Turf seed & consumables

Sally Drury reports from the latest STRI trials on nutrition, environmental conditions, soil water and more

Grass seeding solutions
Grass seeding solutions
Has the pressure on sports turf ever been greater? Playing surfaces must be safe and as perfect as can be achieved given the vagaries of the weather, intensity of use (and abuse), threats from pests and diseases and, of course, tight budgets.

Demonstrating a thirst for knowledge, more than 100 turf managers from across the UK attended each of two research days hosted by the Sports Turf Research Institute (STRI) in Bingley, Yorkshire. The STRI works with a number of companies each year on research and development projects for the industry. In September, a selection of these partners shared some of the most innovative products, machinery and techniques currently being trialled and tested by the STRI research team.

Advancements can be made through knowledge. It means experiment, assimilation and analysis of results, and dissemination of information. Rotating around seven research and development stations on the STRI’s trials grounds, delegates were given an insight into what the future holds for effective turf management — be it golf course, bowling green, cricket square, winter pitches or roadside verges.

Trial 1: protection with nutrition

What if you could head off a problem before it really becomes a problem? We know that when a plant responds to disease, it starts to strengthen itself through lignifications — the cell walls harden, making it more difficult for the disease to penetrate. But this natural response is often too late for turf, especially when other stress factors are already taking a toll on plant health.

Hoping to reduce pesticide use to a bare minimum, work at Dutch Outdoor Concepts and the STRI is investigating the role trace elements play in powering a plant’s immune system, with particular reference to nutrition delivered via Marathon Liquid. "Using all the tools in our armoury is increasingly important with the growing pressure to play more sport for longer," says STRI soil scientist Dr Christian Spring.

Marathon Liquid is a range of new products, all designed to work together in close microbiological co-operation to strengthen the plant and allow it to orchestrate the defence mechanism itself. Different tank combinations are applied to the turf and the ingress and development of disease is then monitored. The roles of copper and silicon are seen
as important.

Trial 2: counter shade

Shade, whether created by tall trees on a golf course or spectator stands
in the stadium, is a major challenge for turf managers. It reduces light levels, which leads to reduced photosynthesis and reduced carbohydrate production. In response, the plant produces gibberellic acid to stimulate elongation and cell walls become thinner. At the same time, cytokinetin is inhibited, so reducing tillering and root development.

Results of trials at the STRI show that growth regulator Primo Maxx can encourage deeper rooting and improve plant health to successfully counter the effects of shade. In a purpose-built shade hall (70 per cent shade), a treatment programme of Primo Maxx resulted in compact, dense, dark-green turf.

Not only was gibberellic acid reduced but, with more chloroplasts in a smaller area, any available light was used efficiently to give a 39 per cent increase in carbohydrate production. Strong rooting was noted along with more efficient uptake of nutrients and a lower requirement for irrigation. Compared with untreated turf, there were also 50 per cent fewer clippings. The benefits of nutritional inputs are also being investigated.

Trial 3: tailored maintenance

Performance data is needed if a tailored maintenance programme is to be developed and improvements made to any playing surface. At the STRI, scientists are constantly researching the best ways to accurately assess sports turf performance and hence provide a clear picture of the surface quality and produce site-specific improvement plans.

This year, the STRI began trials of a brand new concept for measuring sports turf performance using Toro Precision Sense technology. The machine takes thousands of sets of data readings across a golf course or sports pitch, along with topographical GPS mapping. Following analysis, a series of maps and graphs is produced to show which areas are performing well and to highlight areas for improvement.

Along with other equipment, including the STRI Trueness Meter, a full picture can be obtained regarding firmness, compaction, surface traction, ball speed, ball bounce, surface smoothness/trueness, soil moisture content, surface infiltration, soil type, organic matter content, soil chemistry, soil texture, turf vigour and wear patterns.

STRI turf grass agronomist Richard Windows says: "Using this information you can apply inputs to smaller areas, reduce cost, improve performance across the course or pitch and manage your resources more efficiently."

