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Georgia is world's best at warm-season turf

By Sharon Dowdy
University of Georgia

If you’ve recently walked on a golf course, athletic field or newly established landscape any where in the world, chances are you stepped on a Tif variety turfgrass developed at the University of Georgia.

“Many of the people I meet have heard of Georgia because 80 percent of the surfaces planted in improved warm-season turfgrasses are planted in Tif varieties,” said Wayne Hanna, a researcher with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences who has bred turfgrass for 38 years.

Tif grasses are popular because they “look good everywhere they’re planted,” he said.

A long process

But it takes time to get it right, he said, as long as 15 years in some cases. For example, most varieties look good two years into being grown on research plots. By the third year, however, only 10 percent of plots look good.

“We take our time to make sure the varieties we release are just right,” he said. “That’s why turf breeding is such a long process.”

Hanna breeds Tif varieties on the UGA campus in Tifton, Ga. The top varieties are Tifdwarf, TifEagle TifBlair, Tifway, TifSport and ST-5.

Tifdwarf and TifEagle are bermuda grasses used for golf course putting greens. TifBlair is a vigorous, cold-tolerant centipede grass.

Newest on horizon

Tifway, TifSport and ST-5 are bermuda grass hybrids for lawns, sports fields, golf courses and landscapes. The yet unnamed ST-5 can grow in shade. The dark-green grass was selected from 27,000 hybrids and will be available to the public in 2010, he said.

“Bermuda grass loves sunlight,” he said. “So the fact that this variety will grow in 70 percent shade is incredible. And, it’s sterile like a mule. So it doesn’t produce seed or pollen.”

Georgia-bred turfgrasses are all certified, he said.

“This means that a grass like TifBlair centipede has a pedigree that you can follow,” he said. “You can buy it now or five years from now, and you’ll be getting the same grass -- guaranteed.”

Plant at optimal time

If you are planning to install any new turfgrass this year, wait until late April or early May to do it, said Clint Waltz, a UGA Cooperative Extension turfgrass specialist. Late spring conditions are more suitable for establishing warm-season grasses.

“Sod may be available, but it’s too early now,” he said. “We’re having some really pretty days, and everyone wants to get out and work in the yard, but it’s not the optimal time to plant warm-season turfgrasses.”

For more advice on UGA turfgrass varieties, visit www.georgiaturf.com. Or, call your local UGA Extension agent at 1-800-ASK-UGA1.

(Sharon Dowdy is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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