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Turfgrass Disease Diagnostic Center Now Open 

By Bud Gavitt

Golf course superintendents, sports and recreational field managers, and commercial lawn care operators can now submit turf samples showing signs of pest damage and physiological disorders for analysis at the Department of Plant Science’s Turfgrass Disease Diagnostic Center. Established last year by John Kaminski, assistant professor of pathology in turfgrass science in the Department of Plant Science, the center is housed in room 110 of the W.B. Young Building.

A substantial grant to purchase equipment and supplies, including microscopes, for the center was given by the New England Regional Turfgrass Foundation. This private foundation funds to research and advancement of the region’s turf industry.

The center is open daily year round but most of the diagnostic work is done during the turfgrass growing season. Kaminski makes every effort to diagnose the disorder and give recommendations on what to do to address the problem within 24 hours.

In most cases golf course superintendents and others are able to identify the problem but want it to be confirmed by Kaminski. Once the problem is identified, recommendations may include changing a cultural practice, such as increasing turf mowing height or using plant protectants to control a turf pest.

Sometimes Kaminski visits the site to see what’s going on with a difficult problem. He says problems may occur that aren’t related to disease but still may cause turf to decline. For example, there may be too much shade, too much water, or not enough nitrogen fertilizer in the soil.

Samples can be sent to: Turfgrass Disease Diagnostic Center, Department of Plant Science, UConn, 1376 Storrs Road, U-4067, Storrs, CT 06269-4067. Samples must be submitted Monday through Thursday in order to provide diagnostic services the following day. If you like, you can also contact Kaminski at (860) 486-0162 or email him at john.kaminski@uconn.edu. To cover costs, there is a fee of $50.00 for Connecticut samples and $100.00 for out-of-state samples.

Kaminski expects to have a Web site by the end of the year that will include updates on the department’s turfgrass programs and new and ongoing pest control problems.

“My goal,” Kaminski says, “is to assist turfgrass managers throughout the region with whatever agronomic problems they may have.” “An additional benefit of the Center is that learning about the problems in the field provides ideas for future turfgrass research projects.”

Homeowners can get answers to their turf and lawn care questions from the Home and Garden Education Center at (877)486-6271 or by email.
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UConn Professor Nabs Musser 

John Kaminski, Ph.D., a recent graduate from the University of Maryland in plant pathology, has been chosen to receive the Musser International Turfgrass Foundation Award of Excellence for 2005. The annual award is presented to an outstanding doctoral student of turfgrass science who has made significant and innovative contributions to turfgrass science research. This year’s award winner also received a $20,000 cash award.

A native of Upper Marlboro, Md., Kaminski earned a bachelor’s degree from Penn State University in 1998 and earned his master’s and Ph.D at the University of Maryland, where his work involved the investigation of the biology of Ophiosphaerella agrostis and epidemiology of bentgrass dead spot.

Kaminski is currently an assistant professor of turfgrass pathology at the University of Connecticut. His appointment is 70 percent extension and 30 percent research and he serves as the director of the UConn Turfgrass Disease Diagnostic Center.

Since 2000, Kaminski has published 60 peer-reviewed scientific papers, progress/field day research reports, abstracts, extension publications and popular articles. His speaking activities included various guest lectures at the University of Maryland as well as invited speaking engagements at the 2001 International Turfgrass Research Conference and Rutgers Annual Turfgrass Management Symposium.

Kaminski began working in the turfgrass industry as an intern at Desert Mountain Properties in Scottsdale, Ariz. While attending Penn State, he also interned at Congressional Country Club and the Valentine Turfgrass Research Facility.

During his graduate studies at the University of Maryland, Kaminski worked under the direction of Dr. Peter Dernoeden. His involvement in the turfgrass science program included conducting basic and applied research, assisting in turfgrass disease diagnostics and guest lecturing in the areas of turfgrass science and plant pathology.

His initial work defined the geographic distribution of the pathogen and various aspects of the pathogen’s growth and reproduction. The final phase of his research involved a closer look at the environmental conditions favoring disease development. In addition to his applied research, he conducted studies to assess the genetic diversity of O. agrostis and also developed a molecular technique that allows for the rapid detection of the pathogen within infected plants.

“John has been the most remarkable graduate student that the U. of Maryland turfgrass program has ever experienced,” Peter Dernoeden, Ph.D. at the University of Maryland says. “He has a superior intellect, he is self-motivating and an intense researcher, and he has an outstanding work ethic. His accomplishments as a graduate student have been truly exemplary.”

