Friday, May 27, 2011


Nick Christians
May 27, 2011

I began my job here at Iowa State in 1979. The next year, I published the first copy of the Iowa Turfgrass Research report and distributed it at the 1980 field day. For 25 years after that, the turfgrass faculty published a written copy of the research report each years and distributed them at field day and at the annual turfgrass conference.

Beginning in 1997, we began to also provide an electronic copy of the research report and placed it on the web. Full copies of each report through 2010 are available at

The reports and other information on the turf program are also available on the "Turfgrass Central" site on the horticulture home page. This site is located at:

This year, we are going to begin something new. Rather than produce a 2011 turfgrass research report, we are going to post individual reports on the iaturf blog site. Research reports will be placed on the site individually over the next few weeks. The blog has been very successful and will be our primary method of communicating with the industry in the future. Direct access to the blog site is It also linked from Turfgrass Central and various other information sources dealing with turfgrass research in the state of Iowa. We in the turfgrass program will be interested in your feedback on this new way of providing information.

FIELD DAY, JULY 21, 2011.

There will be a turfgrass field day at the research station on July 21. For more information on the field day and to register for the event, see the Iowa Turfgrass Institute home page at

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Herbicide Tolerant Turfgrasses: Where are we now?

Roundup Ready creeping bentgrass trial conducted at Iowa State University in 2004.  The border roads were conventional bentgrass and were killed by glyphosate while the Roundup Ready turf plots remained unharmed.

Editors note: This is the first part of a series of articles that will review the history of roundup ready turfgrass and the current state of herbicide tolerant turfgrasses.

Do you remember when the topic of herbicide tolerant turfgrasses was all the rave? After all, it’s been since the mid ‘90’s since the development of Roundup Ready creeping bentgrass (RRCB) began. Heck, it’s been almost 10 years since we conducted our first RRCB trials here at ISU.

The Regulatory Process
Many of the studies at ISU were conducted as part of an intensive evaluation process known as an environmental impact statement (EIS). The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is the branch of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) responsible for evaluating plant biotechnology products to evaluate their plant-pest potential. At the time RRCB was being developed it was the first perennial biotech plant to be reviewed by APHIS.

The environmental impact statement conducted on RRCB included projects that investigated seed germination studies, competition studies, flowering and pollen studies, morphological studies, and nutrient studies. The results of these projects showed that RRCB possesses essentially the same characteristics as conventional creeping bentgrass. Despite these findings, RRCB has faced opposition by groups not wanting to see it registered for release.

The groups in opposition to RRCB generally focus on three major concerns. The first concern is that the herbicide resistant gene will grant the plant a competitive advantage and enable the plant to migrate into areas where it is not wanted. The second concern is that the introduced gene may spread from creeping bentgrass to other closely related species through pollen transfer, therefore making them resistant to glyphosate. The third concern involves the development of resistance in weed populations.

Alfalfa to the Rescue?
Currently RRCB is still awaiting approval by the APHIS and there appears to be no end in sight. However, a recent ruling by the USDA concerning roundup ready alfalfa could provide a glimmer of hope. How could a ruling concerning alfalfa help RRCB? All of the Roundup Ready crops currently on the market are annuals (corn, soybeans, canola, sugar beet, cotton and wheat). Alfalfa is a perennial crop just like creeping bentgrass and many of the concerns raised with RRCB also exist with Roundup Ready alfalfa. The deregulation of Roundup Ready alfalfa was a long process that was eventually settled in the courts.

Roundup Ready alfalfa was originally deregulated by APHIS in 2005. Shortly after this decision, a lawsuit was filed and in 2007 a court issued an injunction prohibiting the sale of Roundup Ready alfalfa and the genetically engineered alfalfa lines returned to regulated status. Then in 2008 the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, CA upheld the 2007 court decision to halt the selling and planting genetically engineered alfalfa until an EIS could be completed. The EIS was completed in December of 2010 and earlier this year APHIS announced its decision to grant non-regulated status for Roundup Ready alfalfa.

What Now?
Traditional breeding practices have greatly advanced the quality and performance of turfgrass species primarily by improving the color, texture, density, and architecture of the plant. The next generation of traits likely to be targeted for improvement includes herbicide, insect and disease resistance along with increased salt tolerance. While these traits would be difficult to develop using traditional breeding methods, they are likely possible using biotechnology.  The roadblock to their release is deregulation from APHIS. There is no doubt that Roundup Resistant turfgrasses would give turfgrass practitioners their most potent weapon against annual bluegrass and could result in reduced chemical loads if used properly. The possibilities could truly be endless…but until deregulation becomes a reality we wonder, and wait.

Marcus Jones
Assistant Scientist

Monday, May 23, 2011

Annual Bluegrass: Friend or Foe?