Trial 4: surfactant seed coatings

Soil water repellency, or hydrophobia, dramatically reduces the ability of water molecules to infiltrate into the soil. Overseeding into such conditions tends to fail unless excess irrigation can be used to enable the seed to germinate and the plant to establish.

An effective approach to
managing soil water repellency is to apply soil surfactants, typically using irrigation water as the carrier. In these trials, following work by Madsen et al (2012) in America, the seed is treated with the surfactant and used as the carrier.

At the STRI, different treatments
of surfactant coating from nil to 10 per cent have been applied to perennial ryegrass and tall fescue seeds and the seeds then sown in
non-water-repellent (wettable) and water-repellent soils.

In the wettable soils, little difference was observed between treated and untreated seeds, although survival rates from treated seeds were better — giving an opportunity to reduce sowing rates. In the water-repellent soils, both the treated ryegrass and tall fescue germinated and grew ahead of the untreated seeds.

Although surfactant seed coatings are probably two years away from commercial availability, it does herald a change in the methods used for overseeding.

Trial 5: grass seeding solutions

The STRI investigates aspects of all non-agricultural grass areas, including roadside verges. In this trial, partner Rigby Taylor is currently looking at developing a new approach to grass seed solutions for infrequently maintained areas, particularly slopes and other areas where maintenance is deemed hazardous or costly. The primary objective is to identify advancements that make tangible contributions to maintenance and cost control and that simultaneously deliver additional environmental benefits.

"Rapid establishment is key to the subsequent functionality of grass landscapes, particularly when seeding slopes, embankments and exposed sites that are subject to erosion," says Rigby Taylor seed research and development manager Jayne Leyland. "Establishment capability to outcompete pernicious grass and weed species, combined with short regrowth to manage costs and promote positive environmental impact, is essential."

The trial, in early stages, saw four different seed/mini-legume mixes, including DoT mix, sown (mid August) into an indigenous sandy loam soil in long plastic boxes and placed on a 45° slope facing south. Annual measurements will be made of sward height, vegetation/weed cover, chlorophyll reflectance, turf colour, soil erosion and soil slippage/shrinkage. Thirteen soil carbon analyses will be made.

Trial 6: constant pressure

Greenkeepers are under constant pressure to produce fast, firm, smooth greens. But results need to be produced in the quickest time and with minimum disruption.

Although there has been a move towards using pure sand top-dressing recently, there has not been any research in the UK to determine which grade of sand is best when carrying out major renovation works. Medium-coarse USGA-specification sand is currently the norm but ongoing research carried out in the USA shows
that when using a finer grade of sand the heal-up time is quicker and ball roll is smoother.

With this in mind, Kensett is looking at three different grades of Mansfield Sand — a medium-coarse "35" grade, a medium "45" grade and a fine "55" grade. The aim is to discover which grade results in the quickest heal-up time while being most effective.

In ongoing research, Kensett is investigating the possibility of reducing the standard twice-a-year- major renovations to a single renovation using hollow tining to target lower levels and then carrying out the Graden sand-injection operation to target the top 20mm.

Trial 7: formulation technology

The result of 15 years of development and trials concluded in the launch of a new fungicide by Bayer this year. Interface (left), described as the next-generation fungicide, is tailor made for sport turf applications. What makes it special is the formulation technology.

Without the right formulation, even the best active ingredients can be wasted. StressGard is Bayer’s most advanced formulation to date.

"Producing a product that combines more than one active ingredient is a finely balanced task," explains Bayer technical support manager Dr Colin Mumford. "Bayer scientists have worked extensively to ensure that ingredients contained in their products perform to the highest possible standards and provide turf managers with the most effective solutions."

StressGard Formulation Technology is a stable combination of active ingredients, inert ingredients and turf-specific co-formulants. It is the combination of all these components that helps the product perform to deliver disease control and long-lasting protection through retention, spread and uptake.

The formulation is currently only available in Interface, which treats six major turf diseases. StressGard will be incorporated in future as new products are developed.

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