A common recurring question I get from laymen of turfgrass management, like my neighbors, is, “When are they going to develop a grass that doesn't need mowing?” My usual reply is, “They have, and it's artificial turf.” They typically see little humor in my response. Then I have to explain the need for turfgrass to grow. The lush, green color of turf depends on the continual production of new leaves from the crown (growing point at the base of the plant) replacing older leaves that eventually senesce and turn brown or become afflicted with disease, insects, mechanical damage or other maladies. Of course there are some species of turf that don't grow as fast, like zoysiagrass, but they all grow and need mowing. There are also varieties within a species that grow slower than the norm.

Another way to get closer to that “grass that doesn't need mowing” is to apply plant growth regulators (PGRs). Again, your objective is to reduce mowing but not do away with it. PGRs do just that — they temporarily reduce mowing by slowing plant growth. You can maximize your mowing reduction by applying these products when vertical growth of turf is at its peak, like in the spring for cool-season grasses. In addition to growth reduction and minimizing mowing requirements, PGRs offer other benefits (depending on the product), such as post-suppression turf quality enhancement, drought resistance, seedhead suppression and increased rooting.

In my former life as a professor of agronomy, focusing on turfgrass research and teaching at the University of Maryland, I conducted research on, among other things, plant growth regulator use on turf. Prior to that, I got my introduction to plant growth regulator research while in graduate school at Penn State University, working under Dr. Tom Watschke, who is well known for the extensive research he has done on the subject. While working on these products, I had the opportunity to see how they performed even before they came to market. Some of the experimental products I worked with at the time later became commercially available, including amidichlor (Limit developed by Monsanto and now marketed by PBI/Gordon) and flurprimidol (Cutless developed by Dow AgroSciences and now marketed by SePro). Many others never made it to market. It was a great opportunity to see what these products could do and what their limitations were.

So if you get reduced mowing as a benefit from PGR use, what good does it do you? Do you really save labor? Yes, but you probably will not save money, because you would utilize your labor for other tasks. And you won't be able to retire your mower completely, but you will cut down on the number of times you have to mow. You can also use these products for tree and shrub growth suppression. Learn about the products on the market today, their attributes and who markets them in Chemical Update: Plant Growth Regulators, page 34.

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