Endophyte-Enhanced turfgrass

Endophytes help lawn grass resist insect damage

By: Sandy Feather ©2010
Penn State Extension

Q. I read somewhere that endophyte-enhanced turfgrasses are superior to other types of grass. What exactly are endophytes? And where can I buy the grass seed?

A. Endophytes are fungi that infect turfgrass plants. Unlike disease-causing fungi, though, they do not harm the grass. Instead, endophytes make it either unpalatable or poisonous to surface feeding insects such as chinch bugs, sod webworms and billbugs. Endophytes also seem to improve turf’s ability to tolerate summer stress. (Our cool season turfgrass varieties are generally more stressed by summer heat than by winter cold.)  

Studies show that endophyte-enhanced varieties are not as severely damaged by summer heat and drought, and that they recover more quickly in the fall. In addition, there is evidence that certain endophytes increase grasses’ resistance to common diseases such as dollar spot and red thread.

Red thread lawn disease

Whether you are starting a new lawn from scratch or renovating an established lawn, it is a good idea to use endophyte-enhanced turfgrass varieties.  Any time you can choose a plant with built-in insect- or disease-resistance, you reduce the need for pesticide applications in your landscape. This saves time and money in the long run, and is environmentally friendly.


CAUTION around livestock!

The only caution is that endophyte-enhanced grasses should never be used if there is a possibility of livestock grazing there; it makes them seriously ill. Although cats and dogs may eat some grass, the amount they consume is much less than a horse or a cow would, and it does not seem to be a problem for them. According to Sandra Yi, Assistant Professor of Toxicology at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign College of Veterinary Medicine, she has never personally heard of problems in cats and dogs due to endophyte-enhanced grasses. She graciously posed the question to colleagues at the university’s poison control center and to a global veterinary toxicology on-line group she belongs to, and they had never seen any cases, either. (She does caution that small animal practitioners would not necessarily be familiar with endophyte toxicity, and that other endophytic organisms have been known to cause problems in companion animals).

Endophyte-enhanced grasses make livestock ill

Endophytes occur in perennial ryegrass, turf-type tall fescue, Chewings fescue, hard fescue and creeping red fescue. Efforts to produce endophyte-enhanced Kentucky bluegrass and creeping bentgrass have not been successful to date.

Where to find this seed

Check with your favorite garden center to see if they stock endophyte-enhanced varieties. If you are looking for large quantities of seed, commercial turf suppliers are your best bet for finding new, improved turfgrass cultivars. However, they generally will not sell less than fifty-pound bags of seed. Some local commercial turf supply companies include Allegheny Lawn & Golf Products, E.H. Griffith, Krigger & Company, and Lesco.

Seeding rate

As a rule of thumb, perennial rye, Chewings fescue, hard fescue and creeping red fescue are sown at three to four pounds per thousand square feet for starting a new lawn from scratch, or one to two pounds for overseeding an existing lawn. Turf-type tall fescue seeds are large and should be seeded at six to eight pounds per thousand square feet for a new lawn, or three to four pounds for overseeding.

Reading the Seed label

Read the seed tag and make sure you are buying seed from the current year’s crop. Endophytes are living organisms and can lose viability if the seed is not stored correctly. Under the best storage conditions, endophytes can remain viable for 15 months.

Varieties of endophyte enhanced grasses

Some popular named varieties of endophyte-enhanced grasses include:

  • Perennial Ryegrass: Manhattan 4, Palmer III, Pennant II, Pinnacle II, Seville II

  • Turf Type Tall Fescue: Constitution, Justice, Mustang 4, Rebel Sentry, Tuxedo

  • Chewings Fescue: Jamestown II, Shadow II, Treasure

  • Creeping Red Fescue: Jasper II

This is very partial list, given the numerous cultivars (named varieties) of different grass species. For an exhaustive search of grass varieties visit the National Turfgrass Evaluation Program website.


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