Thanks to the innovative minds at the University of Georgia, the grass is really greener in Athens — and many other places, too. For more than 50 years, South Georgia researchers at University of Georgia’s campus in Tifton have revolutionized the turfgrass grown on lawns, golf courses, and athletic fields around the world.
World-renowned scientist Glenn Burton — who worked at the Coastal Plain Experiment Station, now UGA-Tifton — first started researching and breeding turfgrass. Today, Associate Professor Brian Schwartz, in UGA’s Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, carries on that work, developing modern, sustainable cultivars that remain healthy with minimal inputs: money, fertilizer, water. “I want to develop things that will be there in 50 years with little or no care,” he says.
- Glenn Burton was responsible for the development of Tifway 419, which is “probably the most widely grown bermudagrass” cultivar in the world, Schwartz says.
- Burton’s work in plant breeding — which also included research on pearl millet to bolster worldwide food production — earned him a National Medal of Science in 1982.
- TifTuf, released in 2014, is intended as a more sustainable version of Tifway. It can use 38% less water, depending on the location.
- TifTuf is gaining popularity in Texas, where it grows at Cotton Bowl Stadium in Dallas and at sports fields at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth and Southern Methodist University in Dallas. This summer, it’s being planted on the University of Florida’s Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville.
- Love golfing? Check out the turf next time you step on a course. South Georgia researchers at UGA-Tifton created Tifgreen, Tifdwarf, and TifEagle bermudagrass cultivars, popular choices for courses. In fact, TifEagle can be mowed very low, so that golf balls roll quickly and smoothly over it, making it ideal for putting, says Schwartz.
- Local residents may have stepped on some of these world-famous turfgrasses. Some of the oldest TifEagle turfgrass grows on Sea Island. In Georgia, it also grows at the Atlanta Athletic Club and The Ford Plantation, near Savannah; and at TPC Sawgrass in Florida.
- Georgia’s turfgrass generated more than $116 million in 2017, according to the most recent Georgia Farm Gate Value Report, published by the UGA Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development.
In South Georgia, after a mild winter, homeowners tend to start fertilizing and watering their lawns on warm days in February, Schwartz said, but these lawns may be subjected to two months of disease and stress as temperatures drop again. Schwartz encourages homeowners to consider what he calls the “150 Rule”: Don’t begin fertilizing your lawn until the daytime high and nighttime low temperatures, when added, equal 150, usually around April or May. This is when most grasses in South Georgia start growing again.
There are pros and cons to every variety of turfgrass, Schwartz says. Here in South Georgia, Saint Augustinegrass is the most shade tolerant, but it’s affected by chinch bugs and gray leaf spot disease. Zoysiagrass must be watered; bermudagrass is drought tolerant, but it must be fertilized; and centipedegrass doesn’t have to be fertilized. For a lawn near salt water, Schwartz recommends seashore paspalum, provided the homeowner applies a fungicide.