Fine fescues (Festuca sp.) are a group of cool-season turfgrass species that have a needle-like fine leaf texture and are well adapted to cool, humid regions of the world. They are also adapted to infertile, acidic soils; shade; and drought (Beard, 1973; Hanson et al., 1969; Turgeon, 1996). This group of species does well under lower fertility compared with other cool-season grasses (Ruemmele et al., 2003). The fine fescues have been found in a wide range of habitats, from beaches, dunes, coastal rock, cliffs, salt marshes, meadows, and grasslands (Pavlick, 1985). These traits make them good choices for low-maintenance areas (Beard, 1973; Meyer and Funk, 1989; Turgeon, 1996). Once established, these species need few inputs to maintain a good turf stand.
Currently, there are very few options for preemergence weed control during seeding and establishment of fine fescues. Preemergence weed control before and during establishment is an important component to establish successfully a healthy stand of cool-season turfgrass (Beard, 1973; Musser and Perkins, 1969). Weeds compete for light, water, and nutrients, and usually have a much faster establishment and growth rate than fine fescues. The recommended timing for turfgrass establishment in New Jersey is 15 Aug. to 5 Oct. (Grande, 2004). This timing coincides with the peak emergence of annual bluegrass [Poa annua (Kaminski and Dernoeden, 2007)], which is what makes it the most problematic weed to control when establishing new cool-season turfgrasses in the northeastern United States. Having safe, selective preemergence control of annual bluegrass in fine fescues would increase the ability to establish these low-maintenance grasses successfully. Mesotrione is a 4-hydroxyphenylpyruvate dioxygenase-inhibiting herbicide that controls many monocot and dicot weeds selectively at seeding in many cool-season turfgrasses (Askew and Beam, 2002; Hart et al., 2007; Willis et al., 2006). Currently, mesotrione is the active ingredient in Tenacity (Syngenta Crop Protection, Greensboro, NC) which is labeled for use in many cool-season turfgrasses at rates of 2-4 oz/acre mesotrione. It is not currently labeled for use in fine fescues at seeding or for use in seed blends that contain more than 20% fine fescue (Syngenta Crop Protection, 2008). Mesotrione effectively provides preemergence control of both broadleaf and grassy weeds. Mesotrione can have several negative effects on fine fescues. Phototoxicity (bleaching of leaf tissue) is commonly associated with the use of mesotrione on fine fescue (Williams et al., 2009). In the study conducted by Williams et al. in 2009, they concluded that no rate or timing used in the study was safe to use on chewings fescue at seeding. These effects can impact significantly the ability of fine fescue seedlings to establish and survive.
There are previous examples of using recurrent selection in breeding fine fescues for increased tolerance to herbicides. Johnston and Faulkner (1986) developed the aminotriazole-tolerant ‘Countess’ chewings fescue to control annual bluegrass. Herbicide tolerance development in hard fescue has been demonstrated previously with the nonselective herbicide glyphosate to develop ‘Aurora Gold’, which is an advanced-generation synthetic cultivar derived from Aurora hard fescue. Five cycles of phenotypic recurrent selection over a 10-year period after direct applications of glyphosate at 0.8 to 1.6 kg·ha–1 was used to develop this cultivar (Hart et al., 2005). Further study of ‘Aurora Gold’ by McCullough et al. (2015) determined the mechanism of resistance to glyphosate was due the result of lower target-site inhibition. The successful establishment of fine fescues is greatly influenced by controlling weeds.
Having mesotrione-tolerant fine fescues would give turf managers an option to control problematic weeds during establishment. The objectives of this research were 1) to use a recurrent selection technique (Vogel and Pedersen, 1993) to develop mesotrione-tolerant chewings, hard, and strong creeping red fescues; and 2) to conduct field trials to compare the new selections to commercially available cultivars and experimental lines not selected for tolerance to mesotrione.
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