Turf-type tall fescue is a popular cool-season turfgrass grown throughout much of the United States. Improved turf-type tall fescue cultivars have been developed to provide desirable traits over older tall fescue cultivars such as ‘Kentucky 31’. Such attributes include finer texture, increased wear and pest tolerance, and the ability to withstand lower mowing heights (Harivandi, 1991; Meyer and Funk, 1989; Watschke, 1990).
Tall fescue is a relatively heat- and drought-tolerant cool-season grass (Jiang and Huang, 2001); thus, it can be grown successfully in all parts of semiarid New Mexico. The species is also classified as moderately salt-tolerant (Francois and Maas, 1994), which in New Mexico, supports an increasing reliance on saline effluent and groundwater for nonessential uses to maintain potable water supplies for rising municipal demands (Ruiz et al., 2006).
Limited data are available on performance of turf-type tall fescue cultivars as affected by cultural practices in semiarid conditions of the southwestern United States. Rather, research has been confined largely to the cool-season and transition zones. Two studies on ‘Kentucky 31’ demonstrated an inverse relationship between mowing height and shoot development, tillering rate, stand uniformity, and stand establishment rate (McKee et al., 1967; Spak et al., 1993). During the first 18 months of establishing ‘Rebel II’, raising the mowing height from 1.25 to 3.5 inches improved spring through fall stand quality rating but reduced the winter stand quality rating (Dernoeden et al., 1993). During the same span of time in the latter study, increasing the nitrogen (N) application rate from 10 to 20 g·m−2 per year had no effect on spring and summer stand quality but increased the fall through winter stand quality.
Available data pertaining to cultural practices on turf-type tall fescue may not be directly applicable to the relatively high summer temperatures, evaporative demands, and light intensities characteristic of the semiarid southwestern United States. For example, irradiance required for saturation of carbon dioxide exchange rate of tall fescue has been reported at 1000 to 1500 μmol·m−2·s−1 (Allard et al., 1991), but natural irradiance during northern Chihuahuan Desert summers (e.g., southern New Mexico) exceeds the latter range by 50% or more (Senock et al., 1991). As a result of the extreme environmental conditions, optimal mowing heights for tall fescue may differ from recommendations previously reported (2 inches) for turf-type cultivars (Burns, 1976). Furthermore, adaptability to southern New Mexico growing conditions among the numerous turf-type tall fescue cultivars while under different mowing heights and fertilization regimes is not adequately known.
In view of the lack of data specific to the semiarid southwestern United States, our objective was to assess visual quality of 15 currently available turf-type tall fescue cultivars during first-year establishment at two mowing heights and two fertilization rates under southern New Mexico conditions. Our intent was to focus on main and interactive effects of cultivar, mowing height, and fertilization rate during individual seasons of spring, summer, and fall.
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