Tight budgets, skills shortages, restrictions on water use, environmental pressures, disease and heavy wear - all impact the quality and performance of grasses.
What do you do? In some situations resorting to ryegrasses may be the solution. Perhaps low-maintenance grasses provide the answer? Elsewhere, mixtures focusing on low inputs and biodiversity may present a new way of thinking.
Grass-cutting is a key budgetary issue and considerable savings can be made on fuel, machinery, labour costs and clearing-up operations by looking carefully at choice of seed. Selecting varieties that have been bred specifically for slower regrowth can reduce the frequency of cutting by more than 30 per cent.
"Cultivars contained in our new range of Landscape & Environmental grass seed mixtures help to create and maintain more successful grass cover with the added significant benefit of reducing maintenance costs," says Rigby Taylor director of seed research Brian Robinson. "Equally important, these grasses produce less weight and volume of clippings, saving on disposal costs."
Scotts Professional key account manager and grass seed specialist Mark Rayner has noticed increased demand in the amenity marketplace for low-maintenance seed mixtures and grasses that maintain a rich green colour without high inputs.
"Our ProSelect 2 mixture - a blend of Seabreeze and Florensate creeping red fescues and Quicksilver perennial ryegrass - is proving increasingly popular in the landscape and amenity sector," he says.
"Quicksilver is a fine-leaved American ryegrass that has a very low growth habit, but establishes rapidly to produce a heard-wearing sward. What sets it apart is its exceptional dark green colour, enabling turf managers to produce attractive turf with minimal inputs. It's an ideal seed mixture for low-maintenance areas such as slopes, cemeteries and roadside verges. By specifying and sowing grasses bred for their low growth habit, it is possible to reduce the frequency and therefore the costs associated with mowing."
Scotts Professional, working in cooperation with Pure-Seed Testing Inc, has more than 90ha of turfgrass trails at four research centres located in different climate zones, allowing warm and cool season grasses to be tested, screened and evaluated. Scotts researchers collect, cross-breed and test thousands of hybrid grass plants to discover the best parental plants to cross with current top-performing varieties. This enables them to develop varieties with specific traits that give end-users grasses that perform, require fewer inputs and are less costly to maintain.
But what if you could reduce mowing costs, reduce weed control costs, increase biodiversity, show an integrated approach to pest management and still produce verges and amenity areas that are attractive and fit for purpose - and colourful too? The use of meadows and urban flower areas are gaining attention. They can mean just one cut a year, or perhaps just mowing around the edge.
Urban flower seed mixtures
Leading the way in urban flower seed mixtures, Top Green and seed agent Rigby Taylor have jointly developed a range of 14 flower mixtures, called Euroflor, for introduction this spring. Trails included plots at Trethorne Golf Club in Cornwall, with evaluation by course manager Justin Austin and gardener Sarah Austin.
"We decided to replace some of the areas of rough with the Euroflor urban flower mixtures and the results have been very exciting, not just for us but also for members of the club and the pubic," says Justin Austin.
"Our industry has seen more dramatic changes in the past five years than the previous 30 years. When looking at flora it is not just about pretty flowers but biodiversity and carbon sequestration."
Flower mixtures at the course include Sarah Bouquet - created by Sarah Austin together with Rigby Taylor, from a mix of 50 annual and wild flower species. A clean seed bed is all that is required before sowing. The main aim is to stop weed infestation from the very beginning because no matter what the soil type, they all contain weed seeds.
The seed is then mixed with sand and lightly incorporated into the top of the soil at a rate of around 4g per square metre. Sown from March, plants will flower around May and will flourish until the first frosts in October or November.
TOR2 parks and open spaces service manager Richard Barton has also trialled the flowers in Torbay. "Initially we experimented by using the Euroflor mixtures in small areas but then introduced a large area of flowers in one of our parks. We have had increased visits to look specifically at these flowers and so will be extending their use into other areas," he reports. "They are certainly more cost-effective than using bedding plants, which is also an important consideration."
Mixtures address biodiversity
Biodiversity is also a vital issue, which these mixtures address. All will attract birds, insects and, importantly, honeybees because concerns are being expressed over the decline of their habitats.