Kaminski’s career goals are to:
Develop a productive and successful turfgrass pathology research program at the University of Connecticut;
Elucidate unknown biological and epidemiological aspects of important turfgrass pathogens and their respective diseases;
Develop improved chemical and cultural techniques for managing turfgrass diseases; and
Standardize and simplify the methods used to identify turfgrass diseases.

Named in memory of turfgrass scientist professor H. Burton Musser, the Musser International Turfgrass Foundation is dedicated to fostering Turfgrass Management as a learned profession.
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The Art and Science of Growing Grass 

By Jim Smith

Spring in New England is an unpredictable thing. Jack Frost is usuallly slow to relinquish his grip. In February, occasional days of spring-like temperatures send hopes soaring. But it's only a tease. Snow nearly always follows.

However, once snow is finally gone, an army of professionals in landscaping and golf course management emerges in full force.

Many of these experts knowledgeable in how to turn landscapes lush after the thaw, and keep the fairways and greens challenging, are graduates of the turfgrass science program in UConn's College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

By mid-April, Matt Bagshaw, '03 (RHSA), accounts manager at E. A. Quinn Landscape Gardening, in Glastonbury, Conn., is upon the land in earnest, setting things right in the aftermath of the glacier's retreat, redirecting his crews from snow removal to landscape installation, mulch blowing, lawn maintenance and the construction of walls and patios.

Things are no less busy for Dan Gilbert, '00 (CANR), an assistant superintendent at the Ellington Ridge Country Club, in Ellington, Conn. All but the most relentless golf enthusiasts pack it in once the snow starts to fly, but turf maintenance is a year-round job at golf courses. All winter he supervises equipment maintenance and by mid-March, his crews are starting to prune trees, put the sand traps in order, edge the traps and mow the greens for the first time.

It may come as a surprise that UConn has an entire program devoted to the management of grass. But the turfgrass program is one of UConn's most successful, growing consistently over the last two decades and finding that it cannot provide enough graduates annually to meet marketplace demands. Every turfgrass graduate is highly sought after for a variety of positions.

"Within the field of agronomy, UConn has always had programs devoted to plants and soil science," says Karl Guillard, professor of agronomy "The focus was on economically important crops."

It still is, but as economies have changed, so have the crops. When UConn was much closer to its agricultural roots, plant and soil science students focused mostly on the staples of traditional farms: corn, grasses, forage and silage. By the 1970s, though, as Connecticut's population became increasingly urban and suburban and the role of farming in the state's economy declined, the College began adding classes on turfgrass — the grasses used for lawns, parks, golf courses, athletic fields and other managed landscapes.

More and more students lost interest in traditional farming, but interest in horticulture and the emerging field of turfgrass management grew, especially as it became clear that there was likely to be a growing demand for professionals equipped to service this new, "recreational" form of agriculture.

In 1998, for the first time, turfgrass was offered as a degree program at UConn. Two years later, Guillard was joined on the faculty by Steven Rackliffe, extension instructor turfgrass science, who brought with him years of on-the-job experience in golf course management. The program's trajectory has been onward and upward ever since.

"This program is an enormous source of pride," says Mary Musgrave, head of the department of plant science, who joined the UConn faculty in January 2003. "The demand for professionals in the turfgrass field has grown significantly over the last quarter of the 20th century, and I'm very impressed with the foresight the agronomy program demonstrated in adapting to offer the education needed to prepare students for this burgeoning new agricultural economy."

By way of demonstrating how significant turfgrass management is, she points to the fact that Connecticut currently has more than 180 golf courses, and more are being planned all the time. "It's a huge value to the state," she says, "and we're playing an important role preparing the workforce needed."

Some 60 percent of the program's graduates end up working in the golf industry. Another 30 percent take jobs in grounds-keeping, recreation field maintenance and other sports-related field management. A few are employed in sod production, conservation and natural resources. But the program doesn't come close to meeting demand, says Guillard. Requests for graduates to fill jobs and undergraduates to work in internships outstrip available students by four to five times.

Although people who are unfamiliar with the industry may have a mistaken view of turfgrass as simple, the propagation and successful management of turfgrasses is, in fact, an extremely complex process. Courses offered at UConn cover such diverse issues as soils and soil fertility, plant diseases, integrated pest management, landscape design, environmental law, pesticide safety, business management and golf course design and management. And the University maintains greenhouses, a teaching nursery and a 150-acre teaching and research field facility to support the program.

"My education has been really useful," says Bagshaw. "I had a small landscaping business while I was in high school, so I went to UConn with an interest in this field. I had a lot to learn, though, as I found out in the turfgrass program. On the job, I use what I learned at UConn all the time."

