Golfers are partial to warm weather — and so are golf course greens. They have particular difficulty surviving the cold, sleet and ice of Canadian winters. Now, with one of the worst winters in recent history wrapping up, researchers at the University of Guelph are digging deep to help develop golf green grasses that won't succumb to next winter's pressures.
University of Guelph researchers dig deep to help turf recover
Golfers are partial to warm weather — and so are golf course greens. They have particular difficulty surviving the cold, sleet and ice of Canadian winters. Now, with one of the worst winters in recent history wrapping up, researchers at the University of Guelph are digging deep to help develop golf green grasses that won’t succumb to next winter’s pressures.
Prof. Eric Lyons, Department of Plant Agriculture, and graduate student Bobby Kerr are studying ways to improve stress physiology and management of plant species and turfgrass systems.
“Winter hardiness is a problem with certain grass species because it limits the choices in Canada of what grasses we can use for different applications,” said Lyons. “It’s a major issue.”
Previous studies on winter hardiness by other researchers have focused on breeding and genetic alteration. These studies have been successful but genetic alteration doesn’t help grasses that are already planted.
So Lyons and Kerr are looking at how certain plant growth regulators influence stress tolerance and improve parameters associated with winter hardiness, to help grasses that are already planted.
One parameter they are examining is carbohydrate — or sugar — production, specifically the production of fructans.
Kerr says fructans have two main functions that influence winter hardiness — as a cryoprotectant, and as an energy source. Fructans lower the freezing point of plant cells, preventing ice from puncturing the cell and letting important sugars leak out. Fructans also act as a food source for plant regrowth in the spring.
Lyons says the most winterkill occurs when plants thaw and refreeze. If plants run out of energy due to thawing and refreezing, they cannot regrow in the spring.
The researchers are also investigating plant hormones — the way plants signal and get ready for stresses, such as freezing temperatures. They’re hoping to find a way to manipulate signalling pathways to turn on stress tolerance earlier in the winter and keep it on later into the spring.
Turfgrasses are important to the economy. Golf is a billion-dollar industry, and golf courses face huge losses if they can’t reopen in the spring. Smaller rural courses cannot always afford to regrass with newer cultivars, so the survival of grasses through winter can make or break a golf club.
“Turfgrasses are an important part of our urban environments because we can use the land they’re planted on,” says Lyons. “The most amazing thing about turfgrass is that we can walk all over it and it doesn’t care. Research aimed at increasing the sustainability of turfgrass systems will allow us to continue to play and have business, all in our green space.”
In the future, Lyons hopes to find practical ways for turfgrass managers to handle high use and high value turf areas to increase their ability to survive the winter. He hopes to do this by increasing our understanding of how we can manipulate plants — not just turfgrasses, but all plants, even agricultural crops — by interacting with their nutrient status and hormones.
Funding for this study is provided by the Canadian Turfgrass Research Foundation and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food and Ministry of Rural Affairs.
Others involved in this research include Prof. Duane Falk and technical support staff Ken Carey and Alex Porter.