Elegant lawns and golf courses have maintenance crews behind the scenes making them look perfect. Meticulous trimming and maintenance requires a lot of effort and resources. But before all that, plant scientists have studied and evaluated different varieties of grass to understand their maintenance needs and determine how efficiently they use water.
Larry Rupp, Utah State University Extension landscape horticulture specialist, and other USU researchers invite the public to field days each summer to answer questions and present their research.
“We do three things: teaching, research and Extension,” Rupp said. “The research is important because that’s where we get the information that we share with people. The research doesn’t do much good if we don’t get the word out on what we’ve found.”
Representatives from golf courses, water conservation groups, nurseries and even home gardening enthusiasts attend USU’s summer field days, including a recent one at the Greenville Research Farm in North Logan, to improve the landscapes in their care and do it more efficiently.
According to Kelly Kopp, USU Extension water conservation and turfgrass specialist, Kentucky blue grass is the most popular grass used on landscapes in Utah.
“There are good reasons for that,” Kopp said. “It’s very functional, it happens to be able to withstand drought and recover from drought. Because it’s used so extensively we do quite a bit of research here looking at varieties of Kentucky blue grass that use even less water, require fewer inputs and still maintain a high level of quality and function.”
Kopp said some Kentucky blue grass varieties currently being tested can withstand months without irrigation. While most people like having green lawns, she said some people are worried lawns are wasting water.
“In terms of carbon sequestration and plant materials, grasses sequester more carbon than any other plant,” Kopp said. “Grasses filter fertilizers, pesticides and particulate matter from the atmosphere. That gets lost in a lot of conversations. We try to emphasize those benefits, but people are very concerned about water and we recognize that. We work with and develop these grasses that do use less water, particularly in the west. Obviously water is an issue here.”
Many people who come to USU experts for help are concerned about water. Brian Pattee with the Rural Water Association of Utah is getting more questions every year from the public about sustainable landscapes and water systems. Pattee said he wants to keep up with the latest research so he can answer those questions.
“There’s a lot of new technology, new research, different landscaping strategies, and different irrigation techniques,” Pattee said. “The technology we saw with automated landscape irrigation systems that are connected to weather stations and have sensors for soil moisture, humidity in the air, storms and precipitation, I thought was definitely useful.”
Bridger Varga, the grounds manager at Wasatch Academy in Mount Pleasant, Utah, is looking at alternative landscapes that would conserve more water.
“It’s encouraging that they’re developing turf varieties that not only need less water and brown less quickly and then rebound more quickly after they have gone brown,” Varga said. “We want to be examples to the community as well. We want people to identify us with sustainability and conservation and not as part of the problem.”
Learn more about USU’s Center for Water-Efficient Landscaping at CWEL.usu.edu.