Frenemy – a blend of the words “friend” and “enemy” that refers to an ally who is simultaneously a rival. An example of such would be Dwight Schrute and Jim Halpert in The Office, or two teammates fiercely competing for a starting spot. In a turfgrass sense, Poa annua and I are frenemies.

Here in the Midwest, Poa is an enemy: a weed with poor roots and annoying seedheads. However, it provides an unmatched playing surface in a temperate climate. In fact, you can even be Poa annua’s friend on Facebook.

My golf and turf management background has mainly been in Iowa, so I’ve become familiar with the differences in appearance, playability, and management of an entirely bentgrass green and a heavily Poa infested green in this region. The winter annual tolerates stress just enough to be a problem, but it can't withstand the conditions bentgrass can.  Therefore, it remains a weed.

Turf managers and golfers have a much different experience in a climate that Poa is better suited in. I’ll never forget my first time playing on an entirely Poa green in Northern California. The turf was so finely textured it was difficult to see individual leaf blades. In addition, the greens rolled incredibly fast yet surprisingly true.

That experience led me back to the Pacific Coast for a summer internship where I gained a new perspective of Poa. I was amazed to see the greens mowed at less than 0.09 inches, aggressively verticut biweekly, dried out for weekend play, and yet the turf bounced back quickly. If Poa was improved to tolerate adverse conditions and could be utilized on golf courses everywhere, superintendents would no longer need to fight it as a weed. This may be possible considering the plant's great ability to adapt.

Dr. Don White at the University Minnesota has research reports on Poa annua dating back to 1985 and has a breeding program there. Dr. David Huff at Penn State University has also been breeding annual bluegrass since 1994. Even so, a uniform supply with traits that increase stress tolerance is still not available.

Breeders have a difficult task in commercially producing annual bluegrass. Seeds are difficult to harvest because Poa annua has a plastic phenotype (one that can change). The desirable grass plant at low mowing heights produces an undesirable seed when the plant grows tall enough to be harvested. Propagating the grass from seed may not be realistic for another reason: Poa established from seed often sprouts seedheads at green height, which requires growth regulator to inhibit them from forming. Vegetative propagation of the turf is also difficult.

Imagine for a minute that Poa has successfully been bred to be used commercially for golf course greens. The limited rooting depth issue could possibly be alleviated with a shallower rootzone, allowing the water table to perch with less irrigation. This and other cultural practices can only be researched and implemented if Poa can be commercially produced. Somewhere down the line, genetic resistance to Anthracnose or tolerance to cold and heat may even be developed.

Superintendents will be managing Poa this year, but they will still be treating it as a weed. There is, however, validation in breeding it. Most people consider annual bluegrass an enemy. I, on the other hand, have an optimistic view of the plant.  This leaves Poa annua and I as frenemies.

Quincy Law
ISU Turfgrass Research Assistant

Monday, May 16, 2011

Biostimulant Use in the Turf Industry

Editor’s Note: This is a short summary of an essay submitted by Quincy Law to the GCSAA Student Essay Contest that received second place. The topic was selected based on an undergraduate research project completed by the author in 2010.

As environmental stewards, golf course superintendents need to produce the highest quality turf while retaining a healthy environment for both people and wildlife. Turf areas need to be maintained with environmental sensitivity while controlling pests and combating harsh environmental conditions. Despite increasingly stringent environmental regulations, water quality issues, and negative public perceptions of pesticides and fertilizers, golfers still expect their local course to appear and play as those on television: uniformly green and perfectly manicured.

Outside of chemical control and fertility, a superintendent has various options to maintain a high turf quality throughout the growing season. Mowing practices, species selection, water management, and cultivation can all improve plant vigor. Unfortunately, many of these options have already been implemented by the superintendent, cannot be changed, or are simply not feasible. There is, however, an alternative that has slowly been gaining popularity and is supported by research.

Biostimulants are materials that, in small quantities, stimulate plant growth. Although they can be synthetic chemicals, naturally occurring organic materials are excellent sources. Since the category includes a diversity of substances, biostimulants are defined by what they do more than by what they are. They stimulate growth, but they do much more too; stress tolerance is perhaps the most important benefit. Biostimulants can assist turfgrass in surviving dry, hot, high salinity, and even disease.

Products may contain one or more of a broad range of ingredients, including nutrients, organic acids, hormones, amino acids, vitamins, microbial inoculants, plant extracts, and others. They have limited nutritional value and promote plant growth by providing amino acids, chelating nutrients, and altering the hormonal status of a plant, which can exert large influences in plant growth and health.

Seaweed is the most widely used biostimulant in both agriculture and turfgrass management. Humic substances are another common component of biostimulant products. Both seaweed and humic acid have been shown to effectively stimulate plant growth and increase stress tolerance. In addition, these materials also complement each other when used in combination.

