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J.S. Ebdon, R.A. Gagne and R.C. Manley

Turf loss from freezing injury results in costly reestablishment, especially with turfgrasses such as perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.) having poor low-temperature tolerance. However, no studies have been conducted to investigate the relative importance of low-temperature tolerance and its contribution to turfgrass quality (performance) in northern climates. The objective of this research was to compare critical freezing thresholds (LT50) of 10 perennial ryegrass cultivars representing contrasting turf-quality types (five high- and five low-performance cultivars). Cultivar selection was based on turfgrass quality ranking (top and bottom five) from the 1997 National Turfgrass Evaluation Program (NTEP) trial conducted at the Maine (Orono) location. Ten freeze-stress temperatures (-3 to -21 °C) and a nonfrozen control (5 °C) were applied to 5-month-old plants. Acclimated (AC) plant material maintained in an unheated polyhouse during the fall and winter in Massachusetts was compared to nonacclimated (NA) plant material (grown at 18 °C minimum in a greenhouse). Low-temperature tolerance was assessed using whole-plant survival and electrolyte leakage (EL). Estimates of LT50 were derived from fitted EL and survival curves using nonlinear regression. High-performance cultivars were able to tolerate significantly lower freeze-stress temperatures indicated by less EL and greater survival compared to low-performance cultivars. The EL method had good predictive capability for low-temperature survival. Acclimated tissues and high-performance cultivars had significantly flatter EL curves and lower mortality rates. These results underscore the importance of selecting cold-tolerant perennial ryegrass genotypes for adaptation to northern climates.