While lawns are more eco-friendly than pavement or architecture due to their ability to absorb carbon dioxide, mitigate stormwater, slow erosive forces and infiltrate water, they can be high maintenance and energy inefficient. Lawn care usually consists of fertilizing, disease control, pest management and a consistent watering regime, all of which has an impact ecologically and economically. Recently, two “big ten” universities have collaborated to put the green back into lawns.
Researchers from Rutgers University and the University of Minnesota will be working over the next five years to produce grass that is more disease resistant, drought hardy and economical. The USDA has granted 2.1 million dollars to the team to develop a fine fescue, which is drought friendly in its native range in Europe, more resistant to disease and tolerant of drought conditions for use on homeowners’ lawns here in the US. Tall fescues are very common on lawns they tend to require more water and fertilizer to remain green and lush, while fine fescues can remain dense and green with far less nutrient and irrigation inputs.
In addition to making fine fescues hardier and disease and drought resistant, environmentally and economically efficient, this research also aims to target what homeowners, commercial growers and horticulturalists really desire when it comes to their lawns and the best tools to market the product. In this vein, Rutgers has invited 101 homeowners to their Horticultural Farm to see, feel and examine examples of fine and tall fescues, Kentucky bluegrass and other types of turfgrass. Visitors were even able to walk barefoot on turf to see how grass felt between their toes, University of Minnesota conducted a similar see and feel survey. Questionnaires were sent to participants for feedback on what types of turf they were drawn to and why and how much they feel it would be worth. The problem with the fine fescue grasses is that are not usually included in blends sold at Home Depot and Lowe’s, they tend to run a little pricier, but it could be a trade-off based on the nutrient and water needs of more common turfgrass.
The collaborative research project is focusing on grass species with traits similar to fine fescue grasses; color, texture and drought tolerance and combining them with grasses that are slightly more resistant to disease and wear. Monitoring will continue year after year and adjustments can be made in an effort to produce a turfgrass attractive to homeowners and better for the environment.