Tips for Seeding Fescue Lawns
Today, I would like to share information on seeding fescue lawns. For decades, fescue has been a popular lawn grass in our area. Our summer grasses are very popular, but many people like the ability of the cool season fescue to stay green the majority of the year. Many people like seeing a green lawn as compared to when the warm season grasses are dormant and brown. I will be sharing information from a UGA fact sheet by Dr. Clint Waltz and Dr. Gil Landry, UGA Turfgrass Specialists.
For decades, Kentucky 31 was the fescue used by homeowners. In fact, we used Kentucky 31 in our lawns as well as pastures and hayfields. The introduction of more turf-type fescue cultivars have helped the use of fescues in lawns. The turftype fescues are improved fescues because they are darker green in color, have finer leaf blades, lower growth habits, more density and do better in shade as compared to Kentucky 31. Plus our information states that these newer cultivars have more extensive roots systems and more drought tolerance. You can still plant Kentucky 31 in your lawn, but the improved turf-type fescues on the market may be a better option.
The biggest mistake made by many homeowners is planting fescue at the wrong time of year thus getting a very low establishment percentage. The best time to plant fescue is in September and October. To get more exact, the middle of September to the middle of October may be more ideal. If you plant earlier, fescue can get hammered by heat stress and disease issues. If you wait later, you can set the grass up for cold damage. I will add that seeding in December and early spring is generally not recommended. I have seen many clients over the years come in disappointed that their spring planting of fescue did not work out. The grass may germinate and come up pretty and green, but the fescue does not get a root system established prior to summer. This tender fescue cannot handle the summer heat. This is why we suggest planting in the fall and giving the fescue fall, winter and early spring to get a root system established before hot weather arrives in summer.
Our information states that during summer months, the canopy of fescue can thin and thus be more open. This is a survival technique to help handle heat stress. The thinning can make the grass less competitive and allows the summer annual weeds to get going in these spots. Preemergence herbicides can help reduce weed pressure.
Research shows that these herbicides pose less risk on fescue that was planted in September/ October, compared to fescue planted later in the fall such as November and treated in February of the following year. Again, important to plant at the best time of year for fescue in regards to herbicide use, too.
As a young agent, it was drilled in my head the importance of good seed to soil contact. Proper soil preparation is very important in seed establishment. Getting rid of debris, tilling the area, incorporating lime and fertilizer and smoothing the area are all tips prior to planting seeding. You can add organic matter or topsoil and till into the existing soil. After initial prep work and the area is leveled out, collect a properly taken soil sample to get correct fertilizer and liming recommendations. You will then incorporate the starter fertilization and lime 3-4 inches into the soil prior to planting. Waltz and Landry state if your equipment will allow, tilling deeper is always better.
Make sure you are planting certified seed. This seed has been tested and the information on the tag is bound by law. If buying on the retail market, many of the tallfescue seed is available as a blend of several cultivars. You can buy single cultivars, but they may be more expensive. The ideal seeding rate for fescue is 5 pounds per 1000 square feet. It is better to divide into two equal portions and broadcast half in one direction and the other half at a right angle to the first direction. Lightly rake the seed into the upper ¼ inch of soil and press the seedbed with a roller. Straw can then be used to help conserve soil moisture and cut down on erosion. Next week, we will continue with tips on seeding fescue in home lawns.
For more information, contact UGA ExtensionGordon County at 706-6298685 or email gbowman@ uga.edu.