Seaweed and humic acid may affect the plant in several ways because they contain various hormones, vitamins, amino acids, plant nutrients, and other components. The stimulating influences, especially for turfgrasses growing under environmental stress, have mainly been attributed to hormonal activity. Humic acid and seaweed extract both exhibit cytokinin and auxin activity, which are two classes of plant hormones. When the plant is exposed to certain environmental and cultural stresses, levels of some hormones, such as cytokinins, may drop. Under these conditions, applications of cytokinins or other plant hormones could help ameliorate the stress.

Biostimulant applications may only be beneficial where root growth, moisture stress, salinity, or other issues are present. Turfgrass typically grows well without biostimulants when the environment is favorable; plants growing under minimal stress may perform similarly regardless of biostimulants. In these situations, the positive effects of biostimulants may not be easy to identify. When the plants become stressed, however, biostimulant-treated turfgrasses perform better because they have developed a better defense system. For the maximum effectiveness, biostimulants should be applied prior to the onset of stress. Treatments may be most effective when applied early in the season when the plant is actively growing.

Golfers, greens committees, and the general public hold golf course superintendents to a double standard. Golf courses are expected to be maintained at a high quality, such as those played on the PGA Tour. However, that high level of maintenance exposes turfgrass to a significant amount of stress. In addition, the fertilizers, pesticides, water, and other controls used to combat these stresses often carry a negative stigma.

In order to keep turf plants healthy in the presence of stress with limited use of fertilizer and chemicals, biostimulants may be a viable option for superintendents. Not only can biostimulants reduce the usage of chemicals harmful to the environment, most are natural and are composed of chemicals not available in synthetic products. Turf managers may be able to “go green” while still maintaining healthy turf, and they may prove to be an environmentally friendly component to turfgrass management.

Quincy Law
ISU Turfgrass Research Assistant

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Thank You

After a hectic spring semester, I graduated from Iowa State University with my Ph.D last weekend. Being able to contribute to the industry and assist turf professionals in my home state of Iowa has been a very rewarding experience. This milestone in my professional career was not solely an individual endeavor and many people assisted me along the way. At the risk of omitting someone, I wanted to highlight a few professionals who took a special interest in me.

The Professors – Thanks to all the turf professors at Iowa State. I have taken all of your classes and I continue learning from each one of you. Special thanks to Dr. Nick Christians, my major professor for my graduate studies. Thank you for providing me the opportunity to attend graduate school and giving me the freedom to pursue my passions. Also, special thanks to Dr. Aaron Patton for your advice and friendship.

The Iowa Turfgrass Institute and Iowa GCSA – Thanks to all the individuals who make up our state organization. You have assisted me along the way with scholarships, grants, and land for me to conduct my research projects. Special thanks to Jeff Wendel, CGCS, for allowing me to contribute to the organization and speak at so many conferences and state meetings.

The Superintendents – Thank you for your conversations over the years. You have helped shape my vision of golf course maintenance. Special thanks to John Newton, CGCS, for giving me my first job on a golf course and allowing me to cut my teeth as an assistant Superintendent; Matt McKinnon, for providing me with my first internship; Jim Nicol, CGCS, for giving me the opportunity to work my first major golf tournament; and Brad Owen, for allowing me to realize one of my dreams of working at Augusta National.

So what are my plans for the future? I have accepted a position and will start my professional career at ISU as an Assistant Scientist. My main responsibilities involve conducting research, teaching undergraduates, and assisting with extension related activities.

I will be presenting my newest research project at the June 2 State Meeting at Bos Landen Golf Course in Pella, Iowa. I look forward to seeing you at the meeting.

Marcus Jones
Assistant Scientist

Monday, May 9, 2011


The following is an internship report by Zach Smith, who worked at the Council Bluffs Recreation Complex.

Nick Christians May 9, 2011.


The Council Bluffs Recreation Complex was constructed in 2002 in order to host youth and adult leagues, tournaments, and other events. The CBRC covers eighty-four acres and is one of the finest outdoor recreation facilities in the Midwest. CBRC hosts many Council Bluffs and Omaha leagues as well as local, district, state, regional, and national tournaments. On the baseball/softball side, the complex includes four softball fields, four baseball fields, and two youth/fast pitch fields. On the soccer/football side, the complex includes ten full-size soccer fields with an additional four combination football/soccer fields which are a recent addition to the complex. All of the athletic fields were on native soil. Also included on the complex are two full-service concession areas, two conference rooms, one large playground, and a paved asphalt bike trail running along the north side of the complex.


