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Carbon Dioxide

One of our regular readers commented:

I read various references to CO2 in fine turf literature but no explanation of its production and effect on turf propagation?

The role of CO2 in Turfgrass.

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is extremely important in producing a high performance bowling green surface. Fortunately, there is no lack of it in the atmosphere, but we still have to make sure that the plants and soil are in good health in order for them to make best use of it.
CO2 is the basic stuff of life. It is taken in by the plant through the leaf and used (with water) to make sugars (carbohydrate and starch) in the Photosynthesis process. The main by-product is Oxygen which is given off through the leaf…luckily for us!
The Carbs created are then “burned” as fuel in the plant’s metabolic processes (Respiration), or stored for later use. The Respiration process results in increased biomass and gives off CO2.
For steady growth to occur Net Assimilation Rate (food produced) must be greater than rate of Respiration (food burned). Sunlight provides the energy for Photosynthesis, so growth slows in the darker months. Temperature is also important for Respiration, so growth slows in the winter months.
Although there is an abundance of CO2, the plants can’t always access it. In hot, dry weather the plants will close down their leaf stomata (where the CO2 enters) to conserve moisture. This causes an imbalance within the plant photosynthetic tissue (green parts) and Oxygen can build up to levels that far exceed CO2. When this happens a process called Photorespiration begins which is essentially Photosynthesis using Oxygen instead of CO2 as raw material. This is a wasteful process and results in very low or no net gain in energy. Plants then start to show signs of damage and health declines.

Simply put, no CO2 = no Photosynthesis = no bowling green…or bowlers for that matter (no Oxygen!)

As an aside, this is always a very popular subject with my students. When they consider how important grass is to life on earth for the first time they are amazed. Most of the world’s human populations rely on grasses as staple foods; wheat in the west, rice in the east and of course maize. The Oxygen manufactured (discarded) by the Photosynthesis process is of course vital to our existence.
Hope this is helpful, but it’s a vast subject in itself. I aim to put up some short online courses on these fundamental aspects of turf maintenance soon on Bowls-Central.
Footnote for our readers in South Africa, Southern Europe, Southern USA and Australia and anywhere else hot; the grasses you use are typically C4 or warm season grass species’. C4 refers to the first stable product of Photosynthesis, which is a 4 carbon sugar molecule. C4 plants use a specialised form of photosynthesis that is particularly suited to warm weather and which bypasses the Photorespiration phase, allowing C4 plants to thrive in very hot temperatures. The cool season grasses that we use in the UK and more northern climes are C3 grasses where the first stable compound of Photosynthesis is a 3 carbon sugar molecule.

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