With challenging weather conditions across the U.S. again in 2012, sports field managers have even more reason to tap into the latest research on turfgrass performance. Start by reviewing the state-by-state reports of testing evaluations conducted under the parameters of the National Turfgrass Evaluation Program (NTEP, www.ntep.org). Take part in your regional university turfgrass field days to examine turf test plots and discuss variety performance in varied conditions. Connect with other sports field managers with conditions and usage similar to your own to see their fields and discuss seeding and overseeding strategies. Check out the newest introductions from seed suppliers. Weigh the information gathered to make the best match of turfgrass varieties to meet the specific needs of your fields and field-use demands.

Jacklin Seed by Simplot’s CSI-Rye shows its performance in the overseeding mix for wear areas is this shot of the recovery on this field at the Waukegan (Ill.) Park District’s Sports Complex.

New turfgrass introductions

“Turfgrass breeders need to interact with the end users, really listening to their questions and concerns to better define their needs and use that information to more clearly refine the breeding process,” says Dr. Leah Brilman, director of research and technical services for Seed Research of Oregon (www.sroseed.com).

This shows the same area prior to overseeding.

SRO and Pickseed USA (www.pickseed.com) are both locations and brand names of the Pickseed Companies Group. Brilman says, “Increasingly in our research for both SRO and Pickseed, we’ve been looking at wear and wear tolerance as an important component in our breeding selection process. Another aspect that we are really trying to dial in on in the cool-season grasses is the early startup in the spring and extended growth late into the fall.”

Pickseed has released two new ryegrasses this year. Brilman says, “Wicked (SRX -4RHD) has shown superior performance and is top rated in the new NTEP trials. Karma (PSG 10401) has a spreading growth habit and superior gray leaf spot resistance. Also new for Pickseed is Bladerunner II (PSG 85QR) noted for its quick rhizome development and high performance with traffic. It blends excellently with Mustang 4, which has set a new standard for turf-type tall fescues in high density and performance.”

Seed Research of Oregon is also releasing two new superior ryegrasses. “SR 4650 (PSG 3701) continues the performance of the 4000 ryegrass series with the top-ranked gray leaf spot resistance combined with superior turf with wear,” says Brilman. “Sideways (PSG S84) has excellent wear tolerance and an active spreading growth habit combined with excellent stress tolerance. Seed Research is also releasing Fielder (PSG 2959), an improved Shamrock-type Kentucky bluegrass that establishes quickly, has superior rhizomes and excellent wear tolerance. It grows earlier in the spring and later in the fall than many comparative varieties.”

There’s a whole new series of ryegrasses on the horizon for Jacklin Seed by Simplot (www.simplot.com/turf/jacklin/), according to Mark Grundman, senior technical manager. He says, “The fall 2012 introductions, Monterey IV and a variety yet to be named, are both gray leaf spot resistant. We also have some new varieties, not yet ready for release, which are showing some Pythium resistance.”

Jacklin’s 2012 tall fescue introduction, also yet to be named, has been screened at .5-inch mowing heights, as well as for brown patch and gray leaf spot resistance. Grundman says, “It will be a great choice for those who want an extremely tight tall fescue field. We suggest mixing it with 5 to 10 percent Kentucky bluegrass by weight for sports fields. At 10 percent, that will produce a seed count closer to 70 percent tall fescue to 30 percent bluegrass to deliver the drought and heat tolerance of the tall fescue along with the rhizome production of the bluegrass.”

Another new tall fescue is slotted for introduction in 2014. Grundman says, “It will be the first variety in our No-Net series of truly rhizomatous tall fescues. This cultivar grows like bluegrass. If you use a cup cutter to take out a plug of Kentucky bluegrasses, you’ll find most varieties will have put out six to seven new rhizomes within 14 to 21 days. Our new cultivar is pushing out four to five rhizomes within 14 to 21 days. These are heavy rhizomes, though not quite as heavy as those of the bluegrasses. The turf texture also is very close to the bluegrasses. We will suggest straight seeding with the No-Net tall fescue varieties, not combining them with the Kentucky bluegrasses.”

