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Eric Watkins and William A. Meyer

Recently, turfgrass breeders have developed many improved turf-type tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea Schreb.) cultivars. Due to the large number of cultivars currently available to turfgrass managers and researchers, we have classified turf-type tall fescue cultivars into six groups based primarily on several morphological measurements. This type of classification is important for turfgrass breeders because many breeding decisions are made based on observations in a spaced-plant nursery. The major objective of this study was to classify tall fescue cultivars and selections based on spaced-plant measurements and to then compare those results with turf performance. A spaced-plant nursery consisting of 36 cultivars and selections was established in September 1998 at Adelphia, N.J. Plant height, panicle length, flag leaf width and length, subtending leaf width and length, and subtending internode length were measured 10 days after anthesis in 1999 and 2000. Additionally, a turf trial was established at North Brunswick, N.J., that included the same 36 cultivars and selections. The turf plots were evaluated for several traits including overall turfgrass quality, density, and susceptibility to brown patch disease. Based on principal component analysis of morphological measurements, along with turf trial data, all cultivars and selections were assigned to one of six groups: forage, early-standard, standard, early semi-dwarf, semi-dwarf, and dwarf. In turf plots, the semi-dwarf, early-semi dwarf, and dwarf groups were the top-performing types in terms of overall turfgrass quality, and the forage and early-standard cultivars had the lowest overall quality ratings. The dwarf types did not perform well under summer stress, especially in terms of brown patch disease incidence. The results of this study suggest that when developing cultivars for higher maintenance situations, turf-type tall fescue breeders should focus on the development of semi-dwarf cultivars.

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Kari L. Hugie and Eric Watkins

In Minnesota, most lawns and higher cut turfgrass areas consist primarily of species such as kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis L.) and perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.) that require significant management inputs such as frequent mowing and nitrogen fertility. Several studies have shown that other species have the potential to be used more widely on home lawns in Minnesota; however, little is known about the management requirements of these species. In this study, we evaluated the performance of several alternative grass species under varying mowing and nitrogen fertility regimes at two sites in Minnesota in 2010 and 2011. Hard fescue [Festuca trachyphylla (Hackel) Krajina] showed the most consistent performance across management regimes, seasons, and locations. Colonial bentgrass (Agrostis tenuis Sibth.) showed good spring and fall turf quality, but suffered from excess thatch development and disease incidence. ‘Barkoel’ prairie junegrass [Koeleria macrantha (Ledeb.) Schult] maintained acceptable turf cover throughout the trial, whereas unimproved native prairie junegrass populations did poorly regardless of management level. Tufted hairgrass [Deschampsia cespitosa (L.) P. Beauv.] did not perform consistently in the trial due to summer stress. Our results show that hard fescue, colonial bentgrass, and ‘Barkoel’ prairie junegrass performed well regardless of mowing height or fertility treatment and could be used to a greater degree as low-input turfgrasses in Minnesota.

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Matthew D. Clark and Eric Watkins

Prairie junegrass [Koeleria macrantha (Ledeb.) Shultes] is a perennial, short-grass prairie species distributed throughout the Northern Hemisphere that is being evaluated for use as a low-input turf. In June 2007, 300 genotypes representing collection locations derived from Colorado, Nebraska, and Minnesota germplasm were grown and evaluated 3 years for turfgrass performance characteristics in a randomized complete block design with five clonal replications at two locations (St. Paul, MN, and Becker, MN). After establishment, plots received no supplemental irrigation or fertility and were mowed weekly to a height of 6.4 cm. Broad-sense heritability estimates were calculated on a clonal mean (Hc) and single-plant (Hsp) basis for turf quality (Hc = 0.62, Hsp = 0.13), crown density (Hc = 0.55, Hsp = 0.09), mowing quality (Hc = 0.59, Hsp = 0.09), and genetic color (Hc = 0.45, Hsp = 0.06). The heritability estimates indicate that selection for these traits should result in significant gains in germplasm improvement. Differences were observed in the means and variances among clones, collection locations, and/or collection regions for many of the traits evaluated including rust severity (Puccinia spp.), spring green-up, plant height, lateral spread, vertical regrowth, and flowering traits. The positive correlations among some of these traits and those with moderate heritability estimates should allow for multi-trait selection in cultivar development.

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Kari Hugie, Chengyan Yue, and Eric Watkins

Traditional turfgrasses found in residential lawns provide a functional and aesthetically pleasing landscape if provided adequate resource inputs, yet, as available natural resources become more limited and public concerns grow stronger about the ecological effects of urban turfgrass management, it becomes increasingly important to pursue alternative landscape options. There are non-traditional turfgrasses that require fewer resource inputs that could be made available to homeowners. The objective of this study was to estimate consumer preferences and the relative importance of aesthetic and maintenance attributes of turfgrasses as well as identify potential market segments of the residential turfgrass market. Conjoint analysis was conducted on survey responses of 116 Minnesota homeowners. The results indicated that maintenance attributes of turfgrasses, specifically irrigation requirement, significantly affected consumer purchasing behavior. The analysis also identified four potential market segments, the Price Conscious segment, the Shade Adaptation segment, the Mowing Conscious segment, and the Water Conscious segment.

