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April 3, 2024

National Turf Grass Research: An Interview with Paul Harris

From managing turf grass during a drought, to when is the best time of day to irrigate, Paul Harris shares valuable insights.

Paul Harris: Research Technician at Utah State University 

I work for the Center for Water Efficient Landscaping, and that's a group within Utah State University's Plant, Soil, and Climate Department. Our main focus is water conservation in the landscape. My main role in the organization is to manage research projects as a research technician. I'm very familiar with the drought conditions in Utah. A lot of our focus is geared around mitigating drought in the landscape, so we're evaluating different plant materials, turf, grass species, and maintenance practices so we can still have an attractive landscape and conserve water. 

In my mind, I think it's the way that we can gauge drought is through our winters, our spring, the times when we're getting our precipitation. That's kind of what determines or predicts our drought conditions. We're currently working with professors from Texas A&M about varieties of turf grass that would do well here. A lot of our studies are also focused around nationwide studies, so we partner with a national turf grass evaluation program, and that allows us to test the same varieties of turf grass in dozens of locations throughout the United States.

The same studies that are being done here in Utah are also being done in Texas, New Jersey, Montana, and Oregon. Moving forward, anticipating drought is the best way to manage the landscape. We've been told forever that watering during the night is the best because it's cooler and less water is going to evaporate during the heat of the day.

We've recently conducted some research that kind of dispels that myth. We found that watering during the day doesn't waste any water unless it's under windy conditions. What we don't often realize is that we could probably use about half as much water in the landscape and still keep our grass alive during the hottest parts of the summer. I would agree with anyone in that.

There's areas in the landscape where we don't necessarily need turf, but as a society, we kind of need those green spaces. We need to be able to go someplace and throw a baseball or play fetch with the dog. We often don't think about the impact it's having on us when we plop down a lawn chair and watch a soccer game...what that turf is doing for us.

I think with public, you know, commercial areas, turf grass is a way to maintain a landscape, a way to keep weeds out, a way to kind of have something esthetically pleasing that is still fairly easy to manage.

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