Gilbert echoes that sentiment. "I grew up as a golfer, loved the game, played on UConn's golf team," he says, "but I didn't think there was a way I could have a career in golf." Then he signed up for the golf course management class and, he says, it changed his life.

The range of courses offered, Gilbert says, accurately reflects the variety of skills he needs to be successful on the job, wearing several hats. He manages a crew of 20 who are constantly at work.

He is an agronomist, keeping grasses and accent plants rich and robust throughout the summer. Additionally, he needs to know about plumbing, mechanics and electricity.

"It's an exciting career but a very complex and demanding one," he says. "There's not a day when my UConn education doesn't pay off."

The quality of the program and its students is impressing experienced professionals such as Greg Wojick '78 (CANR), course superintendent for the Greenwich Country Club in Greenwich, Conn., who earned a degree in agronomy, and Cindy Johnson, '78 (CANR), course superintendent at Tumble Brook Country Club in Bloomfield, Conn., who earned a degree in horticulture.

Johnson has hosted UConn students from Rackliffe's classes in turfgrass irrigation at Tumble Brook's 27-hole course, which is undergoing renovations. "The students ask good questions and are interested in what I show them," she says. "I think it's wonderful that UConn has this program. It's what the state of Connecticut has needed."

Wojick hired one of the program's early graduates, Josh Satin '01 (CANR), as one of his assistant superintendents and for the second consecutive year has a UConn student, Justin Barry '05 (CANR), doing an internship in Greenwich. He says the requirements for success in golf course management demand a broad educational background as well as the hands-on science for turfgrass management.

"Because of the high standards for entry into UConn, you receive a well-rounded education. The demands of the job require good communications skills, good management skills, technical knowledge, plus interpersonal skills when you meet the captains of industry at social functions," Wojick says. "I think that's what UConn offers. We've hit home runs on all of our UConn students. Why not have the epicenter for learning in turfgrass and landscaping at UConn?"


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Lawn Care During Drought Conditions 

By Dr. Karl Guillard

Cool-season turfgrasses adapted to Connecticut climatic conditions have a built-in drought response mechanism – it’s called dormancy. Turfgrasses such as Kentucky bluegrass will shut down growth when moisture is limited to conserve water. By most appearances, the grass looks “dead”, but in many cases unless there is an extreme lack of moisture for a very long time or if the drought occurs on very sandy soils, the grass will “recover” and renew growth with the return of moisture. So, to say that most lawn grasses in Connecticut are not drought tolerant is false. They tolerate drought by going dormant. Unfortunately, most homeowners desire a green lawn throughout the entire growing season and become concerned when their turf begins to undergo dormancy during hot and dry periods.

What steps can one do to care for a lawn during a drought period? First is to understand the different response to drought from the various turfgrasses adapted to Connecticut conditions. Kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass are the two most widely grown lawn grass species. Both require a fair amount of available moisture or will go dormant relatively quickly. On the other hand, the turf-type tall fescues and the fine leaf fescues – creeping red fescue, hard fescue, sheep fescue – will retain color and quality for a longer period under drought conditions than will Kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass. Therefore, a lawn comprising more of the fescues will maintain turf quality with less water than the bluegrasses or ryegrasses. If water supply for a lawn is a yearly concern or becomes a yearly concern, it may be time to consider changing the species composition in the lawn by overseeding in the fescues or a complete lawn renovation and reseeding with a higher percentage of the fescues.

If one cannot or does not want to change the lawn composition from a predominance of Kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass to a predominance of the fescues, then other care practices need to be implemented for drought conditions. If irrigation is available and water supply availability is not an issue, then water should be applied at heavy rates on an infrequent basis. The reasoning behind this recommendation is that heavy, infrequent waterings will penetrate deeply into the soil and encourage a deep root system. Grass roots will grow to the water, so the deeper the available water, the deeper the root system. Light, frequent waterings actually encourage the opposite – most of the root system will stay in the shallow depths of the soil profile. This will predispose the grass to greater water stress because the water in this shallow depth will be used up quickly by the grass and some water will be lost through evaporation. The grass will then become entirely dependent on this shallow water and will not be able to reach deeper soil water if the water supply is abruptly curtailed.

