Less than optimal establishment of new turfgrass lawns from seed is often the result of slow and nonuniform germination and emergence because of poor environmental growing conditions (Christians, 1998; Frelich et al., 1973; Perry, 1980). Nonoptimal temperatures for germination and drought are two common abiotic factors that can limit turfgrass establishment from seed (Bewley and Black, 1994; Larsen and Bibby, 2005). Apart from natural drought, turfgrass establishment is also affected by the lack of water imposed by deficit irrigation, which is being implemented in many places worldwide (Fereres and Soriano, 2007). Where the environment limits stand establishment, seeding success may be improved by applying a seedcoating before sowing that will enhance speed, uniformity, and overall germination rate of the seed (Gregg and Billups, 2010; Schiavon et al., 2013). Products are commonly applied to seed, with materials added at various concentrations from thin films, to coatings that weigh as much as, or even several fold the weight of the seed (Gregg and Billups, 2010; Taylor and Harman, 1990). Treatments applied in the coating may include macro- and micronutrients, plant growth regulators, protection products, growth stimulants, inoculants, and specialized polymers (Halmer, 2008; Scott, 1989).
Madsen et al. (2010, 2013, 2014), have shown that coating seeds with a nonionic alkyl ended block copolymer based on C1–C4 alkyl ethers of methyl oxirane–oxirane copolymers was effective at improving seedling emergence and plant growth in water repellent soils. This surfactant chemistry was patented by Kostka and Schuermann (2008) and is distributed under the trade name SET-4001 (Aquatrols Corporation of America, Paulsboro, NJ). The seed coating formulation is designed to use the seed as a carrier for the soil surfactant. After planting, precipitation leaches the surfactant from the seed into the soil where it absorbs onto soil particles and ameliorates water repellency within the seeds’ microsite (Madsen et al., 2012). With hydrologic function restored around the seed, soil water infiltration, percolation, and retention is improved, which enhances seed germination and plant survival (Moore et al., 2010). Through this coating technology, the soil surfactant is applied to the seed at relatively high-loading rates (i.e., ≥ 10% by weight of the seed) after first applying a barrier coating or jacket to the seed to control phytotoxicity during storage and seed germination (Madsen et al., 2010, 2013, 2014).
In addition to a soil treatment, nonionic surfactants can have a direct effect on plant physiological functions with results varying with surfactant chemistry and application rate (Khatun et al., 1993). Low concentrations of nonionic, block copolymer surfactants can be beneficial for stimulating tissue growth and enhancing cell viability in plant tissue culture media (Anthony et al., 1994; Khatun et al., 1993, 2003). For example, Khatun et al. (2003) showed that a 0.1% and 0.5% solution of nonionic surfactant promoted shoot regeneration of kenaf (Hibiscus cannabinus). Brutovská et al. (1994) found a 0.001% solution of nonionic surfactant increased growth of st. john’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) by 40%. Nonionic surfactants have also been shown to benefit recovery of cryopreserved plant cells by enhancing viability and increasing biomass production (Lowe et al., 2001).
Given the positive responses observed in the aforementioned studies, it was hypothesized that a nonionic surfactant applied directly to turfgrass seed would enhance germination and subsequent plant establishment. This hypothesis was tested by applying a low-dose application of surfactant, within a film coating, directly onto turfgrass seed for the purpose of 1) evaluating germination speed, uniformity, and FGP under different constant temperatures and 2) assessing seedling emergence and plant growth under deficit irrigation.
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