Amenity turf

New varieties of turf can provide a landscaping solution that is durable and sustainable.

With more than 10,000ha of turf grown in the UK, growers are promoting the benefits of grass - not least to try and compensate for the loss of many front gardens, and the increased risk of flooding brought with it.

Natural grass is seen as a fundamental element to improving surroundings in urban areas in other ways too, from absorbing pollution to alleviating the "heat island effect".

Turfgrass Growers' Association (TGA) chief executive Tim Mudge explains: "Our aim is to make sure that, when choosing turf, people are aware of the considerable environmental impact it has."

The TGA is informing customers of the improved drought tolerance, shade tolerance and disease resistance of turf mixes. These bring considerable savings in management costs with less mowing and reduced use of water, fertilisers and pesticides.

Managing director Tim Fell of Lincolnshire-based Tillers Turf says: "A good example of an improved cultivar is ryegrass. This used to be broad-leaved but now can be fine, dense and stand up to wear well and produce a good-looking turf surface."

Inturf is addressing issues of sustainability in both what it grows and how it grows it. Production techniques keep artificial inputs to a minimum and investment has been made in harvesters, which can lift more turf at a time, using less fuel. Its Classic Turf provides a mix of hardwearing fine-leaved ryegrass and low-maintenance fescues.

Joint managing director Alex Edwards says: "Turf is an ideal amenity surfacing material. It looks good, it encourages proper drainage so that underground aquifers are replenished and the public appreciate it because they can sit on it, walk on it and play sports on it."

Yorkshire-based turf grower Lindum Turf offers nine grades of turf and, from a sustainability point of view, it has greatly reduced inputs. Managing director Stephen Fell says: "Over the years we have changed the way in which we apply fertiliser. This is now foliar rather than granular, which is far more effective. Take-up used to be 40 per cent and is now over 95 per cent."

Whole package

Key things to consider when purchasing turf include consistent quality combined with a high level of service and good technical back-up from the supplier.

The TGA is pressing hard to encourage landscape architects to specify TGA members' turf, as members have to comply with specified standards.

Generally, turf is supplied in small rolls or "jumbo" rolls, which vary in width and which can be 28m long. As a rule, the larger rolls are justifiable for areas above 1,000sq m. Turf is grown on stone-free, sandy loam or peat-type soils, which are free-draining and allow for harvesting in most weather conditions. Bespoke turf can also be supplied but, as growing turf takes around 18 months, this entails a long lead time.

Establishing turf is fairly straightforward but it needs to be laid within 24 to 48 hours of delivery, and watering-in is vital. This should be maintained for approximately 28 days, otherwise the sward can curl up and shrink. After this period turf should be well established.

Tim Fell says: "The biggest mistake made with new turf is mowing grass too short. This stresses the grass plants as height of cut is directly proportional to the depth of root."

Water wise

Severe drought conditions in 2006 brought to the fore the need for cultivars that require less watering. Tim Fell explains: "Watering landscapes, especially in the South East, is going to become more and more expensive and less politically acceptable."

Deep-rooting rhizomatous tall fescue (RTF) from seed breeders including Barenbrug and Top Green has a key role in this. With roots more than 1m deep, RTF maintains good colour even during periods of intense drought. RTF tolerates flooding and will help to stabilise banks. RTF turf is available from four producers - Q-Lawns, Lindum Turf, Inturf and Tillers Turf.

County Turf managing director Andy Fraser says: "We have particularly selected cultivars which are more sustainable and have been trialling deep-rooting Poa supine. This is native to Alpine regions and is a fine, soft grass that grows less than ryegrass. It is successful in shady areas and it survives well in drought conditions."

Perennial ryegrasses have changed in the past 20 years, turning from a fairly coarse, fast-growing pasture grass to one that is far finer and can happily grace lawns.

Managing director Peter Lole of Teal Turf in Worcestershire says: "Some ryegrasses are more suited for summer sports use and these are generally better for landscaping because of visual merit and density."

In winter, when wear characteristics are important, a percentage of dwarf ryegrass is advantageous. Lole adds: "I like to go for ryegrasses which score well for both summer and winter use as these are dual-purpose, which is especially good for school sports."

Growing more than 445ha of turf, County Turf's Fraser says: "We are turfing a number of school playing fields. Ryegrasses in the mix are ideal for this."

Minimum maintenance

Specifiers need to understand the cultivars that are available as these can dramatically improve turf quality and reduce maintenance costs. A reduced mowing requirement can save up to one-third in manpower alone.

Tim Fell says: "If the site has low fertility with very little ability to irrigate and you want to mow infrequently, then slender fescues offer a good option."

This turf type creates a more informal landscape and an added benefit is that attractive flower heads are produced in May and June. The Turfgrass Seed booklet, produced by the British Society of Plant Breeders with the Sports Turf Research Institute (STRI), is a valuable tool for determining benefits of grasses in the turf.

Sustainable suitability

Stephen Fell explains that crested hair grass is good in terms of low growth and is fine so fits in well for landscaping when combined with creeping red fescue and hard fescues, which are drought tolerant with low water and fertility requirements.

Pro Turf director Haydn Fish stresses: "Specifiers need to appreciate that where a project requires a finer-grade turf this will require a higher degree of management."

Supplying turf to landscapers and sports clubs, Stewartsturf managing director Duncan Forbes says: "At a recent TGA meeting, a representative from the STRI spoke of the need for turf growers to look at who they are supplying and where they are in the country. We predominantly supply to the Edinburgh area and grow turf for that market. We do not try to supply it to Cornwall. National distribution of turf is slowly beginning to erode."

Looking to the future, two of Forbes' team were at the STRI viewing grass trials to see which plants are looking their best after the winter period. He says: "Smooth stalked meadow grass cultivars give turf more strength and this is something our customers want. Our main focus for landscaping is a consistent colour all year."

A further solution for landscape use is turf that is already planted with wildflowers. Ready-established Lindum Wildflower contains 50 per cent oxeye daisy, yarrow and ladies bedstraw combined with 50 per cent non-aggressive meadow grasses. Roll width is from 75cm to 2m and the mix is grown on a biodegradable felt base that acts as a barrier to weeds.

Encouraging biodiversity, wildflower turf just requires cutting at the end of the autumn so is attractive visually and management-wise. With greater budgetary constraints we may have to get used to longer grass, but new life is being breathed into our landscapes through more resilient types of turf.

Selecting turf

- Determine your key requirements
- Think about the expected level of wear
- Carefully consider the cultivars used in the turf
- Consult the Turfgrass Seed booklet as a guide to the performance of
individual cultivars
- Consider the micro-climate within your given area
- For a quality standard, TGA-approved turf is available
- Go and see the turf growing on the farm or have a sample sent to check
visually what you are getting before you order
- Management regimes need to be determined at the specification stage

Contacts

County Turf 01724 855000
Inturf 01759 321000
Lindum Turf 01904 448675
Pro Turf 01427 890797
Rolawn 0845 604 6050
Stewartsturf 0800 9708577
Teal Turf 01905 840279
TGA 01507 607722
Tillers Turf 01652 678000


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