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Sheng Wang, Qi Zhang, and Eric Watkins

Prairie junegrass (Koeleria macrantha) is a perennial, cool-season, native grass that has shown potential for use as a turfgrass species in the northern Great Plains; however, limited information is available on its salt tolerance. In this study, salinity tolerance of four junegrass populations from North America (Colorado, Minnesota, Nebraska, and North Dakota) and two improved turf-type cultivars from Europe (‘Barleria’ and ‘Barkoel’) was evaluated and compared with kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis), perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne), sheep fescue (Festuca ovina), hard fescue (F. brevipila), and tall fescue (F. arundinacea). Salinity tolerance was determined based on the predicted salinity level causing 50% reduction of final germination rate (PSLF) and daily germination rate (PSLD) as well as electrolyte leakage (EL), tissue dry weight (DW), and visual quality (VQ) of mature plants. All populations of prairie junegrass showed similar salt tolerance with an average of PSLF and PSLD being 7.1 and 5.3 g·L−1 NaCl, respectively, comparable to kentucky bluegrass and hard and sheep fescue but lower than tall fescue and perennial ryegrass. Larger variations were observed in VQ in the junegrasses compared with EL and DW, in which ‘Barleria’ from the European population showed the highest VQ, following two salt-tolerant grasses, tall fescue and sheep fescue. Nebraska population was the least salt-tolerant within the species but still exhibited similar or higher tolerance than kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass cv. Arctic Green. Overall, junegrass was more salt-sensitive during germination but more tolerant to salinity when mature. Salinity tolerance of junegrass may be further improved through turfgrass breeding because salinity tolerance varied in different populations.

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Ian Lane, Eric Watkins, and Marla Spivak

Lawns represent one of the largest cultivated areas in urban landscapes, and in the Upper Midwest of the United States, lawns are typically composed of a small number of cool-season turfgrass species. There is increased interest in enhancing areas dedicated to lawns using flowering species for conservation purposes—for example, to support pollinators. In this study we used a model flowering forb, Kura clover (Trifolium ambiguum M. Bieb.), because—like many flowering species of conservation interest—it is slow to establish and is sensitive to grass competition. We varied the Kura clover seeding rate into four different turfgrass species treatments: kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis L.), hard fescue (Festuca brevipila Tracy), tall fescue [Schedonorus arundinaceum (Schreb.) Darbysh.], and perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.) in two separate trials. Establishment and bloom of Kura clover was significantly greater in trial 1 for kentucky bluegrass and hard fescue than tall fescue and perennial ryegrass. In trial 2, Kura clover established significantly greater in kentucky bluegrass compared with tall fescue and perennial ryegrass, whereas Kura establishment in hard fescue was not significantly different from the other treatments. The seeding rate of Kura clover did not affect establishment in either trial. The results from this study suggest kentucky bluegrass and hard fescue are promising turf companion grasses for future forb/turf interseeding research.

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Eric Watkins, Bingru Huang, and William A. Meyer

Tufted hairgrass [Deschampsia cespitosa (L.) Beauv.] is receiving increasing attention as a low-maintenance turfgrass for use in areas with reduced fertility or reduced sunlight. The objectives of this study were to examine physiological responses of tufted hairgrass to heat and drought stress and to distinguish whether better summer performance was related to better heat or drought tolerance. Four germplasm lines were chosen based on summer performance in field plots (two lines resistant to summer stress and two lines susceptible to summer stress) and were grown in growth chambers [14-hour photoperiod, 20/15 °C (day/night)]. Plants were exposed to either drought stress or heat stress (35/30 °C, day/night) for up to 49 days. Control plants maintained under normal conditions (20/15 °C, day/night, well watered) were included for both treatments. During the course of the study, single-leaf photosynthetic rate, photochemical efficiency, and relative water content were measured, and turf quality was visually rated. All parameters for all tufted hairgrass lines decreased under drought stress and heat stress, and the decline was more severe for summer stress-susceptible lines than for resistant lines. Lines that were previously considered resistant to summer stress exhibited superior photochemical efficiency under heat stress compared with the susceptible lines. When subjected to drought stress, the lines exhibited little or no differences in the measured parameters. These results suggest that observed variation in field summer performance among various tufted hairgrass germplasm lines may be mainly the result of their differences in heat tolerance. These results suggest that selecting for heat-tolerant germplasm could be important for further improvement in turf performance of tufted hairgrass during the summer.

