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Grass Identification

Turfgrass Physiology; an introduction

Over the next few posts we will look at some of the magic that occurs within that green square just outside the clubhouse window. Today I’d like to introduce you to turfgrass physiology

Plant food.

Now, if you’ve been down the garden centre or you’ve been watching the gardening programs on the telly, you will be familiar with the concept of plant food, but what we usually think of as plant food is in fact fertiliser  and plants, including the grass plants on our bowling greens…don’t eat fertiliser. There, I’ve said it!

In my introduction to bowling green ecology (now a free eBook) I explained some of the miraculous things that go on within the turf and soil, but these are but nothing compared to the stuff that goes on within the grass plants themselves.

If not fertiliser, then what do grass plants eat? And if they don’t eat fertiliser, then why do we continue to spend money on it?

The fact is that the grass plants on your bowling green make all of their own food in a process called Photosynthesis.

What is Photosynthesis?

The word Photosynthesis is derived from a combination of two Greek words; Photo, meaning light, and Synthesis, which means to put things together (in this context more precisely it describes the production of chemical compounds by reaction from simpler materials). Photosynthesis is the plant based miracle that guarantees our own existence as well as that of the bowling green.

Each of the grass plants in our green is akin to a little factory where Carbon Dioxide and Water are broken down and converted to a sugar based plant food that can be used immediately to fuel the plant’s growth processes or converted to starch and stored throughout the plant for future use. The energy required for this to take place comes from Sunlight (hence the Photo part of the name) which the plant traps and harnesses in the green tissues. It’s interesting to note that plants get their apparent green colour from the fact that they don’t use the green portion of the light spectrum. instead they refllect it back, giving them their green appearance.

In a fortuitous twist the photosynthetic process creates a waste product called Oxygen, otherwise there could be lots of bowler-less bowling greens:-)

We will look at Photosynthesis in more depth as we go through this short series on plant physiology, but for now here is the basic formula for photosynthesis:

Carbon Dioxide + Water + Light —-> Sugar + Oxygen

Simply put, the plant absorbs Carbon Dioxide gas from the air through the leaf and converts it to a sugar based plant food using Water, which it takes up through the roots, in the presence of sunlight energy.

Why do we use Fertiliser then?

Plants need a series of essential nutrients to fuel a range of metabolic processes and to build specialised tissue. They get these nutrients directly from the soil in the solution they take up through the roots. In a perfectly balanced eco-system there would be no need for us to help out by adding fertiliser to the soil, but since we routinely take away the grass clippings (which would naturally be re-cycled to re-introduce nutrients to the soil) we need to supplement some nutrients, especially Nitrogen which is depleted most rapidly by clipping removal. Later, we’ll investigate these processes further.

Next time we’ll find out what the plant does with all of the food it produces.

Photo Credit: .tungl via Compfight cc

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