Tall fescue is one of six species of fescue commonly used as turfgrass in the United States. This bunchgrass, along with meadow fescue [Lolium pratense (Huds.) Darbysh.], is categorized on the basis of leaf texture as a coarse fescue. Plants often develop broad crowns and increase in size by tillering. Some plants may produce short, thick rhizomes (underground shoots), a characteristic of interest to many turfgrass breeders (Porter, 1958). Plants with rhizomes are capable of spreading into thin areas of turf damaged by disease or insects, eliminating the need for interseeding.
Tall fescue is adapted throughout much of the conterminous United States (see Chapter 3), except in nonirrigated arid regions, the southern Coastal Plain and Gulf Coast, and northernmost zones in northern tier states where the species is damaged severely by low temperatures (Hanson et al., 1969). Tolerance of high temperatures and moderate drought contributes to the popularity of the species throughout the turfgrass transition zone (Table 26-1). In North Carolina, tall fescue is the major turfgrass species, currently being maintained on more than 400 million ha in the state (Tredway et al., 2005). Tall fescue is challenging Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis L.) as the dominant species for sod production in much of southern Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, as well as in western states such as California and Colorado. ‘Alta' and ‘Kentucky 31' (KY-31) were early cultivars used for turf (see Chapter 1). Presently, KY-31 is a major component (e.g., 80% by weight of Group A seed mix planted from February through June) of grass-legume seed mixtures specified by the Tennessee Department of Transportation for roadside plantings (Tennessee Dep. of Transportation, 1995). The cultivar also is suggested commonly for use along Kentucky roadways. For example, the Kentucky Department of Transportation Mix 1 (Hogan, personal communication, 2008) contains 75% KY-31 tall fescue, 10% red top (Agrostis palustris L.), 10% perennial ryegrass (L. perenne L.), and 5% white clover (Trifolium repens L.).
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Improvement of tall fescue for turfgrass traces its origin to plants selected from old turfs in the United States in a germplasm collection program initiated in 1962 by C. Reed Funk of Rutgers University in New Jersey. ‘Rebel', the first improved turf-type tall fescue marketed in the United States, was selected for release in 1981 on the basis of attractiveness, persistence, disease resistance, and overall performance in turf trials (Alderson and Sharp, 1995).
Since the release of Rebel, many improved turf-type tall fescues have been evaluated throughout the United States for overall quality, susceptibility to disease, drought tolerance, insect resistance, and seedling vigor. In the 1983 NTEP Tall Fescue Test, 30 entries were evaluated at 41 locations in 24 states and the District of Columbia (Natl. Turfgrass Eval. Program, 1988). Seventy-nine entries were evaluated from 1993 to 1995 at 47 locations in 27 states, Washington D.C., British Columbia, and Saskatchewan (Natl. Turfgrass Eval. Program, 1992). One hundred twenty-nine cultivars were evaluated for 4 yr at 31 locations in 24 states during the 1996 NTEP Tall Fescue Test (Natl. Turfgrass Eval. Program, 1996), and 159 were entered in the 2001 NTEP Tall Fescue Test maintained at 31 locations in 24 states (Natl. Turfgrass Eval. Program, 2001). Dwarf and semidwarf cultivars such as Barlexas II, Bonsai, Leprechaun, and Pixie grow slowly and are shorter than standard cultivars such as Arid, Falcon II, Plantation, and Southern Choice. Populations of ‘Cochise', ‘Grande II', and ‘Titan Ltd.' have many plants with short rhizomes. The cultivar Grande, developed from germplasm originally selected for improved color, texture, stand density, and Rhizoctonia spp. resistance, has about 65% of the plants showing rhizome activity (Sherratt, 2003). Labarinth was the first cultivar registered as an RTF, or rhizomatous tall fescue (RTF is a registered trademark of Barenbrug, Tangent, OR). In Ohio, development of rhizomes on plants growing in native soil and subjected to simulated traffic was dependent on sward density and the growing environment (Sherratt et al., 2004). Rhizome activity was less than 15% for the cultivars (Labarinth RTF, Grande II, Titan Ltd., Rendition, Kittyhawk 2000, and Winter Active) tested (Chladny, 2007).
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