NCERA221: Turfgrass and the Environment

(Multistate Research Coordinating Committee and Information Exchange Group)

Status: Active

NCERA221: Turfgrass and the Environment

Duration: 10/01/2016 to 09/30/2021

Administrative Advisor(s):

NIFA Reps:

Statement of Issues and Justification

Turfgrass is the preferred and most commonly planted ground cover for lawns, parks, cemeteries, recreational areas, and utility areas such as roadsides. Industry stakeholders indicate a need to identify and address environmental and economic issues related to turfgrass selection, production, and management, including water and chemical use, greenhouse gas emissions, and sustainability. As an example, prior to 2014, $1 million per year was spent to irrigate University of Chicago grounds, with a 50 percent increase in water costs looming (Ingles, 2014). The work is important due to the vast acreage (> 50 million acres) and economic impact (>$40 billion annually) and employs more than 500,000 persons in the care and maintenance of turf (Morris et al., 2005). Moreover, the turfgrass seed industry is the 2nd largest seed industry in the US, and much of the nation’s sod production is incorporated as part of a crop rotation system with food crops in order to reduce pest issues. Environmental degradation and reduced economic impact, including jobs and manufacturing, could occur if environmental issues are not addressed through collaborative research and outreach. The technical feasibility is great; there are several dozen engaged scientists in the region wanting to collaborate on environmental issues dealing with turfgrass. The advantages for conducting the work as a multi-state effort are 1) provides necessary interdisciplinary expertise, 2) affected watersheds and ecosystems cross state boundaries, 3) synergistic activities can be developed as individual states have unique resources, and opportunity to compete for national grants is strengthened, 4) better graduate student training and new faculty mentoring, 5) the general public will be better informed by a group effort. The project will evaluate turfgrass species/cultivars, individual cultural inputs, and holistic management systems to meet the goal of sustainable management through the use of reduced or alternative management requirements including underutilized renewable resources like composts. The core focus of these studies will assess the effect of reduced water, nutrients, mowing and pesticide inputs. Anticipated impacts will include improved turfgrass performance combined with sustainable management practices that reduce labor, water, and chemical inputs. Additionally, regulatory efforts that are aimed to preserve and protect the environment may be strengthened.


  1. A search of the CRIS database identified much turfgrass sustainability research being conducted by NCERA 221 members. As examples, ongoing projects at Illinois (“Selection and Management of Grasses for Managed Landscapes and Biomass Feedstock”), Purdue (“A Multidisciplinary Approach to Increase the Sustainability of Turf Areas”), Iowa State (“Improving Landscape and Horticultural Production Systems”), Minnesota (“Developing Low-Input Turfgrasses for Cold Climates”), Missouri (“Missouri IPM Program”), Nebraska (“Improving Sustainability of Turfgrass Areas in Nebraska and the North Central Great Plains”), and North Dakota State (“Ecological Impact of Non-Native Turfgrass Species in the Upper Great Plains”) all deal with some aspect of the sustainability of turfgrass systems. In addition, these, and other NCERA 221 members conduct collaborative and institutionally based turfgrass sustainability research that will advance our understanding of how to maintain the millions of acres of turfgrass in the region in more sustainable approaches.
  2. Members of NCERA 221 will deliver the findings of this research to academic, professional, and citizen stakeholders through a variety of approaches including academic publications, field days, printed media, and online information.