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Ian G. Lane, James Wolfin, Eric Watkins, and Marla Spivak

Public concern for the conservation of pollinating insect communities, such as bees, has created demand for more florally diverse landscapes. In urban environments, lawns form a large portion of cultivated land, and are typically managed to exclude flowering species richness. In this study, we investigated the establishment of eight flowering plants with pollinator value (plants that provide floral nectar and pollen for visiting insects) when coseeded with the turfgrass hard fescue (Festuca brevipila Tracey). The study was established as a dormant seeding at two locations in central Minnesota with substantially different soil types. Plots were maintained at either a 6- or 9-cm mowing height. We monitored these plantings over the 2014, 2015, and 2016 growing seasons for vegetative establishment and flowering of planted forbs. Of the eight forbs tested, Trifolium repens L., Prunella vulgaris ssp. lanceolata (W. Bartram) Hultén, Thymus serpyllum auct. non L., and Astragalus crassicarpus Nutt. established in at least one location. Mowing height did not affect vegetative establishment, but had a negative effect on the number of blooms produced by P. vulgaris ssp. lanceolata. Vegetative establishment was affected by location, with P. vulgaris ssp. lanceolata establishing in higher abundance in the moist loamy site, whereas T. serpyllum and A. crassicarpus established in higher abundance at the dry sandy site. This study represents an important first step in identifying appropriate plants and management practices for improving lawns as a resource for pollinators.

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Eric Watkins, Andrew B. Hollman, and Brian P. Horgan

As restrictions on water use, fertilization, and pesticide applications continue to increase, golf course superintendents will need to use grass species that require reduced inputs. The objective of this study was to evaluate alternative turfgrass species under low-input fairways conditions. In 2005, 17 species were established on native soil in St. Paul, MN. Each species was evaluated at three levels of traffic (zero, three, or six passes per week using a drum-type traffic simulator) and two mowing heights (1.90 and 2.54 cm). Data collected included turfgrass quality and percent living stand density. In 2006, velvet bentgrass (Agrostis canina L.), colonial bentgrass (Agrostis capillaris L.), and creeping bentgrass (Agrostis stolonifera L.) maintained acceptable quality in all treatment combinations. In 2007, Chewings fescue (Festuca rubra L. ssp. fallax) and sheep fescue (Festuca ovina L.) were the top-performing species regardless of treatment. Hard fescue (Festuca brevipila Tracey) performed poorly in Year 1 and well in Year 2. All other species did not perform at an acceptable level during the study. The results of this study indicate that sheep fescue, Chewings fescue, colonial bentgrass, and velvet bentgrass should be studied further for use on low-input golf course fairways in the northern United States.

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Yiwei Jiang, Eric Watkins, Shuwei Liu, Xiaoqing Yu, and Na Luo

Prairie junegrass (Koeleria macrantha) is a native cool-season C3 grass that has shown potential as a low-input turfgrass. An increased understanding of the physiological and molecular responses of prairie junegrass to water-deficit conditions is important for developing cultivars with enhanced drought tolerance. The objective of this study was to characterize the antioxidative responses and candidate gene expression in prairie junegrass subjected to drought stress. Two drought-tolerant (TOL-1 and TOL-2) and two drought-susceptible (SUS-1 and SUS-2) genotypes of prairie junegrass were subjected to 7 days of drought stress. Leaf relative water content (RWC) of SUS-1 and SUS-2 was 72.1% and 73.8% and RWC of TOL-1 and TOL-2 was 90.1% and 85.4% in drought-stressed plants, respectively. Drought stress did not affect chlorophyll fluorescence, lipid peroxidation, and antioxidative enzyme activities of superoxide dismutase (SOD), catalase (CAT), peroxidase, ascorbate peroxidase (APX), or glutathione reductase for tolerant or susceptible genotypes. The TOL-2 and SUS-2 genotypes were further examined for candidate gene expression. Drought stress did not alter expression levels of CAT and chloroplastic copper/zinc SOD (Cu/ZnSOD), but increased levels of APX in either genotype, compared with their relative controls. Expression of P5CS encoding Δ1-pyrroline-5-carboxylate synthetase and P5CR encoding Δ1-pyrroline-5-carboxylate reductase for proline biosynthesis were up-regulated under drought stress for both genotypes; however, expression of P5CR was more strongly induced under drought stress for TOL-2, compared with its control. The expression of 1-FFT encoding fructan:fructan 1-fructosyltransferase, which is involved in fructan biosynthesis, was strongly induced under drought stress for TOL-2 but not detected under either control or drought stress conditions for SUS-2. These results indicate that the genes involved in proline and fructan biosynthesis may play an important role in drought tolerance in prairie junegrass.