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Sowing the seeds of success

News, Sport / 8th January 2020

Ahead of its publication on the 21 Jan 2020, STRI research officer, Fiona Crossley, who helps compile the annual Turfgrass Seed booklet, provides a user’s guide to this ubiquitous member of the turf industry.

STRI UK trials ground

STRI UK trials ground


In the beginning

The sport of golf developed on ‘links’ land in coastal areas of Scotland, predominantly on the east coast from Wick in the north to Berwick in the south but also on the south-west coast and the Hebridean islands.


True links soil is sandy, naturally acidic, drains well and provides a firm surface all year round. This environment supported the growth of indigenous browntop bents and red fescues, ideal for thrashing a little white ball into eighteen holes.


As golf became more popular, courses started to be built inland away from the traditional ‘links’ land. Grasses were taken from their natural coastal habitat to these new courses, a move that did not always prove to be successful. As more golf courses were built the turfgrass industry became more commercialised.


Very little information was available for greenkeepers to make informed choices on which grasses would be best for their situations. What was needed was independent and scientifically based testing of grass seed.


BSPB grass testing trial

BSPB grass testing trial


STRI get involved

STRI was established in 1929, in association with the UK Golf Unions and The R&A, to provide research and advisory services for golf clubs. From its early days STRI started carrying out grass testing trials and by the 1950s had established a reputation for providing research on new products and techniques for managing sports turf, not just for golf, but for all types of sports and amenity grass areas.


A core aim was to create a scientifically based testing programme for turfgrasses. By the mid 1960s seed producers were invited to submit their grasses for testing alongside those of their competitors with the aim of distributing useful information, from the testing programme, to the industry.


n 1977 the first booklet ‘Buying Turfgrass Seed in 1977’ was published. Over the last 43 years the amenity grass testing programme and the way data from this programme is presented has evolved and continues to evolve. Since 2003 ‘Turfgrass Seed’ has been published by the British Society of Plant Breeders (BSPB).



Current turfgrass testing trials

Current grass testing trials at STRI are run under contract to the BSPB. The trial protocol is decided by the Amenity Crop Group, made up of representatives from the major seed companies selling amenity grasses in the UK.


The grass testing programme and the Turfgrass Seed booklet continue to evolve to meet the changing needs of the turfgrass industry. It is still the only independent guide to the performance of different turfgrass species and cultivars for use in the UK.


Turfgrass Seed is updated every year and the new booklet is available in January to coincide with BTME in Harrogate.


STRI trials

Trial sowing at STRI, 1929


The purpose of the booklet is to report comprehensive results of available varieties in trials designed to test suitability for:


1. Use in winter sports pitches such as football and rugby fields (sports use trials – Series S)

2. Use in lawns, summer sports pitches, tennis courts, turf and general landscaping (lawn, landscaping summer sports and turf trials – Series L)

3. Use under intensive management seen on golf and bowling greens and other close mown situations (greens, close mown trials – Series G)


Trial, grass, seed

Turfgrass seed trials 2019, STRI UK


Top tips on using the turfgrass seed booklet

Don’t skip over the introductory pages and go straight to the tables. Take your time, make a cup of tea, sit down and start at the beginning


Read through the introduction and the information on using Turfgrass Seed 2020. Take time to familiarise yourself with the page devoted to Assessment of Characters


Get a thorough understanding of what the numbers in each of the tables mean. Not all characters are assessed for every species or sub-species or in all three trial Series


Trial, seed

Hand sowing the trial at STRI UK


Next read the introductory text for each of the management regimes. This section provides the user with information on:

  • which species or sub-species have tables in that Series
  • grass species or sub-species that appear in that section
  • characteristics important for grasses in that Series, for example:
    • perennial ryegrasses for sports use (Series S) are ranked on the mean of live ground cover and visual merit
    • perennial ryegrasses for lawn use (Series L) are ranked on the mean of shoot density, fineness of leaf, slow re-growth and visual merit


Characteristics used to rank grasses in each table are easily identifiable as they are found to the left of the mean score within the shaded columns in each table


It cannot be stressed too much the importance of reading through the introductory text to each section of the booklet prior to selecting grasses


Trial, Turfgrass Seed

All hands on deck sowing the Turfgrass Seed trial, STRI UK


The most important criteria for one type of use may be of little importance for another use. For example, on a winter sports pitch the most important criteria is whether the grass persists throughout the playing season.


Other characteristics such as fineness of leaf in unworn turf are of little importance if the grass will not withstand wear


When choosing grasses for use in football and rugby pitches, for example, it may be better to choose a cultivar with reduced susceptibility to red thread, if this can be done without compromising too much on wear tolerance


STRI’s wear machine in action on the trial plots

STRI’s wear machine in action on the trial plots


If high quality appearance is required before wear, or in low wear situations, high shoot density, fineness of leaf and cleanness of cut scores will be of high importance to achieve the desired result


The lists, where applicable, are also split into two sections, a main list and a new cultivar list. This later section is for cultivars that have only been included in one complete trial. The main list is for cultivars which have completed two or more trials (three for perennial ryegrass winter sports).


In simple terms the scores in the new cultivar list should be treated with less certainty than those on the main list because less data has gone into producing them


Finally, and very importantly…

It should also be stressed that, in terms of quality, it is very difficult to separate cultivars that are close together in each list. Cultivars should be viewed in groups and cultivars at the top of
the list may not always be the best available for a given use.


Using the guide wisely can help turf professionals make a decision on which cultivars would be optimal based on the specifics of each situation and the environment found there.




Pick up a copy of the 2020 Turfgrass Seed at STRI’s BTME stand number 402 in the Purple Zone from 21 – 23 January in Harrogate.

For more information on conducting a research trial at STRI UK, Australia or Hong Kong, call +44 (0) 1274 565131 or email: enquiries@strigroup.com