After 11 years in research, Sola™ St. Augustinegrass was released from North Carolina State University’s Turfgrass Breeding and Genetics program in August 2022. Now, a Sola Field Day will be held at Oakland Plantation Turf Farm in Council, NC on June 14 from 8-10:30 a.m. to showcase the new turfgrass variety. The event is for any prospective sod producers that are interested in learning more about Sola and hearing from the breeder of Sola, Dr. Susana Milla-Lewis of NC State. Attendees will also get to see a production field that was planted in June 2022 as well as a demonstration of harvesting and sprigging.
Quality Turf Observations of Sola
Al Wooten, the owner of Quality Turf in Burgaw, NC, has been looking at Sola for the past eight years as it progressed in turfgrass research trials. Three years ago, NC State selected Sola as one of four turfgrass lines selected for Breeder expansion. At that time Quality Turf installed four blocks of 10x20ft for harvest trials. Two summers ago they expanded those blocks to plant 6,500 sq. ft. of Sola. Last summer Quality harvested that Sola and a Foundation block was planted at Oakland Plantation and the rest was planted into a Foundation block a little over an acre in size at Quality Turf.
“Sola made it through the winter fine. It’s looking and growing good. I’m hoping to expand on that probably in the next month or so to have it ready by mid-summer. In July, if there’s anybody wanting to plant St. Augustine, there will be some of it available for other farms to start taking it on,” Wooten said.
Wooten has already tilled a new field and made plans to gas it by mid-May to expand the Breeder’s block out to 2-3 acres of Sola.
When it came to choosing Sola over other grasses available on the market, Wooten shared that it always stood out compared to others. “It always made it through winter very well and it greened up,” he said. “The two big things it showed improvements on (compared to other varieties in research trials) were chinch bugs and gray leaf spot disease. Research has shown that compared to other St. Augustinegrasses, Sola shows improvements in shade and cold tolerance.”
He was impressed it didn’t have as much of an issue with gray leaf spot compared to other lines, even throughout wet spells and humid weather.
“There are places where St. Augustine is the go-to grass for salt and shade tolerance but a drawback has been gray leaf spot and chinch bugs, but with the improvement I saw in Sola, it is going to be a game changer for St. Augustines,” Wooten said.
“During the bigger research trials (of different St. Augustine lines) we’d planted on a sandy hill that tended to be fairly dry. We had irrigation but we wanted to see if these lines were drought-tolerant. Chinch bugs descended on that hill and totally killed a lot of the entries. Sola was one of the ones that survived it,” he recalled. “There was even a block two trials over from Sola that was completely destroyed, but it was not.”
He also shared that Sola has survived numerous winters at an NC State research farm located in Jackson Springs, in the mountains.
In comparison to Raleigh, he said Sola’s appearance and texture are very similar.
“They seem to think it’s got better shade and cold tolerance than Raleigh. We also compared Sola’s sod strength to Raleigh. We took the final four entries in Susana’s program (NC State Turfgrass Research) that had been growing side-by-side and cared for exactly the same. We tested 16×24-inch slabs and Raleigh was taking about 50 lbs on a scale to pull it apart where Sola went almost to 150 lbs.”
“That’s something sod producers get really excited about. That and the fact that it grows in really quickly,” he added.
Wooten encourages producers interested in St. Augustinegrasses that are showing improvements in the real world to attend the field day to take a look at Sola.
Oakland Turfgrass Observations of Sola
Oakland Plantation planted the Breeder material from Quality Turf on their farm at the end of June 2022. Their Foundation block is now a little over 2 acres.
Rick Neisler, president of Oakland Plantation has been involved in the breeding program at NC State and throughout the research and development of this grass. He has noticed differences in Sola to other St. Augustinegrasses and is excited about its potential.
The origin point of Raleigh St. Augustine is traced back to Oakland Plantation from the 1980s and they have also grown Palmetto® St. Augustine since 1999. Neisler said it takes years for a St. Augustine to take shape but that Sola has been very impressive in such a short period of time. Oakland had a late frost this spring and he said it jumped right back to where you wouldn’t have even noticed.
“It’s a lot more aggressive. Sola seems to respond well to everything we’re doing to it and with the knowledge we’ve had, we like the looks of it. We’re growing it in a perfect environment with full sun, great soil, pivot irrigation and we’ve got professionals maintaining it. It’s looking really good. We’re hoping when it gets to the market it will perform in less desirable locations and do well since it does really well here,” Neisler shared.
He also complimented Sola’s rate of growth and thinks it will also play out well in a residential environment given its performance at the farm.
“When you’re looking at a new grass, I’ve always wanted first-hand experience and to see with my own eyes how it performs over time. And as far as St. Augustines go, from what I’ve seen so far I’m excited about it,” Neisler said. “Everybody has to make their own decision and I think it goes back to looking at the field and knowing the history of the grass. If they’re serious about a new variety of St. Augustinegrass we’re going to try to show it off in June.”
The schedule of the Sola Field Day on June 14 is as follows:
- 8:00 to 8:30 a.m.: Gather and assemble
- 8:30 to 9:00 a.m.: Presentation by Dr. Susana Milla-Lewis
- 9:00 to 9:30 a.m.: Field Tour of Oakland and Q&A
- 9:30 to 10:30 a.m.: Demonstration of harvest and sprigging
To RSVP, click here.