this increased level of maintenance also results in higher weed pressure than when the grass is maintained at higher heights of cut (Miltner et al., 2005). Kentucky bluegrass typically requires high input levels for maintaining adequate quality (DeBels et al., 2012), and may not perform as well as other species when inputs are limited (Watkins et al., 2014). Turfgrass breeders have worked to improve these species for use in lower-input situations (Bonos and Huff, 2013), but the use of alternative species is another promising approach.
A number of researchers have investigated other species for their adaptation in the north central region (NCR) of the United States and regions with similar climates. Diesburg et al. (1997) evaluated a single cultivar representing each of several grass species at multiple sites in the NCR under low-input management (20 kg N/ha/year after establishment at most locations with limited use of a broadleaf herbicide) and found that most grasses performed best at 7.6 cm. The top performing grasses at that mowing height were ‘Alta’ tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea Schreb.), ‘Exeter’ colonial bentgrass (A. tenuis Sibth.), ‘Reton’ redtop (Agrostis alba L. Reton), and ‘Covar’ common sheep fescue (Festuca ovina L.). In a separate multistate trial in the NCR, Watkins et al. (2011) found that under low-input management (no fertilization after establishment, no pesticides, no irrigation) at both 5.1- and 10.2-cm mowing heights, the top performing species were colonial bentgrass, tall fescue, hard fescue [F. trachyphylla (Hackel) Krajina], and sheep fescue. Tall fescue, chewings fescue (Festuca rubra spp. fallax Thuill), hard fescue, and colonial bentgrass performed best overall in a follow-up study evaluating greater number of cultivars at 5.1 cm (Watkins et al., 2014).
It is becoming clear that there are a number of lawn grass species that can serve as alternatives to kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass. Yet, for many of these alternative species, information on their performance under various management regimes is lacking. Of the species that have the greatest potential for use in the NCR under low-input management, tall fescue is the best studied, and its mowing height and fertility requirements are well established.
The species both lacking management information and representing the most potential as low-input turfgrasses in Minnesota are hard fescue and colonial bentgrass. Prairie junegrass and tufted hairgrass have also shown potential in field trials in Minnesota (Watkins and Clark, 2009; Watkins et al., 2009). These species have shown varying levels of quality when grown as turfgrass, and there are great differences in the amount of plant breeding effort that has been focused on them. Hard fescue, while underused, has been the focus of some breeding efforts since the middle of the 20th century (Bonos and Huff, 2013), whereas tufted hairgrass and prairie junegrass lacked focused breeding efforts by public breeding programs until recent decades (Watkins et al., 2013). European types of prairie junegrass have been used for a longer period by private breeders in Europe (Alderson and Sharp, 1994), although these have not been able to achieve significant market penetration in the United States.
For the most part, the mowing and fertilization requirements of these species are not well known. Hard fescue has been the focus of the most research of the four; however, the body of literature is much less developed than for other highly used cool-season turfgrass species such as perennial ryegrass and kentucky bluegrass. The objective of this study was to determine the performance of the four low-input cool-season turfgrass species under various mowing heights and nitrogen fertility regimes when grown in Minnesota.
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