Turfgrass is one of the most widely used grasses in the United States; it covers approximately 46.5 million acres and is commonly found on golf courses. A significant volume of water is required for turfgrass to remain lush and healthy. In many cases, golf course superintendents operate within the terms of consumptive use permits that regulate the amount of water that can be used each day to maintain facilities (Shaddox, 2004). This has required managers to maintain quality turf with limited water supplies.
One strategy that balances the quality of turfgrass with available water supplies is soil modification. Essentially, fertilizers (i.e. soil amendments) are used to increase plant available water, promote cation exchange capacity, and enhance nutrient availability (Shaddox, 2004). A challenge associated with soil amendments are threats to surface and groundwater quality due to the leaching loss of nitrate, ammonium, and phosphate. A significant number of studies have examined challenges related to water availability and leaching, and many report on the ways zeolite can be used to remedy these issues.
Macolino and Zanin (2014) conducted a field study to evaluate the effectiveness of zeolite-containing fertilizer in reducing nutrient leaching in sodded turfgrass. The researchers sodded eighteen plots on a USGA sandy substrate amended with 20 percent peat. Then, a fertilizer containing zeolite was tested against a variety of conventional fertilizers containing equivalent nutrient contents. Each week, turfgrass color was evaluated by visual ratings and vertical growth rate was measured prior to mowing (Macolino & Zanin, 2014). Also, rates of nutrient leaching were measured through an analysis of substrate solutions collected at a depth of 40 cm. Results indicated that turf growth and color were positively affected by the fertilization rate. Also, potassium and nitrate levels in soil were positively affected by the use of zeolite-containing fertilizer.
Ferguson et al. (1986) found that clinoptilolite zeolite is capable of adsorbing ammonium, thus increasing plant fertilizer nitrogen use efficiency. The study focused on the growth and quality of turfgrass in relation to ranges of zeolite amendment on sand and nitrogen application rates of 25, 50, or 75 kg ha (Ferguson et al., 1986). Results indicated that germination and establishment were significantly increased by amending sand with 5 – 10 percent zeolite. Also, zeolite applications increased clipping yields collected from seven harvests as well as rates of nitrogen use efficiency (Ferguson et al., 1986). Finally, data suggested that zeolite increased root growth as indicated by soil organic carbon and shoot-clipping content. At the conclusion of the study, researchers determined that zeolite has potential as a new medium for the growth of turfgrass (Ferguson et al., 1986).