Plant Growth Retardants Used in Turfgrass Management

Bert McCarty

To download the 2014 Pest Control Guidelines for Plant Growth Retardants Used in Turfgrass Management, please click here.  (136 KB, PDF)

Plant growth retardants (PGR's) or inhibitors are increasingly being used to suppress seedheads and leaf growth due to rising mowing costs and danger posed to operators and other personnel.  Traditionally, plant growth retardants have been used in the South to suppress bahiagrass (Paspalum notatum Flugge.) or tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea) seedhead production exclusively in low maintenance areas such as highway roadsides, airports, and golf course roughs.  However, in recent years, new chemicals which may be used in higher maintained commercial turf situations have been developed.

Several undesirable characteristics which have been associated with growth retardants include:  phytotoxicity (burn) of treated leaves from 4 to 6 weeks following applications; reduced recuperative potential from physical damage to treated turf; and increased weed pressure due to reduced competition from treated turf.  Normally, growth retardants are used in low maintenance areas; therefore, these undesirable characteristics do not pose a problem to most managers.  However, several growth regulatory materials have recently been developed for use on hybrid bermudagrass fairways and St. Augustinegrass.  Vertical topgrowth (clippings) is suppressed, but horizontal spread (runners) is not.  Therefore, turf recovery from golf club divots and other injuries occurs while topgrowth remains suppressed.  Other uses involve areas where mowing has been discontinued due to heavy rains, equipment failure, etc., but topgrowth remains suppressed if the grass is treated.  Note:  These retardants used on hybrid bermudagrass and St. Augustinegrass do not satisfactorily suppress seedhead development.

PGRs are separated into two groups, Type I and Type II, based on their method of growth inhibition or suppression.  Type I inhibitors are primarily absorbed through the foliage and inhibit cell division and differentiation in meristematic regions.  They are inhibitors of vegetative growth and interfere with seedhead development.  Their growth inhibition is rapid, occurring within 4 to 10 days, and lasts 3 to 4 weeks, depending on application rate.  Mefluidide, chlorflurenol, and maleic hydrazide are examples of Type I inhibitors that inhibit mitosis in growth and development.  Other Type I PGRs that inhibit plant growth and development through interruption of amino acid or organic acid biosynthesis are herbicides used at low rates.  Being herbicides, their margin of safety is narrow and are very rate dependent.  Examples of Type I herbicide regulators include glyphosate, imidazolinones, sulfonylureas, sethoxydim, and fluazifop. 
Table 1.  Characteristics of Plant Growth Regulators Used in Fine Turf
. (33 KB, PDF)

Type II inhibitors are generally root absorbed and suppress growth through interference of gibberellic acid bio-synthesis, a hormone responsible for cell elongation.  Type II PGRs are slower in growth suppression response, but their duration is usually from 4 to 7 weeks, again, depending on application rate.  Type II PGRs have little effect on seedhead development and result in miniature plants.  Paclobutrazol and flurprimidol are root absorbed Type II PGRS while trinexapac-ethyl is a foliar absorbed Type II PGR and is systemically translocated to the site of activity.  Fenarimol is a type II fungicide that also suppresses annual bluegrass on putting greens.

Proxy 2L is a PGR with best activity on cool-season grasses.  It promotes ethylene production in plants which is a regulatory hormone that restricts plant growth.  Root absorbed PGRs are activated by irrigation or rainfall after application and have less likelihood of over-lap leaf burn. Foliar absorbed materials (e.g., mefluidide, MH, and trinexapac-ethyl) require uniform and complete coverage for uniform response and must be leaf absorbed before irrigation or rainfall occurs.  Usually low gallonage is used for foliar absorbed materials to minimize runoff from the leaf surface while high gallonage is used for root absorbed materials.

Timing of application for seedhead suppression is somewhat important.  Applications made after seedhead emergence may not be effective. For bahiagrass, mow the area as seedheads initially emerge (usually in late May to early June) to knock down these and weeds present.  Begin plant growth retardant treatment about two weeks following mowing or just prior to new seedhead appearance.  Additional applications 6 to 8 weeks later may be required if new seedheads begin to emerge.  A complete weed control program must accompany any plant growth retardant use.  Typically, annual broadleaf weeds will become established in PGR use areas as the treated grass is not actively growing, therefore, is not providing its usual competition.  Normally, 2,4-D and/or dicamba is included in this broadleaf weed control.  Other postemergence herbicides such as Velpar, for grass weed control, may also be incorporated in low maintenance bahiagrass areas.  The following tables list chemicals, application rates, and general remarks about each product used to suppress plant growth.

Table 2.  Chemicals for Seedhead and Plant Growth Suppression. (42 KB, PDF)
Table 3.  Specialty Use Herbicide and PGR Common Trade Names. (72 KB, PDF)

An available plant growth promoter is RyzUp from Abbott Laboratories.  RyzUp is gibberellic acid which encourages cell division and elongation.  When used, RyzUp helps initiate or maintain growth and prevent color changes (e.g., purpling) during periods of cold stress and light frosts on bermudagrass such as Tifdwarf and Tifgreen.  Oftentimes, fall golf tournaments may experience an early light frost before the overseeding has become established.  RyzUp helps the turf recover from this discoloration.  PGRIV from MicroFlo is a combination of gibberellic acid and indolebutyric acid that is foliar absorbed.  Research suggests this combination promotes root growth and vigor of certain plants growing under stressful conditions. Gibberellic acid containing PGRs also are used to “reverse” the inhibitory effects of Type II PGRs.

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