Third Quarter 2011
Turfgrass Research: Addressing the Environmental Benefits of Turf
By George Hochmuth, Ph.D., University of Florida / IFAS, Gainesville, Florida
Turfgrass plays many important roles in the urban landscape, but one of its most important roles may be that of helping protect the environment from nutrient leaching and runoff. Turfgrass has unique characteristics such as dense top and root growth, complete ground coverage, and rapid growth that make it a valuable component in an environmen- tally-sound landscape to reduce nutrient leaching and runoff. To maximize these environmental benefits of turfgrass, homeowners must follow science-based turf management practices. Current research at the University of Florida IFAS is aimed at describing management practices for fertilizer and irrigation programs so homeowners and landscape managers can have the latest information possible for managing their turfgrass. Research projects like these require the concerted efforts of scientists, funding agencies, extension educators, and the turfgrass and allied industries. A few years ago many of us worked together as the Florida Urban Water Quality Research Consortium to identify research needs. Below is a brief description of several ongoing research projects in my turfgrass program in IFAS that arose from those discussions.
Nitrogen management and summer fertilizer blackouts Several counties and municipalities have enacted summer
blackouts of fertilizer application. These blackouts could have negative unintended consequences on the health and environ- mental benefits of turfgrass. We are studying several fertiliza- tion methods with the objective of defining nitrogen fertilization practices that will help turfgrass professionals deal with turfgrass fertilizer management where a summer blackout has been imposed. We are evaluating: controlled-release fertilizer programs at the onset of the blackout, during the summer months and in the fall; soluble fertilizers applied on a monthly basis (including the summer); and the IFAS recommendation of combinations of soluble and controlled-release fertilizers. We are in the second season of research and have observed some important results. Very little leaching has occurred during the summer with any of the fertilizer programs, even with high- er-than recommended rates. So far this research is supporting other research in Florida and other states: That carefully managed fertilization programs (best management practices) that maintain healthy turfgrass do not lead to leaching of nitrogen.
Fertilizer and irrigation management programs linked The goal of this project is to develop science-based
combined water and nitrogen management programs that illus- trate the environmental benefits of turfgrass and increase the
demand for turfgrass for urban landscape use (because of its environmental benefits). This research project will describe how nitrogen and irrigation management strategies work together to maximize the environmental benefits of turfgrass. The hypothesis is that when nitrogen and irrigation manage- ment programs are managed together (rates, timing, and placement) turfgrass managers will maximize the environmen- tal benefits of turfgrass in preventing nutrient leaching. We will have four nitrogen programs in combination with three irrigation programs focusing on nitrogen leaching and turfgrass health. This project, in its first season, is a USDA/FDACS Specialty Crops Block Grant through the Florida Turfgrass Association, Florida Sod Growers Cooperative, and the Florida Golf Course Superintendents Association, with support from the allied turfgrass industries.
Does turfgrass benefit from nutrients in reclaimed water? Florida is the leading state for production of reclaimed
water and a significant amount of the reclaimed water is used for irrigating turf on golf courses and home lawns. Reclaimed water contains nutrients that can be used by the turfgrass for growth. This research will determine nutritional benefits to turfgrass from reclaimed water focusing on nitrogen and phosphorus. The basic questions: 1) can turfgrass benefit the environment by using nutrients in reclaimed water? and 2) is there a fertilizer “offset” in reclaimed water (can fertilizer programs be adjusted)? This project, funded by FDEP and the St. Johns Water Management District, is in its first phase with work being carried out in the greenhouse.
Summary The call today from our environmentally-conscience society
is for more science-based fertilizer and irrigation management practices for our urban landscapes. It is important that regula- tions be based on the science. To that end, collaboration is critical for the success of research projects. All of the projects above include several IFAS scientists from various disciplines contributing their own expertise to the success of the research. These projects also have a goal of training the next generation of turfgrass scientists. Most importantly, these projects are not possible without the consortium of entities providing the resources, guidance, and support, the turfgrass associations and industries, allied turfgrass industries, government agencies, and IFAS.
Dr. George Hochmuth is a professor in the UF/IFAS Soil and Water Science Department. He can be reached at 352-392-1803, ext. 318, or by emailing email@example.com
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