Procedures and Activities

NCERA 221 members are involved in two primary activities. First, members of NCERA 221 are actively involved in both collaborative turfgrass sustainability research, as well as parallel sustainability research that enhance the ongoing research of other Universities in the region. The second primary activity involves delivering the findings of this research to academic, professional, and lay stakeholders. Objective 1. Many NCERA 221 Researchers continue to investigate the sustainability of turfgrass systems by evaluating nitrogen fertilization and developing environmentally sound N application schemes. Nitrogen is the most commonly applied mineral nutrient used to enhance turfgrass performance (e.g., traffic tolerance, disease resistance, weed competition, and turf appearance). Of concern, however, are nitrogen leaching (commonly in the nitrate form) and/or runoff into water systems and nitrogen emissions as a gas (usually as nitrous oxide) that can contribute to anthropogenic climate change. Nitrogen fertilization research is an important focus of several NCERA 221 turfgrass programs. Sustainability research is being conducted at Kansas State University (KSU), Michigan State University (MSU), and the University of Wisconsin (UWI). At KSU, several researchers are studying the effects of irrigation and N fertilization on nitrous oxide emissions, as well as carbon sequestration, in turfgrasses. Moreover, KSU is also studying the impact of irrigation scheduling and N fertilizer types and rates on nitrate leaching in tall fescue. At MSU, long-term research (20 years) is evaluating the impact of high N application rates to home lawn turf through leachate monitoring. Also at MSU, researchers are evaluating the effect of N-application rates on runoff water quality from Kentucky bluegrass home lawns. Different rates of slow-release polymer coated urea applied either once or twice per year will be compared to standard four-application programs. Finally, the Daycent Model (a computer model sometimes used by agriculturists to study changes in carbon and nitrogen between plants, soil, and the atmosphere), along with soil information, is being used at the UWI to improve N-fertilizer recommendations for turf. The use of proper N application timing and rates is also being studied with the goals of better managing both N fertilization and pesticide applications. For example, studies at MSU are investigating annual bluegrass control in creeping bentgrass putting greens and creeping bentgrass and Kentucky bluegrass fairways with N (urea) added to herbicide treatments to determine whether supplemental N application will aid in proliferation of creeping bentgrass and Kentucky bluegrass, the preferred species. In Indiana, Purdue University (PU) is evaluating increased crabgrass control through proper timing of N applications prior to herbicide application without increasing the amount of herbicide used. At UWI, the impact of N rates and sources on dollar spot development are being studied. In a collaborative research, KSU and the University of Missouri (UMO) are determining the effects of N source and timing on large patch in zoysiagrass. In two additional studies, N fertilization is being evaluated to improve turf performance using environmentally sound practices. At the University of Illinois (UIL), N uptake and turf performance following applications of foliar applied N fertilizers is being evaluated with the goal of reducing off-target movement of N. At MSU, N fertilization is one treatment in a study designed to improve establishment of creeping bentgrass greens. The University of Nebraska (UNE) has offered to lead a regional study to develop turfgrass growth models that will result in better recommendations for fertilizer application timing. Here, the rationale is that N fertilization should be made when turf is growing fastest and best able to use the mineral. By developing accurate turf growth models, N applications can be made when turf is growing fastest resulting in improved turf performance and less N lost to the environment. All of the studies involving N fertilization are complimentary, and all have the potential to assist turfgrass managers reduce environmental issues related to N leaching or greenhouse gas emissions, while maintaining turfgrass performance and quality. Many NCERA 221 Researchers will continue to investigate the sustainability of turfgrass systems by developing and evaluating additional turf management and pest control practices that are efficient and environmentally sound. The environmentally sound practice of using recycled water for irrigation on golf courses has led to concerns about salt buildup, particularly on putting greens. As a result, salinity stress on creeping bentgrass is being studied at MSU. In a collaborative University of Illinois (UIL) - (PU) study, new systems for control of annual bluegrass on putting greens are being tested. At UMO, control options for windmillgrass, a perennial grassy turf weed that’s increasing as a problem in the southern portion of the region, are being tested. KSU is evaluating herbicides programs that aid in the establishment of low-input buffalograss when converting from cool-season turf grasses. PU will continue to study the interaction between fungicide applications and turfgrass cultivars that are less susceptible to diseases so that fungicide applications may be reduced to less than 20% of that used for more susceptible cultivars. At MSU, studies are underway of a new turfgrass pathogen, Acidovorax avenae, (bacterial etiolation). This is a particularly important problem on creeping bentgrass. The major goals of this research are to evaluate physiological changes in creeping bentgrass in response to the pathogen and while under the influence of abiotic stress. Also at MSU, the newly identified bacterial disease of perennial ryegrass, Xanthomonas translucens, is being studied. Research that identifies the disease cycle is underway, as is work to evaluate the susceptibility of commonly planted perennial ryegrasses. Finally, UMO is studying the utilization of plant residues to control turfgrass diseases, the characterization and management of Pythium spp. root diseases on creeping bentgrass, and responses of Sclerotinia homoeocarpa isolates to sub-lethal doses of DMI fungicides. In research designed to better use pesticides, PU is studying the influence of hard water on herbicide efficacy with the goal of discovering economical methods to enhance the efficacy of currently used postemergence herbicides. MSU is looking at a combination of lightweight rolling and sand topdressing programs that can decrease pesticide application frequency for golf and athletic turf managers. Finally, UW is studying the impact of pesticide applications on landscape phytobiomes. Proper selection of turf species and cultivars allows managers to achieve the desired turf performance and also minimize labor, water, fertilizer, and pest-control inputs. Throughout NCERA 221, researchers are studying commonly used and novel grasses in order identify the best grasses for different applications. Many Universities have cultivar studies the National Turfgrass Evaluation Program. In this collaborative activity, turfgrass (e.g., Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass bentgrasses, fescues, bermudagrass, zoysiagrass) cultivar performance data is collected over 4-5 years at various university sites to identify grasses that perform well in different U.S. regions. Beyond the national aspect of this trial, there will likely be a NCERA 221 regional publication identifying high-performing grasses in the region. AT UI and MSU, low-maintenance grasses for planting in golf course roughs are being tested. The UI study includes utility grasses (e.g., Timothy, orchardgrass, Idaho bentgrass) not commonly planted in fine-turf settings. MSU is exploring ways to effectively and efficiently maintain secondary rough grasses using minimal chemical and cultural inputs while maintaining the aesthetics and playability of the roughs. North Dakota State University (NDSU) and PU are evaluating grasses with water use in mind. NDSU is testing drought tolerance in commercially available creeping bentgrass cultivar, while at PU, a study is evaluating various commonly planted and alternative golf turf fairway species when maintained without supplemental irrigation. To date the feasibility of utilizing fescues and some Kentucky bluegrasses appear promising for seasonally consistent green, dense fairway turf. Additional studies designed to identify acceptable turfgrass performance under low maintenance or marginal situations is also taking place. Fine fescues are the subjects of low-maintenance research at UMN where these grasses are being tested for use on golf course fairways, home lawns, and roadsides. At PU, tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass cultivars that require less annual mowing (thus less fossil fuels used) are being evaluated. At UMN, salt tolerance in turf is being evaluated for roadside plantings in cold-weather areas of the region, while at NDSU, the use of grass species for phytoremediation of soils contaminated by oil and gas drilling and production operations is being tested. Finally, UMN is leading a Regional Roadside Turfgrass Testing Program in a multi-state proposal funded by the participating state’s Departments of Transportation. This research tests roadside plantings of turfgrass cultivars at two sites (one rural, one urban) in each participating state. Currently, the proposal has been approved by its project "champion" within the Minnesota Department of Transportation. The next step is for the project to get approval for funding from Minnesota at which point it will be posted to the pooled fund website ( Other states listed on the proposal will then have an opportunity to fund the project. Faculty cooperators in states that agree to provide funding (40,000 total over 2 years) will then become part of the project and receive funding (30,000 total over 2 years). At present, four states are listed as potential participants (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Iowa). Future trials could focus on other aspects of turfgrass management such as soil quality, seed mixtures, turfgrass management. This trial will identify environmentally adaptable, low-maintenance grasses for roadside plantings.