Rick House was the head supervisor at the CBRC as well as the city forester. As the head supervisor, Rick was in charge of the following: planning and assigning work tasks, supervising mowing, trimming, edging, watering, seeding, aeration, and fertilization of turf and athletic fields; supervising the growing of plant materials such as trees and flowers on the complex; oversees the application of fungicides, insecticides, and herbicides; supervises the installation, maintenance, and repair of irrigation systems; supervises the care and set-up of athletic fields and common areas on the complex; arranges the purchase and repair of equipment; supervises the inspection and record keeping of the facility; performs general maintenance duties as needed; maintains and handles maintenance contracts and billings; prepares and maintains records such as fuel consumption, accident reports, and time records; maintains records of equipment and facilities inventory; maintains all maintenance records; and advises and makes recommendations to the Assistant Director of Parks, Recreation and Public Property regarding improvements and modifications of operations at the complex.

Rick had two full-time assistants working under him, Steve Hudspeth and Scott Moon. As the assistants, these two were each responsible for the following: supervising the work of a small crew engaged in particular work assignments; operating turf equipment such as tractors, riding mowers, trucks, snow removal equipment, and sprayers; planting, pruning, and caring for trees, shrubs, and flowers; performing fertilizer application, field cultivation, overseeding, and topdressing practices; making repairs and adjustments of playground equipment; performing difficult repairs to grounds, irrigation system, equipment, buildings, and other structures contained on the complex; and performing other general groundskeeping tasks as needed.

Working under the assistants were two crews of temporary seasonal employees, both of which I was a part of. I was the only intern out of the eleven temporary seasonal employees that made up both crews. One crew functioned as the day crew and the other functioned as the night crew. There was only a night crew during the busy part of the season which was from about the beginning of June until about the middle of July. Since Rosenblatt Stadium, home of the men’s NCAA college world series, sits right across the mighty Missouri river from CBRC, the complex hosts many tournaments around the time of the college world series. The work hours of the day crew were generally from 7am to 3pm, and the work hours of the night crew were generally from 10 pm to around 1am or 2am. The day crew usually consisted of six guys and one girl, and the night crew usually consisted of five or six guys.

The primary duties of the day crew consisted of the following: general grounds maintenance such as mowing, trimming, edging, aerating, and topdressing; painting, cleaning, and picking up trash; pulling weeds, mulching, pruning trees and shrubs, and planting trees, shrubs, and flowers; and performing athletic field preparation such as working, tarping, and removing tarps from mounds, setting bases, dragging, chalking, setting goals, and stringing and painting field lines.

The primary duties of the night crew consisted of the following: performing athletic field preparation such as working and tarping the mounds, setting bases, planing the infield skin, chalking, and stringing and painting field lines; picking up trash and cleaning, blowing, and sweeping out dugouts; and mowing and trimming athletic fields.

Work Duties

With this summer being so wet, it brought about some interesting work duties. I did perform all of the general groundskeeping and maintenance practices that I expected such as mowing, aerating, topdressing, overseeding, and irrigation repair, but I also performed some tasks that I had not done before or expected to do. With all of the rain during the summer, we had some pretty saturated fields. Of course this was the biggest problem on the two nicest baseball fields. Pretty frequently this summer a small area of the grass infield on 7 was under water and a large area of the grass infield on 8 was under water which is something that Rick said he had not seen happen before. We had to give some refunds back to the tournament directors because the fields were too wet but whenever possible we tried to make the fields playable. We used the usual techniques of pushing water off the infield skins and raking in Diamond Dry when we could, but a lot of times the moisture this summer brought about called for more extensive efforts. I found myself setting submersible pumps up on the infields and pumping the water off. I would pump as much water off as I could with just setting the pump on the surface and then I would dig a small hole for all of the remaining surface water to run into. I would then set the pump down in the hole and pump as much water off the field as I could. Another technique that we had to perform to move water off fields was digging trenches. On some of the infield skins we would dig trenches to get the standing water in some areas to run off of the field. These were just some different strategies for trying to get fields dry that I was able to experience. By the end of the season the infield on field 8 was in very bad shape from the amount of rain and the amount of traffic that it had received. They were getting it ready to lay new sod right before I left for the season.


This internship was a great experience. I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to be involved in a large variety of turf management practices that I believe will contribute to my knowledge and skill set in the field of turf management. Although at the time, working through the wet conditions may not have seemed like a lot of fun, I believe that it was good to be able to experience those conditions and see what kind of efforts can be put in to try to overcome wet field conditions. This internship really showed me that there is a lot more to managing a complex like this than just growing grass. A lot of effort has to be put into building maintenance, painting, cleaning, plumbing, landscaping, and mechanic work among other things. I’m glad that I was able to experience all of these things and gain a better understanding of how to manage your time in order to carry out the broad spectrum of work tasks that are required for the upkeep of this kind of facility. I would highly recommend this internship to anybody interested in gaining experience in turf management in the parks and recreation setting.