Greening Up the Land Down Under

UGA-Tifton zoysiagrass varieties testing the heat in Oz

Summers can be brutal in Georgia, but they’re nothing compared to conditions in Australia, where high temperatures and arid conditions are challenging for any plant, whether turfgrass or crop.

Brian Schwartz, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension turfgrass breeder at the UGA Tifton campus, sent 18 different zoysia grass varieties to farmers across Australia in the Lawn Solutions grower group to see how the Georgia-bred varieties fare in the land Down Under.

“Just because they do well in the Southeastern United States doesn’t mean they’ll do well in Australia. A subset of Australian growers are going to have research plots in Australia to test for their environment, where there will probably be more drought than here,” Schwartz said. “The environment will be much different than Tifton.”

Schwartz has researched zoysia grasses since starting at UGA-Tifton in 2009. Zoysia grasses require less fertilizer and are more drought-tolerant than the average turfgrass, a quality that could fare well in Australia’s hot climate.

If one of the 18 varieties being researched performs exceptionally well, the Australian-based company will likely ask UGA to release it as a variety. Though it might be suitable for Australia, Schwartz said that doesn’t necessarily mean it will also be released for Georgia.

“There’s definitely a chance of failure, but there always is in what we do. Right now, they don’t have a clear winner for the Australian environment. They’re looking for the best of the best,” Schwartz said. “Most grasses don’t do well across the whole world. It’s very rare to find one that does and it’s pretty cool that some that have were developed here in Tifton.”

Schwartz estimates the research in Australia to span at least six to seven years, starting as small-plot research, then transitioning to larger areas as Lawn Solutions tests for speed of growth and harvestability.

“This is just a continuation of what’s been done here for the last 60 years. If the grasses that I’ve researched have success, not only here but in other places, maybe I’ll follow in the footsteps of (Glenn) Burton and (Wayne) Hanna,” Schwartz said. “That’s the neat thing about Tifton and our environment, which can present its challenges. Usually if the grasses are good here, they’re going to be good in a lot of places.”

By Clint Thompson

Shap of Australia filled with grass