What happens when one of the world's best turfgrass breeding programs meets one of the world's largest zoysiagrass collections? Thanks to the recent agreement between the University of Georgia Research Foundation and Bladerunner Farms, Inc. we'll soon know.

Zoysiagrass for the future

What happens when one of the world’s best turfgrass breeding programs meets one of the world’s largest zoysiagrass collections?

Thanks to the recent agreement between the University of Georgia Research Foundation and Bladerunner Farms, Inc. we’ll soon know.

Ten years ago Bladerunner Farms, Inc. obtained the zoysiagrass collection developed by Dr. Jack Murray, a turf breeder with the United States Department of Agriculture/Agricultural Research Service in Beltsville, Maryland. In late 2009 Bladerunner Farms, Inc. and the University of Georgia Research Foundation, Inc. signed an agreement making this material – the biggest private collection of Zoysia germplasm in the world – available to the University of Georgia turfgrass program.

David Doguet, widely respected turfgrass breeder and owner of Bladerunner Farms, Inc., Poteet, TX, has no hesitation talking about Zoysia as the turfgrass of the future. “Zoysiagrass offers the best quality turf when you take away all the inputs.” he says, “and given the widespread concerns about water use, fertilizer use and chemical use this is the right – the only – direction we should be headed in.” 

The two zoysiagrasses developed by Bladerunner Farms currently available, Zeon® and JaMur®, give weight to his words.

Both are attractive, deep green varieties with good drought tolerance, reduced fertilizer needs and low maintenance requirements. Zeon® is arguably the most attractive Zoysia in the market. JaMur®’s

exceptional drought tolerance has been certified by The Florida Green Building Coalition (FGBC) and can be used by builders in that state for credits towards full FGBC certification.

JaMur® and Zeon® both have a superior rate of spread and stolon frequency, coupled with decreased thatch formation when compared with earlier Zoysia hybrids and are indicative of the direction Zoysia breeding is taking. Bladerunner Farms, Inc. and The Turfgrass Group, Inc., licensing agents for these patented varieties, are so serious about maintaining the quality and the genetics of these outstanding hybrids that both varieties can only be grown as certified sod, subject to strict state certifying agency oversight.

Doguet is the first to tell you, though, that while Bladerunner Farms has extensive field experience, they lack the strict scientific protocols and knowledge utilized by top level university programs that will take zoysiagrass to the next level of development.

Enter Dr. Brian Schwartz and the University of Georgia’s turf breeding program.

Schwartz, who recently joined UGA as head of the Tifton campus turfgrass breeding program, comes from Texas A&M and the University of Florida where he worked with low maintenance turf and Zoysia specifically. “UGA is known for its Bermuda and Paspalum programs.” says Schwartz, “but with this collection – the world’s largest private collection – we are going to develop a Zoysia program that will earn as strong a reputation as our other turfgrass breeding programs.” He has already started to put UGA’s program on the Zoysia map.

The Southeast Turf Conference in Tifton, Georgia (May 3-4, 2010), is devoting the entire morning on Tuesday, May 4th, to zoysiagrass. The Zoysia trials already under way in Tifton will be featured, along with scheduled presentations by Schwartz; by Dr. Aaron Patton from the University of Arkansas; and by Ken Mangum of the Atlanta Athletic Club, who replaced Tifway (419) Bermuda with Zeon® Zoysia on tees and fairways on his Riverside Course with great success.

Schwartz acknowledges that years of hard work will need to be invested to insure future success, but, as Bill Carraway, Vice President of Marketing for The Turfgrass Group, Inc., points out, “David’s collection saves UGA an awful lot of development time and money and will definitely jump start the Zoysia program that Brian has already initiated at UGA.”

Doguet is quick to point out that Bladerunner Farms has several new hybrid Zoysias  in ongoing development trials. He has four cultivars in the current National Turf  Evaluation Program’s 2007 National Zoysiagrass Test. The Turfgrass Group is going one better and is evaluating five Bladerunner cultivars in three states. Doguet says, “We have some outstanding cultivars being evaluated across the Southeast and although it will be two or three years before they’re ready, the best of these will be released by Bladerunner Farms.”

Written by Terri Ceravolo, owner of Sweet Apple Graphics, a design/marketing firm serving the horticulture industries. Contact: terri@graphicsgreen.com