Water efficiency of Zoysia grass in Texas Panhandle

Zoysia turfgrass is being studied by Texas A&M AgriLife and USDA-ARS to determine if it is water-efficient and cold hardy in Texas Panhandle landscapes. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Kay Ledbetter)

Zoysia turfgrass is being studied by Texas A&M AgriLife and USDA-ARS to determine if it is water-efficient and cold hardy in Texas Panhandle landscapes. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Kay Ledbetter)

BUSHLAND – The front lawn of a home built during the Dust Bowl on a location known for soil and water conservation research is the perfect place for a turfgrass project aimed at finding a water-smart alternative to Bermuda and fescue grasses for the High Plains, according to project participants.

The new turf grass demonstration has been installed in front of the 1938-vintage “white house” at Bushland, the original headquarters of the Conservation and Production Research Laboratory which is now jointly operated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service and Texas A&M AgriLife Research.

The project, titled Zoysia Turfgrasses for Residential and Commercial Landscapes in the Texas Panhandle, will be conducted by Dr. Brent Auvermann, AgriLife Research center director, Amarillo; Dr. Ambika Chandra, AgriLife Research turfgrass breeder, Dallas; and Dr. Gary Marek, USDA-ARS research agricultural engineer, Bushland.

This demonstration will have a state-of-the-art irrigation system and two varieties, “Chisholm” and “Innovation,” recently released by Chandra and Dr. Jack Fry, Kansas State University turfgrass science professor, Manhattan, Kansas.

Zoysia, compared to other warm-season turfgrasses, generally produces higher quality turf requiring fewer inputs like mowing, nutrients and chemicals due to its natural tolerance to disease, insects, shade and salinity stress, Chandra said.

She has been breeding freeze-tolerant zoysia grass varieties as part of an ongoing project since 2003 with Kansas State.

“While zoysia’s low input requirements, strong shade tolerance and salinity tolerance make it an attractive option for use across the U.S., most species are still found in the southern U.S. due to low tolerance for freezing temperatures,” Chandra said.

The Dallas Center’s turf breeding program produced 640 zoysia hybrids in 2004 and sent them to Kansas to be evaluated for cold tolerance. The breeding lines that survived the cold were evaluated for aesthetic quality and a range of other characteristics, Chandra said.

Chisholm, licensed to Carolina Fresh Farm, is a medium-texture zoysia that is cold hardy into the northern region of the U.S. transition zone. It features rapid establishment and recovery rates as well as superior turf quality compared to Meyer zoysia. Chisholm underwent testing in the National Turfgrass Evaluation Program’s 2002 Zoysiagrass Test as DALZ 0102.

Innovation, originally KSUZ 0802 and licensed to Sod Solutions, features finer leaf texture and superior density to Meyer, she said. It is a good option for landscapers and end users in the transition zone and beyond who are looking for a cold hardy hybrid for golf courses, yards, parks and commercial establishments.

“I expect both of these varieties to not only survive the Texas Panhandle climate, but to produce good turfgrass quality with limited resource input,” Chandra said.

Auvermann said half the sod in the Bushland side-by-side variety comparisons was laid on existing soil; the other side on existing soil amended with composted cattle manure to test what role fertility and organic matter have in its survivability.

“We think the zoysia grass will provide an alternative for landscape contractors for both residential and commercial markets,” he said. “Zoysia grasses act a little bit like Bermuda grass in that they creep and repair themselves. They also use less water than the fescues typically used for the landscaping projects in the Texas Panhandle.”

Marek said developing irrigation scheduling strategies for seasonal crops is one of the primary research goals of the USDA-ARS program at Bushland. Prudent irrigation scheduling provides enough water to achieve desired yield goals but prevents overwatering that results in water percolating below the root zone.

“Those same concepts can be applied to turf irrigation,” he said.

Traditionally, Marek said, there are three grass varieties available to homeowners for turfgrass – fescue, Bermuda and buffalo grass, with fescue using the most water. Fescue greens up earlier and stays green longer than other varieties, so aesthetically, it is generally more pleasing.

“However, fescue can use up to a half-inch of water per day on hot, windy days typical of the Panhandle summers,” he said.

“One of the benefits we hope to evaluate in this trial is to see if these zoysia varieties can compare to fescue grass in aesthetics while using less water,” Marek said.

In addition to the water use, the other aspect of the project is to determine how well the zoysia grass overwinters in the colder climate of the Panhandle, Marek said.

“If these two varieties prove adapted to our climate, as we expect, they ought to use significantly less water than our typical tall fescues, heal themselves, withstand the winters and maintain a luxurious, fine-bladed turf,” Auvermann said.

This project is funded in part by the federal Ogallala Aquifer Project.

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Domestic wells can pose turf irrigation challenges

Whether it is in the home or in the yard, it is important for persons who rely on domestic water wells to use their groundwater resources as efficiently as possible.

Rural residents can learn more about irrigation scheduling and domestic well maintenance at an April 13 workshop at the Cornerstone Ranch Event Center, 1901 Cement Plant Rd., in Bushland.

The free program begins at 10 a.m. and concludes with a catered lunch at 12 noon.

"Irrigating lawns with domestic water wells can present unique challenges for homeowners in rural areas,” said Dr. Gary Marek, agricultural engineer with the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) at Bushland. “Adoption of prudent management strategies can lead to more effective irrigation and extend limited groundwater resources.”

Workshop topics include:

  •  Irrigation Scheduling: How much to water, how often, and when not to water.

  •  Fertility Management: When and how much fertilizer should be used?

  • Turfgrass Varieties: Best options for turfgrass, water use characteristics, and aesthetics.

  • Domestic water well maintenance: Components of a well, maintenance, and contamination concerns.

Soil moisture probes, rain gauges, and other items will be distributed during lunch.

Funding for the workshop is provided by HPWD through its research and demonstration program.

Additional funding is provided by the Ogallala Aquifer Program. Other sponsors include USDA-ARS and Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension.

Additional information about the workshop is available by contacting Dr. Marek at (806) 356-5717 or emailing him at gary.marek@ars.usda.gov.