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Jason Hinterweger
Jason Hinterweger


Bermudagrass, and primarily the hybrid cultivar Tifway (419), was the standard and was considered to have very good overall adaptation for tee, fairway, and rough areas. Similarly, Tifdwarf bermuda was the standard for putting greens.


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There are approximately 14 warm-season species utilized for turfgrass purposes around the world.2 However, for the remainder of this article, discussions will focus on bermudagrass (Cynodon species), seashore paspalum (Paspalum vaginatum),and zoysiagrass (Zoysia species) because they are currently the main species used on primary playing surfaces in North America. Buffalograss (Buchloe dactyloides) is a native species of the Great Plains of North America and is extremely well adapted to semi-arid regions. Although improved cultivars have been developed over the past few years, it is definitely under-utilized.

As a group, warm-season grasses have lower water use rates (based on mean summertime evapotranspiration rates) compared to cool-season species. Buffalograss is at the head of the pack and has a relative ranking of very low water usage. It is followed by bermudagrass and then zoysiagrass, with low to medium rankings. Based on previous research, seashore paspalum is also ranked as having a medium water usage rate relative to these other species.

New bermudagrass, zoysia, and paspalum cultivars have become available since these water use rate studies were conducted, and variability among cultivars does occur. This is especially true with seashore paspalum. There have been advertising and marketing claims that seashore paspalum needs only 50% of the irrigation of bermudagrass, but research conducted by Dr. Bob Carrow at the University of Georgia determined that water requirements of Sealsle I, which was the most drought-tolerant paspalum, are similar to TifWay bermuda. With proper nitrogen fertilization and irrigation management to maintain maximum newsContent system development, an additional reduction in water usage of Sealsle I is possible. In another study conducted at Clemson University, it was found that improvements in water use rates and drought tolerance have been achieved with some of the newer bermudagrasses that are now available. Additional unbiased cultivar and species evaluation of this very important performance character is needed.

Furthermore, it has been observed in the field that the green-up and recovery response of some of the new fine-leaf zoysiagrasses is faster than bermuda. With the ability to produce an extensive and deep newsContent system, seashore paspalum is able to utilize moisture from lower depths in the soil and is an example of drought tolerance. However, with the onset of drought stress, shoot die-back occurs and turf coverage and surface quality deteriorate to an unacceptable condition. Excellent newsContent and rhizome survival does allow full recovery, but redevelopment of a good quality turf cover can take significantly longer when compared to bermuda and zoysiagrass.

In humid and tropical regions, insect and disease pressure can be very high. Mole crickets have long been the number-one pest problem of bermudagrass-based golf courses in the lower Southeast and Florida. Without annual insecticide treatments, significant turf damage and loss will occur. At the long-running bermudagrass breeding program at the Coastal Plains Experiment

Foliage-feeding caterpillars (army worms and sod webworms), grubs, billbugs, and chinch bugs are some of the other common insect pests encountered on warm-season golf courses. With increased use of seashore paspalum on courses in Florida, it has been found that insect pests similar to those that plague bermudagrass are being experienced.

Compared to cool-season turfgrasses, the warm-season species have significantly fewer disease problems. The aggressive growth habit of bermudagrass provides tolerance to most diseases, even though fungal pathogens are always present. Very rarely do disease activity and turf damage reach the point that fungicide treatments can be justified on bermudagrass tees and fairways.

A very dense turf is a key component minimizing weed invasion, and this is a common characteristic of zoysiagrass, seashore paspalum, and bermudagrass. There are, however, several opportunistic and highly invasive annual and perennial weeds that can become established in all warm-season turfgrasses.

Thus, herbicide treatments are needed to maintain acceptable levels of weed control, and with both zoysia and bermuda, an adequate arsenal of pre- and post-emergent materials is available. The list of options for seashore paspalum is also growing.

The superior salinity tolerance of seashore paspalum also makes topical applications of salt a weed control option. Directly applying rock salt or spraying ocean water on weeds can provide acceptable control of a number of problem species. However, this strategy has not worked satisfactorily for controlling bermudagrass infestations in paspalum.

Most golfers do not recognize this weed problem, and thus it can be debated as to whether or not it is a truly significant problem. However, at least in Florida, a lot of time and effort are being devoted to bermudagrass control.