Objective 2. NCERA 221 uses the title, “Best Management Practices” for delivering the findings of this research to academic, professional, and lay stakeholders for real-world integration into turf management systems. Research results will be transferred to thousands of homeowners and professionals in the turf industry and others via annual turfgrass field days, winter turfgrass conferences, regional seminars, and state lawn care, golf, and sports turf association meetings. Exchange of content experts among NCERA 221 members at these events enhances regional dissemination of new technology and best management practices. Distance education, web-supported interactive programming, and online chat rooms also serve the entire regions turf industry. Current examples include the growing degree day tracker to determine optimum times for pesticide applications in Indiana, Illinois and Michigan (, Midwestern Turfgrass Weed ID & Control (, Purdue Turf Tips (, Minnesota Turf Talk (, Buckeye Turf and Sports Notes (, Turf INfo (http://www and others. Additional collaborative projects will be developed and shared. Undergraduate turf academic programs provide the regional turf industry with highly valued student interns and technically competent new graduates. NCERA 221 members serve as liaisons between new undergraduate and graduate students and industry. Moreover, graduate students benefit from inclusion in NCERA 221 activities by gaining insights into regional turf issues through exposure to member institutions, faculty, and research. In fact, current turf faculty at universities in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Ohio received at least a portion of their graduate training NCERA 221 member institutions and were likely involved with the group as graduate students. New approaches to education will be tested. Web accessible/online turf management courses will be developed at several universities to meet the increasing demand for this form of learning. The UWI and the UMN have developed a teaching collaboration that allows the delivery of turfgrass courses even with low enrollments. PU, Iowa State University (ISU), KSU, and MSU use turfgrass blogs to communicate with the turfgrass industry in the region, while the Chicago District Golf Association (CSGA), PU, ISU, KSU, MSU, UMO, and UMN use social media (Facebook and/or Twitter) to communicate with the turfgrass industry throughout the region. Industry collaboration continues in the evaluation of the efficacy and performance for more efficient and precise control of turf species and cultivars and weed, insect, and disease pests. Finally, communication of NCERA 221 activities takes place using its website (

