Painting turf has been
around for a long time, and it has some economic and conservation pluses that give it added relevance today. If you want your
winter turf to look nice without the expense and energy required to
overseed it, painting it green is an excellent option.
Spot-painting can also hide diseased, worn or damaged
turf. It’s a means of making brown grass look fresh and alive in many
situations, and is being employed widely throughout the southern tier of
the United States. Grady Miller, professor and cooperative extension turf
specialist at North Carolina State University, says that using turf
colorants or dyes can also hide the effects of drought. He has looked at
turf paints for years, primarily for sports turf, and found it to be useful
in a lot of situations.
|Photos Courtesy of Pioneer Mfg. unless otherwise noted.
|Many normal golf course boom sprayers can be employed to spray paint colorants.
“There are people who use them to hide blemished
turf, diseased turf and some types of fertilizer or chemical burns,”
Miller says. They can also be utilized to spray high-wear areas on a sports
field or golf course, averting the need to come in and replant turf, in
some cases. It’s an aesthetic measure that makes the area look good
and gives the turf time to regrow. He says it can hide winter dormancy as
well as mask the effects of a summer drought. He has tested it on hybrid
bermudagrass, but it can also be used on other grass types. For example, a
tall fescue lawn or park grass in the north could be painted if it turned
color during hot weather and a scheduled event called for pretty, uniform
It’s primary use is on dormant warm-season
grasses across the South. Miller has seen it used extensively on golf
courses in the Southeast. “You can get a green color without any
inputs,” he says, meaning that without the extensive cost and
scheduling required for overseeding, a uniform and pleasing green color
can be achieved.
There are some other benefits of painting versus
overseeding, Miller says. The extensive irrigation and fertility
requirements for overseeding will not be necessary, and this is
particularly attractive in an era when water availability and cost may be
Another major benefit, easier spring transition, may
accrue in some areas. Miller says that when dormant bermudagrass is sprayed
and kept green into the spring, it absorbs the sun’s heat better than
dormant, brown turf. That grass will often come out of dormancy early and
speed the spring transition out of cool-season grasses. He says he knows of
some golf course superintendents who will paint some of their turf just to
achieve this effect.
|Photo Courtesy of Scott Brinton.
|Most superintendents utilize rotor-type paint sprayers to paint small areas
such as greens.
However, you can’t just go down to the hardware
store and buy a can of turf paint. These paints are specially formulated
latex-type paints. They are water-based, but they do not contain some of
the elements potentially toxic to organisms that normal house paints might
have in them. George Sajner, technical director for Pioneer Athletic, which
makes Match Play Turf Colorant, says each company has its own proprietary
formulation. This company’s paint is based on a latex formulation and
is not harmful to turf. In fact, the company worked with Grady Miller five
years ago to develop and test it.
Sajner says that his product is sold as a concentrate
and is thinned with water, usually to a 9:1 ratio of water to colorant,
though turf managers vary the strength for their individual purposes. At a
9:1 consistency, the colorant is about like water and can be sprayed by
hand or machine sprayers, including the normal tractor-mounted pesticide or
fertilizer sprayers owned by a golf course or athletic facility. Boom
sprayers on a tractor could apply the paint at about the same rate as
insecticides are applied, and in warm weather it dries in about one hour.
“Once it dries, it won’t rub back off onto
clothing,” Sajner says, which is an important feature on athletic
fields and parks. Match Play Turf Colorant is sold in 5-gallon containers
and is usually mixed in a 50-gallon drum or in the boom tank itself. He
notes that two applications may be needed to carry dormant turf through the
winter, depending on how long the winter is; whether warm weather causes
regrowth; and how much wear and tear the painted turf gets.
Usually, a golf course will only paint its greens,
Sajner says, but last year, two entire golf courses in South
Carolina—greens, fairways and tees—were painted in lieu of
overseeding. That can be expensive, because this paint isn’t cheap.
He says it usually takes about 50 gallons of concentrate to cover a typical
golf course’s greens and tees, but it still might be less expensive
“It’s been most successful in the
Southeast,” Sajner says, and that is in lieu of overseeding. However,
he says that bermudagrass now is being grown on fields as far north as
Indiana, so the application is expanding. He notes that in the five years
since development, Match Play Turf Colorant has expanded sales every year.
The company makes three colors: one for bermudagrass, one for perennial rye
and one a very dark color for ultra-dwarf turf. Another factor in this is
that sports fields of any kind, including high school and college fields,
have become much more image-conscious in recent years. That means that
brown turf or wear spots are often not tolerated. On golf courses, the
paint can be used to color the sand and seed divot mix green before
In Louisiana, a new company called Terra Tints, Inc.
started up based on the perception of its owner that turf painting is
indeed an up-and-coming tool for the turf manager’s. Nick Simoneaux
is president of the Louisiana Turfgrass Association, as well as the owner
of Terra Tints, and he sees widespread application for all of the reasons
“Down here in Louisiana, where bermudagrass goes
dormant, I see a big use for it,” says Simoneaux, who also owns a
landscaping and lawn maintenance business. He is the distributor for a
paint manufacturer, and has seen enthusiasm for turf paint.
There are some drawbacks or limitations to turf
colorants. One is that there is the mixing and cleanup with which to
contend. Another is that if turf goes dormant and the weather warms up,
grass can come back and grow out of its paint, which means that it will
have to be painted again.
This can be costly, says USGA Green Section director
for the Southeast region, Patrick O’Brien. It is fairly common for
superintendents he knows to put on two or three coats, especially when warm
weather causes growth—and subsequent mowing removes the paint. Still,
he says when other elements are factored in, it can be easier and cheaper
in the long run to paint greens than to overseed them. It is a major use of
|When spraying fairways or other large areas, a pesticide boom sprayer can be efficient.
“There is going to be that savings on water,
fertilizer and pesticide,” O’Brien says, and that is why he is
seeing more and more painting of greens in the Southeast. In fact, he is
seeing more tees being painted, too. It is still rare, however, to see a
superintendent painting a fairway green.
Quality of play can be as good as, or better, with
painting, he notes, especially if there is a problem with the overseeding
process. “It’s easier to read the putts when it’s green
than when it’s brown,” he points out. He predicts that as the
ultra-dwarf hybrid bermudas—Champion, TifEagle and
Mini-Verde—become more popular planting choices, painting will become
O’Brien notes that there are several good
manufacturers of turf colorants, and he hasn’t heard of any brand
that doesn’t perform. Some greens may turn a blue-green color over
time, but nobody knows why that happens and it is only an aesthetic issue.
The paints are “totally safe,” and he estimates that 80 to 90
percent of superintendents in the Southeast now choose to paint their
hybrid bermuda greens rather than overseed.
He does have one caution about sprayers. He has
noticed that most superintendents have gone to rotor-type paint sprayers
rather than using diaphragm sprayers for small jobs such as greens. The
paint sprayers are better suited for the job than are the normal
horticultural sprayers found on golf courses, at least for small areas. He
predicts that as turf managers become more proficient with their turf paint
guns they will begin putting on stripes to simulate mowing patterns and
other aesthetic touches.
Don Dale is a freelance writer and a frequent
contributor. He resides in Altadena, Calif.
Turf Paint Sources
Cleary Chemical Corp.
Forestry Suppliers, Inc.
Missouri Turf Paint
SeaSafe Turf Products
Terra Tints, Inc.