The use of soil amendments to improve survival of roadside grasses

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Highway rights-of-way are routinely planted with turfgrasses to prevent erosion, filter runoff, and improve aesthetics. However, the roadside is a harsh environment, and perennial grasses often die within the first year, leading to bare ground and annual weeds, which do not prevent erosion during the winter. To improve the survival of perennial vegetation on the roadside, it is necessary to identify the factors limiting vegetation growth and then to either identify plants that can tolerate those factors or identify ways to ameliorate the stresses while still maintaining safety. This study was designed to evaluate the effects of improved cultivars, salt tolerance, and organic matter amendments on perennial grass survival along two highways in Rhode Island. The amendments tested were processed biosolids and composted yard waste, each applied in a 50:50 mixture by volume with existing roadside soil; plain soil was included as a control. We tested 20 improved turfgrass cultivars and one seed mixture with common creeping red fescue (Festuca rubra L.) as the standard. Turfgrass species tested were perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.), tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea Schreb.), red fescue, alkali grass [Puccinellia distans (Jacq.) Parl.], idaho bentgrass (Agrostis idahoensis Nash), tufted hairgrass [Deschampsia cespitosa (L.) P. Beauv.], and kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis L.). We found that soil amendment was more effective than either improved genetics or salt tolerance. Establishment, vertical growth, and persistence of vegetation cover were significantly improved by amendment with organic matter, particularly biosolids. In Summer 2009 (the second growing season), turf cover exceeded 50% in the biosolids plots but was below 20% in the plain soil plots with complete loss of cover in the plain soil plots at one location. Kentucky bluegrass, tall fescue, red fescue, and idaho bentgrass showed the best persistence at the species level, and there were no consistent differences among cultivars.

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