Expected Outcomes and Impacts

  • The University of Nebraska will be coordinating a regional project to model cool-season turfgrass growth within the Midwest. A regional approach will ensure a robust data set, and this type of fundamental research will have many benefits. Unlike annual crops, turfgrass growth is strictly vegetative, perennial, and has not been adequately modeled with respective to temperature, daylength, fertility, and moisture. While the main intent of this research is to help turf managers better plan and time fertility applications, more fundamental research such as this often has applications that are not anticipated.
  • Sustainability research takes many forms, and the researchers within the Midwest region will address research, education, and outreach activities that focus on nitrogen use efficiency; recycling and reducing nutrient use through the application of composts and other natural products to substitute for synthetic nitrogen; and the reduction of greenhouse gases associated with turfgrass management activities.
  • Another avenue towards sustainability is water use. Several groups of researchers are addressing water use through grass selection, breeding, or management. This will lead to an improved understanding of how to minimize water use in lawns and commercial turfgrass sites, and will generate outreach publications and online materials to educate citizens regarding turf water use and management.
  • Turfgrasses as a commodity receive a significant amount of fungicides. A number of research programs are tackling issues related to turfgrass disease management that will ultimately lead to reductions in fungicide use on golf courses and other high-input turfgrass systems. Approaches include resistant cultivars, utilization of plant residues to control diseases, and cultural practices such as lightweight rolling.
  • A regional program to evaluate different turfgrass species, cultivars, and mixtures for a variety of conditions on highway roadside turfs will be conducted by a consortium of several universities in the region. Turfgrasses provide excellent erosion protection, and this research will help provide the best current information to States and municipalities in the region that must manage millions of acres of roadside turf.

Projected Participation

View Appendix E: Participation

Educational Plan

Information will be broadly distributed using mass media, social media, Extension bulletins, the Master Gardener Program, Pesticide Safety Education Programs, cross-linking web pages between states, providing links on the NCERA 221 Web page (, and participation in each other's turf conferences.


The recommended Standard Governance for multistate research activities include the election of a Chair, a Chair-elect, and a Secretary. All officers are to be elected for at least two-year terms to provide continuity. Administrative guidance will be provided by an assigned Administrative Advisor and a CSREES Representative.

Literature Cited

Ingles, M. 2014. The economics of irrigation, how the University of Chicago is
tackling water’s higher costs. Turf [Central Edition]. March. 27(3): p. B1-B2, B4.

Morris, K. N., M. P. Kenna, C. S. Throssell, and R. C. Shearman. 2005. The National
Turfgrass Research Initiative - a national turfgrass research strategy for the USA. Int.
Turfgrass Soc. Annexe - Tech. Pap. 10:p. 63-64.


Land Grant Participating States/Institutions


Non Land Grant Participating States/Institutions

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