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By Brendon Cant in on 23 Feb 2010
As the major managers of turfgrass in suburban Perth, local government authorities are under increasing pressure to reduce water use and improve water use efficiency, while still providing and maintaining quality community recreational and sports facilities.
To help find practical and scientifically rigorous answers to what some Parks and Ovals Managers describe as a 'dry argument', The University of Western Australia (UWA) Institute of Agriculture and its Turf Research Program is assessing wetting agents, turf varieties and mowing heights at its Shenton Park Field Station.
A new project, funded by the WA turf industry and Horticulture Australia Limited (HAL), is addressing two priority topics: renovation techniques for thatch removal on a diverse set of soft-leaf buffalograss cultivars and the influence of mowing height on water use by four species (soft-leaf buffalo, couch, kikuyu and zoysia).
The UWA Shenton Park Field Station experiments will run until mid 2011, enabling two summers of research.
Six complete blocks, each with 12 field plots, contain 12 buffalograss cultivars: Sapphire (B12), Kings Pride (GP22), Matilda, Palmetto, Sir James, Sir Walter, ST26, ST91, Shademaster, TF01, Velvet and WA Common.
According to Professor Tim Colmer of UWA's School of Plant Biology, results are not yet available but a recent field day at Shenton Park enabled 75 turf professionals and others, mostly from local government, to inspect the new plots and treatments being applied.
"The influence of mowing height on water use and drought tolerance is still being debated, so we also have an experiment assessing how water use changes in four warm season turf species under three mowing heights," he said.
HAL, in partnership with local and state government, plus the WA turf industry, is also funding the UWA Turf Research Program investigating how to manage soil water repellency in turfgrass.
According to Associate Professor Louise Barton of UWA's School of Earth and Environment, turf managers are under relentless pressure to decrease the amount of water applied to parks and gardens and the result was an increasing incidence of soil water-repellency in these areas.
"Soil water repellency decreases water use efficiency by causing irrigation water to unevenly infiltrate the soil surface, bypassing a proportion of the turfgrass roots, causing localised death of turfgrass," she said
Applying wetting agents is one remedial approach being investigated by the UWA team.
"UWA research here at Shenton Park has already demonstrated that applying a wetting agent in spring can decrease water repellency in summer and consequently improve the overall appearance of the turfgrass," Associate Professor Barton told the field day attendees.
"However, not all wetting agents are equally effective and consumers should be aware that the amount of active ingredient in wetting agents varies between brands.
"Maximising the amount of active ingredient applied appears to decrease the incidence and severity of water repellency," she noted.
Associate Professor Barton said that turfgrass renovation techniques that prevent thatch and mat accumulation may also help minimise the severity of water repellency.
"This is because soils high in organic matter can show a degree of water repellency," she said.
Winthrop Professor Kadambot Siddique, Director of UWA's Institute of Agriculture, said that the UWA Turf Research Program exemplified how the University engaged with industry to research potential solutions to community challenges.
"Having a suburban facility such as our Shenton Park Field Station also means we're able to host trials and field days that are conveniently accessible to interested parties, in this case Local Government and turf managers and our research partners," he said.
Authorised by 'Institute of Agriculture - UWA' and issued on its behalf by Brendon Cant & Associates (+61) 8 9384 1122
Associate Professor Louise Barton (+61) 8 6488 2543
Professor Tim Colmer (+61) 8 6488 1993
Winthrop Professor Kadambot Siddique (+61) 8 6488 7012 / (+61) 0411 155 396
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