Grundman also notes Jacklin’s late 2011 introduction, CSI-Rye, brings its tiller-forming, fine-textured, high shoot density characteristics and fast germination to customized mixes with their Rush and 4-Season Kentucky bluegrasses. He says, “Don Michaels, certified turf specialist for Conserv FS, reports the mix is providing great wear resistance on multiple sports fields in the Chicago area. The Waukegan Park District is using it as their overseeding mix for goalmouth and other high-use area repair at their new sports complex.”

Hollywood, Jacklin’s 2011 seeded bermuda introduction, demonstrated its cold tolerance and early spring green-up in several pockets of the transition zone, including many fields in the St. Louis, Mo., area. Grundman says, “We had more requests than we could fill following the introduction. We now have an adequate supply.”

Pickseed’s Karma (PSG 10401) perennial ryegrass showed its spreading growth habit and superior gray leaf spot resistance in this 2011 test plot at Rutgers Field Day.

Steve Tubbs, president of Turf Merchants, Inc. (TMI, www.turfmerchants.com) reports the company has been focusing much of its research on breeding ryegrasses with better salt tolerance for those who must irrigate with effluent/salty water.

Tubbs says, “Previous studies have shown that varieties differ in salt tolerance at both the seedling stage and in matured plants, so we are evaluating and selecting salt-tolerant clones with significantly higher survival rates at germination. Saline water treatments are applied to clonal selections using a trigger sprayer that simulates overhead irrigation. To quantify differences, two visual ratings and digital images analyzed by Sigma Scan are used. Digital image analysis is also used to calculate the percent of green of perennial ryegrass in the 4-by-4-foot plots. Salt-tolerant varieties then must prove through testing that they maintain desirable color and texture, along with heat and drought tolerance, through establishment and maturity. Our 2012 introduction, Saltinas (KSA) perennial ryegrass is one of the varieties selected through that process.”

Also to be introduced in 2012 is Pangea perennial ryegrass, with dark green color, compact growth and high resistance to gray leaf spot. TMI’s other recent perennial ryegrass introduction, Pizzazz 2 GLR (PR909), continues to perform very well in overseeding trials.

TMI’s new Oceania Maritima is the world’s first commercially available Puccinellia maritima. Tubbs says, “Known as Seaside alkaligrass or Salty Marshgrass, this species is found growing in coastal marsh areas around the globe and is native to Western Europe. It is extremely salt resistant, scoring a perfect 9 on a scale of 1-9 in university trials for salt tolerance. It’s also resistant to rapid blight disease. Those attributes, along with its strong showing in both establishment and performance in university trials, make it a prime component in overseeding mixtures in the Southeast and Southwest.”

Seed Research of Oregon’s Mustang 4 is shown here with summer wear applied at the Rutgers 2011 Field Day.

Landmark Turf & Native Seed (www.landmarkturfandnativeseed.com) has three new bluegrass introductions for 2012, according to Wayne Horman, company specialist for sports, golf and distributor services. Horman says, “Two varieties have been on top of the NTEP trials. BV0384, now called Fullback, is geared for sports fields. It’s aggressive, medium to dark green in color, shows strong lateral movement to fill in very well, has extremely high traffic and wear tolerance and good disease resistance. It’s been tolerant to summer patch throughout the five years of testing to date. The second, Noble, was in the NTEP top 10. It’s a cross between Unique and Midnight with a third cross added for greater seed yield. It’s very dark in color, handles traffic well and shows solid disease resistance across the board. Noble is the number one variety for shade tolerance, so it should work well for those shady corners inside stadiums. Also new from Landmark is Shannon, which shows good color and holds up well to wear and traffic.”

Turfgrass seed suppliers often test their new varieties in the most challenging real-world conditions, as well as the NTEP trials, before deciding to launch them. Here Turf Merchants Inc.’s VIP perennial ryegrass shows its performance on the fairway of Anthem Country Club in Henderson, Nev.

