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If fescue is dial-up, dwarf rye is broadband

Germinal grass expert Sandy Pentecost shares his comparison of fescue and dwarf ryegrass in modern turf maintenance.

fescue-cabrio Image: fescue (l) and CABRIO ultra-fine ryegrass (r)

What’s dial-up I hear some of you say? It’s the clunky, slow and often disconnected system we used to use to connect to the internet, ‘dialling-up’ through a conventional phone line. In today’s ‘instant’ world, it would be totally unacceptable, it’s just too slow. Broadband has raised our expectations of what’s possible. But what’s the link with grass?

Like dial-up, fescue takes longer to ‘connect’. Its germination time of up to 21 days contrasts sharply with dwarf rye, taking just 3-4 days in the right conditions. Rye establishment is also twice as fast. Once fescue has established, its inferior wear tolerance and slow regrowth make it less well-suited to modern turf maintenance practices; push it too hard for presentation and it produces undesirable fibre. Rye is quick, effective and provides very little fibre.

It doesn’t proliferate like fescue as, in effect, you are putting plants in pots, but fescue creeps too slowly for it to be of benefit in many situations. As a result, rye has become an integral part of regular maintenance, providing quick establishment and product satisfaction. It’s a product fitting our modern psyche and turf managers are raving about it.

Ultrafine ryegrass

As a result of their hardworking but ‘slower’ characteristics, fescues have thrived in environments such as links or heathland courses. But the modern, ultrafine ryegrasses are beginning to steal a march in this area too, being taken seriously in links and downland situations.

This is particularly true in high-wear areas where covers must be maintained to achieve the standards set by an increasingly competitive golf market in which quality facilities are a big draw for paying members. Modern greenkeepers now connect rye with the increasing demands placed on them, selecting ultrafine varieties for golf greens.

Rye can act as a rescue grass where cover has been lost and quick remediation is needed to promote colonisation and recovery. Its use as a longer-term solution is less clear cut though as rye requires more inputs to sustain it on a putting surface.

This is counter-productive, however, as it plays into the hands of Poa annua. BSPB greens trials for perennial ryegrass are conducted at 4 mm and above so cutting heights below this level could lead you into crown farming.

Fescue’s place in the amenity market is in landscaping environments and creating attractive golf rough and habitats. And opinions may yet come full circle due to long-term changes in maintenance philosophies related to climate change. A slow-growing grass requiring few inputs may become popular again in a more sustainably focused future. Hopefully the same can’t be said about dial-up.

Fescue grass

Germinal’s CABRIO ultra-fine ryegrass is the UK’s finest leaved perennial ryegrass, with a fineness similar to fescue. It works effectively in any situation from 3 mm and above and is available in Germinal’s A5 mixture.