Researchers from two Big Ten universities working on environmentally-friendly lawns

Nick Fetty | September 5, 2014
A house in Gossau, Canton of Zurich, Switzerlan. (Flickr)
A house in Gossau, Canton of Zurich, Switzerlan. (Flickr)

The college football season is underway as the Hawkeyes, Cyclones, and hundreds of other teams from all across the country take to the field for the more than century-old tradition. However, scientists from two Big Ten universities are putting their differences aside and teaming up to develop more environmentally friendly lawns.

Researchers from Rutgers University and the University of Minnesota – both members of the Committee on Institutional Cooperation – will work together on a five-year study to develop a strain of grass unaffected by disease and drought while remaining affordable for consumers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture granted the researchers $2.1 million to further develop a strain of grass known as fine fescue. These grasses are known not only for their drought resistance but also their shade tolerance enabling them to survive varying conditions.

Fine fecues are divided into five species and subspecies: Hard fescue, Chewings fescue, (blue) sheep fescue, creeping red fescue and slender creeping red fescue. The grass is native to Europe where it was traditionally used for grazing pastures as well as ornamental landscaping and home lawns. It is ideal for lawns because it grows slowly and requires little to no fertilizer. Lawn fertilizers, pesticides, and other chemicals can lead to a range of health complications from rashes and headaches to birth defects and even cancer. Children and pets are even more susceptible to these adverse health effects. Use of these chemicals also leads to waterway pollution.

Horticulturalists with the Iowa State University Extension and Reiman Gardens in Ames suggest different grass blends depending on conditions in various parts of Iowa.