Often during drought conditions, lawn watering is prohibited. Grasses conditioned to frequent light waterings will suffer more so if irrigation is stopped than grasses not irrigated or irrigated infrequently because of differences in rooting system depths. If watering restrictions are all but certain, then it is probably best not to begin to irrigate at all and allow the turfgrasses to acclimate to the low water availabilities. This is called “pre-conditioning”. A number of research studies have shown that grasses that were pre-conditioned to water stress better withstood and recovered much more quickly from drought conditions than grasses that were abruptly cutoff from irrigation. Of course the lawn will go dormant and not be as aesthetic pleasing, but the grass will be healthier in the long run.

There are other cultural management practices recommended during drought conditions. During low water availability, one should always raise the cutting height of the mower. The basis for this recommendation stems from the fact that grass rooting depths are related to mower cutting height – the longer the grass, the deeper the roots; conversely, the shorter the grass, the shallower the roots. If a grass plant has a deeper root system, then it will be able to access deeper soil water and retain quality for a longer period than shorter cut grasses.

During drought conditions, fertilizer applications, especially with nitrogen, should be avoided. Most of the commercially available lawn fertilizers are in the form of salts and applying fertilizers during a drought can worsen the situation. Fertilizing with nitrogen fertilizers stimulate shoot growth at the expense of the roots. So prior to or during drought conditions, nitrogen fertilization rates should be reduced or avoided. On the other hand, there is some evidence to show that fertilization with potassium prior to drought conditions may increase root growth, thereby allowing the grass to reach deeper soil water. The form of potassium fertilizer is important because of the salt damage potential: potassium sulfate is preferred to potassium chloride because of its lower salt index value.

Lastly, there are compounds called “wetting agents” that can increase the amount of water that is available to the grass roots. These act by reducing surface tensions and allow for a better spread of water through the soil. These are generally sprayed onto the turf and watered in, or they can be applied through the irrigation system. Wetting agents are routinely used on golf courses and high-end athletic fields. For the general homeowner, however, wetting agents may not be a viable alternative because of costs and lack of equipment. But, professional lawncare services should be able to obtain and apply them correctly.

In summary, here are lawn care tips for drought conditions:

· Irrigate deeply and infrequently
· Apply wetting agents if possible
· Pre-condition grasses to drought stress before water restrictions abruptly curtail watering
· Avoid the application of fertilizers during a drought
· Apply potassium-based fertilizers prior to drought conditions
· Reduce the rates of nitrogen-based fertilizers prior to drought conditions
· Raise the mower cutting height


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Turf Science, Turf Culture Are Big Business 

Turf grass science and turf culture are important businesses, and areas of growing career potential, says Karl Guillard, associate professor of plant science and head of the turf grass science program at UConn.

For example, according to the National Golf Foundation, there are now some 17,000 golf courses in the U.S. covering an area as large as Rhode Island and Delaware combined. Another 500 new golf courses are built each year.

Today, the specification of turf grasses for these golf courses, the planting of grasses, and the installation of cultivated turf is not a casual matter. It is one of scientific exactitude, depending on the climatic and environmental conditions, the geography involved, and the specific uses to which the grasses will be put.

And golf courses are but a small part of the total turf grass business, says Guillard.

Turf management is also important in erosion control, in athletic fields, municipal parks and grounds, and in the ubiquitous lawns of suburban America.

Since the days of the early English settlers, Americans have had a special fondness for lawns around their homes, Guillard notes. Farmers generally couldn't afford to waste useful growing space for lawns, so having a lawn became a type of "conspicuous consumption" in America. A well-kept lawn became a sign of wealth and success.

As America grew and spread westward, land was plentiful and settlements spread outward from village centers, allowing plenty of room for each homeowner to have a lawn.

Today, turf scientists, plant biologists, and chemists who develop ever-better fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, participate in the unending quest for the perfect lawn, a quest upon which billions of dollars are spent each year.

Interestingly, in this age of synthetics, natural turf is now being replanted in many athletic fields and stadiums where artificial turf was formerly used. This is due, Guillard says, to higher injury rates on synthetic turf, which is less forgiving and more abrasive than natural turf.

Giant Stadium in the New Jersey meadowlands is an example. Cultivated natural turf, has replaced artificial turf, and is grown on-site in four-foot-by-four-foot trays, right in the stadium's parking lot.

Maintaining a supply of replacement turf on site requires quite a complex system, says Guillard, and involves not only keeping the sod moist and fed with the proper nutrients, but warm as well. In cool weather, a blanket of warm air is maintained beneath the trays to promote the growth of the grass.

Turf scientists use their knowledge of different types of grasses in planning turf areas, depending on the terrain, the intended use, and the environmental and climatic conditions.

Turf grass scientists are also involved in experimenting with different grasses from many locales, and in hybridizing and testing new grasses that can withstand tougher conditions of weather and wear.


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