Where beauty and sustainability meet

Departments - Editor's Notebook

Industry and education meet to face environmental challenges in hopes of ensuring sustainability and plant health for the future.

February 22, 2010
Heather Tunstall

Landscape contractors know the importance of a beautiful green space. Healthy plants and aesthetic appeal help drive business and create profits. But how do you combat the increasing stresses placed on these plants through environmental and human factors?

That is exactly what Bayer Environmental Sciences and North Carolina State University aim to answer.

Partnering for the Future
Professor Tom Rufty of North Carolina State University is passionate about plants. As a result, his research team has partnered with Bayer Environmental Science during the past several years in an initiative to increase plant health and stress tolerance in maintained green spaces.

Rufty is the newly named professor of sustainable development and current director of the Center for Turfgrass Environmental Research and Education. He is also a professor of environmental plant physiology at the Department of Crop Science at NCSU. Dr. Rufty and his team have worked with Bayer to research the effects of certain chemicals on turfgrass and other plants in an effort to find practical solutions to environmental issues.

The Plant Health Initiative focuses on the consequences of population growth, industrialization and limited resources, and these factors’ effects on a sustainable environment. With the additional stress of climate change, green spaces need to have the ability to accommodate future situations and thrive in an environment 10, 20 or 100 years from now. To do that, Rufty’s team has been measuring positive and negative environmental factors to determine where plants need that little extra boost to flourish in difficult settings.

The Phytotron
The NCSU Phytotron contains 57 growth chambers and five greenhouses, used for controlled-environment research of plant health, behavior and sustainability. The official name is the Southeastern Plant Environment Laboratory (SEPEL), and is one of the largest facilities of its kind in the world. Find more information at http://www.ncsu.edu/phytotron/index.html.

Cultures of creeping bentgrass, often used on putting greens, at the NCSU Phytotron, where plants are studied to determine different chemicals’ effects on heat stress.

The Ideal Spot
Disease, heat stress and water stress are three main factors facing landscaping vegetation. “The Plant Health Initiative has been designed to determine whether we can (handle sustainability challenges) with chemical intervention,” Rufty explained at the Bayer Environmental Science Plant Health Symposium, held in Raleigh, N.C., in November. “When we talk about plant health, we are talking about a healthier plant above and below ground.”

North Carolina is an ideal location for experimenting in a variety of conditions. As the mid-point between North and South, the area allows for tests during both warm and cool weather conditions. Warm-weather grasses are placed under stress during the cooler months, and cool-weather grasses and plants are under stress during warmer periods and the effects are measured for each, giving the research team a variety of plants and situations to study.
Finding the Facts. According to Rufty, lawn care products are necessary to reduce heat and water stress and diseases.

His team has experimented with fungicides, and has found that there is increased tolerance for plants and tufgrass in stressful situations with the application of these types of chemicals.

The team has also studied issues such as tree and turfgrass carbon sequestration capability. Their research revealed that as water leaves green spaces such as parks, maintained landscaped areas or golf courses, it tends to form carbon sinks, which prove to be highly environmentally beneficial.

Through an indoor research center and 24-acre outdoor lab at NCSU, research is continuing to find the optimal methods of combating insects and environmental stresses, thereby creating the means for sustainable, healthy plants.

Bayer’s Clayton, N.C., facility is home to the majority of the research for this program. Over 50 types of cultivars are used in experiments to determine methods of sustainability under myriad stress situations..

The author is web content manager for GIE Media. Send her an e-mail at htunstall@gie.net.