Seashore paspalum is extremely efficient as far as nitrogen utilization is concerned, even on infertile, sandy soils; fertilization requirements can be less than half of what is required for bermudagrass.

Throughout the transition zone of the United States, cold tolerance is a critically important selection factor with warm-season turf grasses. Even in the mid to lower South, where the ground does not freeze for extended periods of time, periodic winter kill of bermudagrass can occur. This and its brown color when it is dormant have been limiting factors in its use.

The cold tolerance of seashore paspalum is similar to that of bermudagrass, but further evaluation of this characteristic is also needed. In areas such as Central to South Florida, where bermudagrass does not go fully dormant and brown, paspalum maintains a greener color, very similar to a winter overseeding cover. Yet, cart traffic and wear damage problems similar to what is experienced with bermuda can occur when moderate to heavy play is hosted. It has also been found that seashore paspalum transitions out of overseeding smootWy and better than bermudagrass.

Zoysiagrass has better cold tolerance relative to bermudagrass. This and its ability to maintain a greener color character longer into the fall are factors in its increased use. Yet, once again, variability in cold tolerance occurs among the zoysias, and some of the new fine-leaf types have significantly reduced tolerance compared to Meyer and Emerald.4 Furthermore, good drainage, minimal shade, and proper management play a role in minimizing the potential for winter kill with all warm-season turfgrasses.

All plants require sunlight for photosynthesis and growth, and as a group the warm-season turfgrasses have a high light requirement. Lack of shade tolerance has long been recognized as a major limiting factor with bermudagrass, and eight hours of direct sunlight is considered the minimum requirement for sustained healthy growth.

Seashore paspalum was initially thought to be very similar to bermuda as far as its tolerance to tree shade. It has been found, however, that paspalum is persisting and performing satisfactorily in shaded locations where bermuda failed. Paspalum is also more tolerant to periods of reduced sunlight intensity due to heavy, persistent cloud cover.

Zoysiagrass has moderate shade tolerance, and in the past it has been used as an alternative to bermuda. Development of more bermudagrasses with shade tolerance has been a goal of some breeding programs, and there are commercially available cultivars now available that have performed as well as, if not better than, zoysia in shaded locations.

Going beyond the basic factors that affect warm-season turf grass growth, establishment rate, wear tolerance and recuperative ability are characteristics that need to be considered in the selection process. Until recently, the best quality cultivars were vegetatively propagated, and thus sprigs or sod has been used for establishment. When environmental conditions are favorable to sustain active growth in the summertime, both bermudagrass and seashore paspalum have a very rapid establishment rate.

If poor quality irrigation water must be used during the grow-in process, however, the rate of paspalum establishment will be significantly slower. A number of seeded bermudagrasses are now available that have comparable quality to the vegetative hybrids and, in general, their establishment rate is similar. Zoysia establishment from sprigs is slow, and thus strip or solid sodding has typically been employed despite the additional cost.

As a group, bermudagrass, seashore paspalum, and zoysiagrass have very good wear tolerance. The aggressive growth habit of bermuda also provides it with good recovery from damage. Paspalum has good recuperative ability as well, but its recovery from mechanical damage such as mower scalping and drought stress can be quite slow. The inherently slow growth rate of zoysiagrass is a problem as far as recovery from damage is concerned.

Aesthetics and play characteristics are two other factors that must be considered. From the purely agronomic standpoint, color is a minor consideration, but American golfers expect and demand lush green playing surfaces. Both seashore paspalum and zoysiagrass have a "greener" color compared to bermuda, and this color is very appealing to most golfers.

Furthermore, mower striping patterns are more pronounced with both paspalum and zoysia compared to bermuda. The combination of these characteristics results in an aesthetic "WOW factor" that is being heavily weighted in the selection process.

Hybrid bermudagrasses, seashore paspalum, and the fine-leaf zoysias all have a very dense and upright shoot growth character, providing an excellent tee and fairway surface condition. The "stiffer" leaf of paspalum and zoysia also provides greater ball support so that it sits right on top of the turf surface. Some, but not all, golfers like the very tight and firm fairways that can be produced. 041b061a72


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