Grasses collected from ancient prairies, roadside ditches, and 19th century cattle drives hold promise as the drought-tolerant lawns and living parking lots of the future.
Members of the public can view these experimental grasses and meet the Washington State University scientists testing how they stand up to heavy wear, pollution, and extreme conditions at a field day Thursday, June 8, at WSU Grass Breeding and Ecology Farm.
“Grass is everywhere, but most people never notice it,” said Michael Neff, professor with WSU’s Department of Crop and Soil Sciences. “Grass is so important for stabilizing the soil, ensuring water quality, and addressing climate change. We’re trying to get the most out of grasses that we possibly can, for our wellbeing and the health of our environment.”
Neff and fellow scientists will lead field tours and present research alongside members of the turfgrass industry during the Washington Turfgrass Seed Commission Field Day, starting at 9 a.m. at WSU’s grass breeding farm, established in 2021.
Roughly 90% of all bluegrass seed used in the world is grown in the Inland Northwest. WSU researchers breed and study improved Kentucky bluegrass and other varieties in service to seed producers in eastern Washington and northern Idaho.
“We’re trying to breed grasses that can be resilient in a changing world,” Neff said. At Pullman, he studies cold-tolerant Bermuda grass that survived this winter’s 20-below-zero temperatures, salt-tolerant tall fescue grass and other water-thrifty varieties for Northwest golf courses and lawns, as well as hormones that could help Kentucky bluegrass stand up to hard wear. Neff is also working with the Idaho Native Plant Society’s White Pine Chapter to breed and increase seed for tufted hairgrass, a native grass that could help reclaim land.
“We’re developing the lawns of the future, and grasses that can be used for restoration of prairies or for stabilizing land after fires or construction,” he said.
Neff will discuss these projects, and introduce new state-funded research with Kate Kraszewski, stormwater ecologist in WSU’s Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture, to develop tough, wear-tolerant natural turf that could replace artificial turf.
Kraszewski will share her research on grasses that could replace pavement in urban landscapes, while crop science professor Ian Burke will update on the latest weed management techniques for turfgrass seed crops.
The farm is located just off Terre View Drive north of the Pullman-Moscow Highway intersection. Field day sponsors include WSU, the Washington Turfgrass Seed Commission, Creative Strategies, and the Washington Turfgrass Seed Association.
• Contact: Michael Neff, Project Leader, Grass Breeding and Ecology Farm, (509) 335-7705, firstname.lastname@example.org