Nomix Enviro, perhaps better known as a leading supplier of herbicides to the amenity and industrial sectors, this year enters the grass and wild flower seed market with a value range. It believes the range will encourage more amenity managers to consider planting wild flowers as part of their vegetation management programme in a bid to increase biodiversity and reduce costs. The mixtures being launched have been selected to deliver reliable establishment and a striking display of colour through the season.
The range includes Department of Transport-approved highway mixtures as well as products suitable for environmental and landscaped areas, but there are also mixtures for sports turf. The grass seed mixtures on offer allow maintenance costs to be kept to a minimum. Selections have been made for speedy establishment, low growth, good wear tolerance and high levels of disease resistance.
The range has been created in partnership with Nomix sister company Kings' Game Cover and Conservation Crops. Kings has a wealth of experience supplying products and providing expert conservation advice to landowners and farmers and it works with a number of organisations such as Natural England, the RSPB, the Campaign for the Farmed Environment and the Forestry Commission to promote environmental issues.
Sales manager and conservation expert Richard Barnes says: "At Kings we are advocates of any action that encourages good land management and increases overall biodiversity. We've worked with Nomix to design this range and it is perfectly suited to the amenity market."
He adds: "We think this could really catch the imagination of a sector that has perhaps not previously considered the potential practical benefits of taking a more active role in conservation."
The potential for increasing areas of meadow and other floral areas is also recognised by British Seed Houses. The firm has released its most comprehensive wild flower brochure, with more than 80 different plants making up 29 different mixtures to satisfy all conditions from lowland meadow to coastal reclamation. It also gives practical advice on creating and managing schemes.
Whether you are working on schemes for verges and amenity areas or creating or maintaining existing golf and sports facilities, environmental and financial pressures mean it is time to "think outside the box". It is time to stop reaching for the mixtures you have always used and re-assess the situation.
OTHER NEW PRODUCTS
The new generation of tall fescues being bred by Top Green and Rigby Taylor include dwarf varieties that are good for general landscaping situations. These cultivars can withstand both drought and waterlogged conditions because they have a deep-rooting system, with some roots going more than 1m deep. The latest addition is Grande II, which boasts significantly more rhizomes.
For football and rugby, Scotts Professional's ProSelect 1 is noted for rapid establishment, leading to a deep-rooting, dense sward with wear tolerance. It repairs quickly from divots, has a rich, deep-green winter colour and is resistant to disease, cold and drought.
Included in the mixture are three ryegrasses - Roadrunner, Vantage and Citation Fore - bred for Scotts by Pure-Seed Testing and awarded the Scotts Visual Merit icon. The icon helps end-users to identify varieties that have met or surpassed rigid standards under a programme of intense trait-specific trials.
Leading the new mixtures from Barenbrug is BAR Trio, a 100 per cent fescue blend (40 per cent Viktorka, 30 per cent Barcrown and 30 per cent Barpearl) designed to provide the superior salt tolerance, shoot density and disease tolerance required by links golf courses.
Another Barenbrug introduction is BAR Medal. Suited to fine turf applications such as golf tees, this combines hard-wearing Bargold with the fine leaf of Viktorka and is said to be ideal for achieving a high-quality, fine-leafed appearance while adding a greater degree of recovery and wear tolerance.
Completing the hat-trick of new mixtures is RTF Turf for turf growers. Harnessing the deep-rooting rhizomatous tall fescue for tensile strength and soil stabilisation, this mixture now includes the added benefits of new tufted tall fescue Barcesar for high shoot density and fine-leaf appearance.
New Barenbrug cultivars include Barsignum extremely fine-leafed perennial ryegrass and Barcesar tall fescue with superior fineness of leaf and high shoot density - both have achieved number one positioning in the Turfgrass Seed 2011 Guide.
Barrocky perennial ryegrass for fast germination and recovery and new slender creeping red fescue Barprince have also further enhanced the mixture synergy of Barenbrug's BAR range.
Creeping bent grasses continue to deliver on golf courses - offering reliable winter colour and fine growth. British Seed Houses has introduced "fourth generation" creeping bents, with 007 and Tyee having lower nutrient requirements and better disease resistance.