The use of pigments, dyes and paints in turf has caused some confusion on what these products are and how they are used. Pigments, dyes and paint-like materials are commonly grouped together under the category of turf colorants. Colorants are often used to add a green color on the turf. One of the first uses of turf colorants was to paint dormant bermudagrass athletic fields to add color. Although visually appealing, using a latex paint slowed the turf’s recovery time from traffic or wear. Latex paint is associated with turf decline due to slow growth and wear injury. Painting may be done on dormant fairways or greens to provide color on low-budget golf courses.
Turf colorant being applied to this green during summer for potential plant health reasons.
The term colorant is more closely related to pigments and dyes. The major difference between pigments and dyes is their water solubility. Pigments are relatively insoluble while dyes are soluble. I often use the example of golfers raking a bunker to explain the difference. If a bunker rake was accidentally sprayed with a colorant and a golfer picked up the rake before the spray dried, they may notice the palm of their hand is green. When the golfer tries to wipe it off with a moist towel, the “green” coming off indicates it's probably a dye. If it does not come off, it's a pigment.
Impact of a colorant applied to a putting green. The lighter colored rectangle is the control (untreated).
Pigments specifically—and to some extent dyes—are substances that absorb, transmit and reflect specific light wavelengths. Colorants are normally broken down by UV light. There are a number of turf colorants on the market worldwide. In the United States, there are more than 25 colorants on the market.
Turf colorant applied to an athletic field early in the spring for color. Some managers think an early application may warm the turf a degree or two.
In most cases, dyes and pigments are added to actively growing, damaged or discolored turf. Markers, for example, are colorants that are added to a spray tank to mark the length and width of a sprayer pattern to reduce the likelihood of skips or overlap. Dyes and pigments may be added to a product or a tank mixture to provide color to turf that is showing stress symptoms. With certain colorants, research is showing they may contribute to overall turf health. The potential benefits lie in repeated applications on actively growing turf. How long a colorant will last depends on the product, environmental conditions and the growth rate, but most last between 20 and 60 days.
About the author
Dr. Karl Danneberger is a professor of Turfgrass Science at The Ohio State University. Dr. Danneberger's contact information can be found here. You may also follow Dr. Danneberger on Twitter: