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MnDOT, ‘U Of M’ Create Salt-Resistant Grass

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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — What’s being done inside a St. Paul greenhouse could change the view outside Minnesotan’s car windows — forever.

It’s hard to miss the brown grass on Minnesota’s roadsides come spring time. It happens because of all the salt used on our roads during the winter.

In 2009, Minnesota’s Department of Transportation (MnDOT) approached the University of Minnesota’s Department of Horticultural Science with the problem. So, with the help of a $175,000 research grant, a group of grad students are developing salt-resistant grass.

While watching grass may not sound like fun to you, Josh Friell devotes hours to it every day.

Friell’s work could save the state substantial money that’s currently used on replanting. It’s no secret, salt used to keep Minnesota’s roads safe often makes for ugly grass.

“It’s very sparse. Often times after winter, if it can’t tolerate the salt. It just turns brown,” Friell said.

New varieties and mixes of seeds feeding the grass is part of the solution. Another part comes in the form of salt-tolerant turf.

Already, the team has discovered turf mixes that work better than the ones currently used.

“Primarily, it needs to be salt tolerant. In addition for that, we look for something that’s drought tolerant, because we’re not watering roadsides,” Friell said.

By varying salt levels, a winner was revealed. A type of grass named “fine fescue” has so far proven most tolerant.

MnDOT hopes to have the mixes planted on roadsides in about two years.

The research team says the solutions they find could also help homeowners.

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