North Carolina State University’s Turfgrass Breeding and Genetics program, under the direction of Dr. Susana Milla-Lewis, has released Lobo Zoysiagrass — experimental name XZ 14069. Researchers selected Lobo from hundreds of nursery mates for its unusual combination of aggressive establishment and stress tolerance. These traits were later confirmed by six years of multi-location trials under low input conditions.
Lobo Zoysia will be exclusively licensed through Sod Solutions for commercial production and marketing. This marks NC State’s first warm-season turfgrass cultivar release from Milla-Lewis’s breeding program that started in 2009.
Lobo is unique because it is fast to establish, drought-tolerant, and maintains good color and quality under very low inputs.
“This medium-fine zoysiagrass cultivar is simultaneously well adapted for infrequently managed areas like golf course roughs, roadsides and airport in-fields but also for higher-end uses like home lawns, commercial landscapes and golf course fairways where aesthetics are equally important as maintenance. It’s truly a unicorn,” Milla-Lewis said.
Lobo Zoysia has been a consistent top performer in roadside trials by the North Carolina Department of Transportation and also a National Turfgrass Evaluation Program (NTEP) specialty trial. These PGA-funded NTEP trials are currently conducted at eight sites from Florida to New Mexico. The trials are highly competitive and include other warm-season grass species like Bermudagrass and Buffalograss, known for their superior drought tolerance. Lobo repeatedly received top performance marks at these climatically diverse locations.
“Zoysiagrass is frequently grown in the southeastern U.S. but minimally in the West,” Milla-Lewis said. “This line shows the broader possibility of zoysiagrass use, especially in areas with significant drought stress or water restrictions.”
Select N.C. sod producers, Sod Solutions, and the North Carolina Sod Producers Association (NCSPA) helped support the development of Lobo by teaming up to form Turf Research North Carolina (TRNC) in 2016. Growers made financial contributions over a six-year period to fund research and development of Lobo and other materials yet to come out of the program. All NCSPA participating growers contributing to the program will have exclusive access to the grasses when they are released.
Several of these sod growers hosted 200 square feet trial blocks of Lobo with impressive establishment results. One grower noted that stolons had already rooted at five points only three days after planting.
Lobo Zoysia production will be certified by the North Carolina Crop Improvement Association to ensure the purity of this genetically unique turfgrass. Participating sod farms are steadily increasing the production of Lobo and limited amounts of this zoysiagrass will be available for purchase in summer 2022.
“Dr. Milla-Lewis is one of the top breeders internationally,” Sod Solutions president Tobey Wagner said. “There was no hesitation to help support her program. We think Lobo will be one of the most versatile grasses on the market because of its many improved qualities but also because it will be one of the easiest cultivars out there to maintain with minimal upkeep.”
Milla-Lewis’s turfgrass breeding program focuses on drought-tolerant warm-season species and tall fescue. She said she expects to release a new St. Augustinegrass cultivar in 2022.
“CALS takes great pride in our plant breeding program, which has a rich history of plant improvements that benefit stakeholders around our state, nation and world,” said Steve Lommel, the associate dean of research at the NC State College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “The release of Lobo provides a zoysiagrass cultivar with new and improved traits for home, commercial and recreational applications in a green industry intent on sustainability.”