ST. PAUL, Minn. -- We had barely wrapped up an interview with Assistant State Climatologist Pete Boulay when we noticed a maintenance worker not 20 feet away, setting up a sprinkler on the U of M's St. Paul campus. The grass was lush and green after a summer's worth of irrigation.
"We're well below normal. We have received very little precipitation in the Twin Cities in the past month and a half or so. We're running out of time here to recharge the soils," Boulay explained. Parts of Minnesota remained in an extreme drought, while parts of the metro were reporting moderate to severe drought conditions.
The next building over, Dr. Eric Watkins was finishing up some research on his computer, before heading out to a plot of lawn he's been working on for more than a half a decade. "This is fine fescue, you can kind of see there's a leaf texture difference," he said, comparing it to some nearby rye grass.
That lush and green fine fescue, Watkins explained, had only been watered once all summer long. After an extremely dry summer, it was thriving. The U is part of a $2 million 5 year study that is looking into developing the fine fescue into a more common, more economical, home lawn grass. "It could be a significant amount of money especially if you think about water costs during the summer; if you think about fertilizer costs or pesticide costs, things like that," Dr. Watkins said.
The goal could be to make the fine fescue seed more readily available to consumers, especially in areas with temperature extremes like Minnesota's. The challenge will be to find a formula that makes the grass more resistant to snow mold, high traffic, and extremely high heat.
"Some of the fine fescue seed is a little bit more expensive that what you might buy otherwise, but in the long run, really, it's a huge savings," Watkins concluded.
Oh, we forgot to mention, the fine fescue is a slower grower, so you would only need to mow half as much as you would with a typical lawn.
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