During the fall of 2012, Barenbrug USA (www.barusa.com) will introduce several new additions to its lineup of turfgrass products. For the overseeding market, John Rector, Barenbrug’s turf products manager, reports that two new turf-type annual ryegrass introductions will be available in limited quantities for the company’s SOS (Super Over Seeding). Rector says, “These two new varieties exhibit darker green color and are significantly lower growing than Barenbrug’s earlier varieties, Panterra and Panterra V. The SOS program allows the end user to fine-tune their bermuda- grass overseeding program’s establishment, spring transition, color and turf quality by the addition of set percentages of both turf-type annuals and perennial ryegrass.”

Rector reports that Barenbrug’s new Healthy Grass Technology (HGT) Kentucky bluegrass program has gained considerable momentum with last summer’s release of the 2010 Kentucky bluegrass NTEP data. BAR VV0709, now known as Barvette HGT, was the top entry for turf quality at the six transition zone test sites. He says, “This variety shows significant resistance to one of the transition zone’s toughest bluegrass disease, summer patch, along with excellent wear tolerance, turf density, rapid spring green-up and insect resistance. Barvette HGT will enable turfgrass managers to once again reevaluate Kentucky bluegrass for those transition zone climates where difficult summers have previously made bluegrass a tough choice. Barvette HGT is available only in Barenbrug blends and mixes.”

Barenbrug has also improved its Rhizomatous Tall Fescue (RTF) mix of tall fescue, as two new RTF varieties have moved into production. “They feature improved brown patch resistance, color and reduced plant height, while maintaining the hallmark of RTF, vigorous rhizome production,” says Rector. “Our RTF group of tall fescues exhibits more active growth earlier in the spring and later in the fall than traditional continental turf-type tall fescue varieties, a great advantage for sports field managers.”

This test plot shows the performance of Jacklin Seed by Simplot’s CSI-Rye as compared to another recuperative ryegrass.

On May 30, 2012, a partnership was announced between 21 Florida sod producers from the Florida Sod Growers Cooperative (FSGC) and the University of Florida turfgrass researchers. This grower-funded research initiative will seek out new and improved zoysiagrass varieties, particularly those that are disease resistant. Testing will also evaluate varieties for drought and shade response, color retention in cooler weather and responses to billbug, armyworm and sod webworm.

Turfgrass research, development and marketing company Sod Solutions is coordinating this cooperative effort and will be the licensing and marketing agent for new grasses resulting from the program. Tobey Wagner, president of Sod Solutions, says, “We anticipate new product releases will come in five to six years.”

Overseeding tips

Brilman and researchers from several other companies point to the recommendations from Dr. Dave Minner of Iowa State University and Dr. Frank Rossi of Cornell University for heavy rates in overseeding applications. Brilman says, “When cost is a factor, sports field managers may opt to go with the higher rates only in the heavy wear areas when they’re overseeding the entire field, or to use the high rates but only overseed the heavy wear areas.”

Horman is a big proponent for variety in mixes for overseeding as well as new seeding. He says, “There are about 13 types of Kentucky bluegrass, so look for genetic diversity to keep the field growing when disease or insects target one, or when growing conditions favor one over the other. Look for the attributes you want and include the varieties that will deliver them, making sure you select several of the different family types to blend the strengths and minimize the weaknesses.”

Turf researchers recommend an individual assessment of each field. Then tracking of application details including: field conditions prior to application; site preparation; amount and type of seed applied; method of application; germination timing; all maintenance practices including fertilization and irrigation prior to and after germination; and climatic conditions throughout the preparation and establishment process. Evaluate the turf’s performance throughout the season, continuing to track maintenance procedures, environmental conditions and all field usage. These records will give you the data necessary to make the right decisions for overseeding your fields in terms of seed variety, amount and management practices.

The author is a contributing editor for SportsField Management.