Colorants 2018 Forever Green

Features - Research

August 14, 2018

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Green With Envy

Superintendents are tapping into the world of colorants to not only green up turf but as an important resource and labor-saving tool.

Colorants continue to prove their value and remain a vital agronomic tool to those superintendents who are using them and continue to influence those who aren’t of their value. Turf colorants have become a vital tool in the golf course superintendent’s ever-expanding toolbox. And beyond better defined playing surfaces, when you consider the other advantages they bring to the table, it’s easy to see why there’s been an uptick in use over recent years.

When, where and how to apply colorants is a topic of conversation among superintendents and researchers.
© photos courtesy of trent bouts and John Kaminski

Turf colorants have been a hot topic this year as courses experiment with “liquid overseeding” or try to present more consistent color in the off-season. Please let us know if you’re using colorants at all and, if so, your opinions about the products that are out there and how you use them.

In addition, university research points to seasonal benefits to adopting colorant use in addition to rapid green up. Some studies point to colorants’ ability to reduce light stress as beneficial to alleviating summer stress, while their ability to warm turf may ward off some winter damage.

In a continuing partnership with BASF, GCI editors surveyed readers on this topic. The 2018 research was very similar to research conducted a few years prior in 2014. The goal was to track and determine whether the recent findings would continue to support the data we collected in 2014.

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Sea of green

BASF senior project manager Jeff Vannoy weighs in on establishing a successful colorant program for turf, as well as strategies for getting the most out of the agronomic product.

GCI: It’s interesting to compare the recent colorant research we conducted together with the study we completed in 2014. The data points to an increase in colorant use and spending among golf course superintendents. What are some factors that may account for this trend?

Jeff Vannoy: I think it’s a couple of things. One, the cost of water and the movement of sustainability in golf is creating a force in which a lot of clubs don’t want to spend the time and the money for the water involved in growing in new seed each fall for overseeding. The other factor is in the springtime transitioning out of overseeding can be a nightmare. If the timing is not right, your ryegrass can be dead or your Bermudagrass hasn’t greened up. There’s just a general worry among superintendents with the spring green-up. It can be pretty cost effective to utilize paint for fairways, so I think when you do the math between the two, the clubs look at it and say, ‘We can have nice looking fairways and tees and at the same time, we can maybe save ourselves some money over overseeding.’”

Turf aesthetics continue to be the top reason to incorporate colorants into your turf management strategy – whether it’s to mask discoloration or boost appearances for events and tournaments. However, have the plant health benefits of incorporating colorants begun to gain momentum with turf managers?

JV: I think the jury is still out on that. There are certainly bodies of research about colorant materials and plant health. But I would say from a BASF standpoint our focus on plant health is more in the area of specific fungicide research and not with colorants. I can’t say that we have pursued that ourselves, so I can’t comment beyond that. I think amongst our family of Intrinsic brand fungicides there’s definitely been a recognition based on a lot of research that we have done that they have plant health effects. Colorants … I think the jury is still out on that one.

The majority of turf managers indicate fall is the season when they are most likely to apply colorants. However, 15 percent indicate they apply on an as-needed basis. Is one strategy more sound over the other?

JV: You have two basic camps. One camp is that you put out some colorant ahead of the first frost and early enough where you can start building up that pigment on the turf. That’s one camp. The other camp, which is becoming increasingly popular, is treating after the first frost when they’re deeper into dormancy. Colorants are a lot of art and science, but a lot of art. So, every superintendent finds the unique approach for his course with the timing and why things work a certain way. As far as when they are actually going to apply, you are going to see more or less time between applications depending on how the winter has been. That’s going to affect when you need to reapply colorants.

Superintendents say a product’s ability to hold its color for a long time is what’s most important when they purchase colorants. Can you offer any tips on how they can get better performance from their colorants, perhaps during application?

JV: Some of the basics still apply. Use full-rate applications. What we find is that if you get those full rates out early, you tend to get ahead of the season and the winter a little bit better. Make sure that your calibration is correct and you’re getting the right rates out when you put out those colorants. Beyond that make sure you understand the different pigment combinations with whatever product you are using because not all products are created equal.

An interesting tidbit from the research, superintendents ranked product packaging very low with regard to importance. However, when asked how colorants could be improved, many weighed in that they wished there was a better, less messy way to mix and load the products into a sprayer. Any tips you can offer on how they can better utilize the existing packaging design to more efficiently use the product?

JV: We have packaging anywhere from a quart and now we’re introducing 250-gallon totes for the very big users. One of the things that we are aware of – and we’re doing some packaging research right now – is the concept of being able to meter-out the colorant in a less messy away. Whatever these colorants are going to touch are going to be there for a little while, especially clothing, shoes, things like that. We would agree that there’s a lot of packaging innovation that can come the next few years in the colorant area. I don’t have any strong solution for the challenge today, but I think it’s an area where things are going to be evolving as time goes on.

What’s in the pipeline for turf colorants? What types of innovations can turf managers expect in the coming years?

JV: The beauty is all in the eye of the beholder. If you line up 10 people looking at a fairway, depending where the light is at, where they are standing and the time of day, you are going to see a different color. It’s very subjective. We are always going to be paying attention to the color ratio and mix ratio in a formulation. But I think more important than that is going to be the residual control of a colorant. We would like to see a day when you can put an application out in October and it holds to March. I think if you look at across the aisle to home paints and industrial type paints … we paint things on non-living surfaces. We paint bridges and now they last 30 to 40 years. We think the technology is out there to provide a longer residual control. Our efforts are going to be in that area. With the cost of labor and the complexity of finding good labor to be able to do things such as spraying, which is a high-level skill on the golf course, we think the future is going to be the superintendent finding things that are going to require less labor. So, if we can innovate the residuality of the colorant, we think that’s going to be a winning combination.

What recommendations can you make to get the most out of your colorant use?

JV: The biggest thing to watch out for is going at too low rates. Once you get behind it and once the dormancy hits, it gets harder and harder to catch up. To start the season, make sure to use high enough rates of the product of choice and ask questions about what the pigment concentration is in the product that you are using. Different concentrations cost more to make, so you might be putting out a product that’s a higher cost per gallon but you don’t have to put as much out because the concentration is such. Watch those rates. It’s kind of a wait-and-see thing after you put it out to see how long it will last. And don’t let the color fade out too much before you get to the next application.”


Compare the data and it’s evident that superintendents are relying more on colorants as a key instrument in their agronomic tool chest. According to recent GCI research data, colorant use has increased nearly 10 percent since 2014, and spending has increased by more than half since 2014.

Swiss Army Green

Traditionally, colorants have been vital to conceal and cover up course blemishes and maintain player expectations and course satisfaction. However, in recent years, colorants have proven to bring additional benefits and uses when overseeding, managing water/irrigation restriction and as a significant labor-saving tool.