Greg Bowman: Establishment of Fescue Lawns

September 2, 2018

This week will be the second article in a row on fescue lawns. Fescue is a popular lawn grass for people that want a grass that will stay green the majority of the year. While many like the summer grasses such as bermuda or zoysia, some people cannot handle the winter dormancy of the summer grasses. Again, lawn grasses are a personal choice.

Last week, we discussed the “turf-type” fescue varieties and the improved qualities as compared to the old cultivar Kentucky 31. You can still plant Kentucky 31, but there are what many consider to be better options. We also discussed the best time of year to plant fescue. Remember, it is a cool season grass and really needs to be planted from middle of September to middle of October to give it a better chance of establishment. We also talked about soil preparation and seeding tips.

This week we will continue on fescue and hope to give you tips to have success. I will be sharing information again from a fact sheet by Dr. Clint Waltz and Dr. Gil Landry, UGA Extension Turfgrass Specialists.

After you have completed the soil preparation and got the seed in the ground, proper irrigation is going to be key. I will remind that proper seed to soil contact and having completed soil prep work is very important. Trying to seed on ground as hard as concrete is going to be tough for a little seed to get established. After seeding, you need to keep the top 1-2 inches of soil moist. Note, I said moist and not wet. This is important for seed germination. If you keep the soil conditions correct, the seed should germinate in 5 to 10 days. This can mean daily watering efforts of approximately 1/8 to ¼” of watering for the first three weeks. A tip is as the tender fescue matures, you can cut back on the number of irrigation procedures, but each time you will try get water deeper in the soil. You can actually have a lawn that can be ready to mow in two to three weeks.

You can mow the lawn at a height of two inches. As the fescue grass matures, you will need to raise the cutting height on the mower to the 2 ½ to 3 inch range. When the lawn is mature, you can keep it between 2 to 2 ½ inches. Keep in mind that in summer, a 3-inch mowing height is suggested. A good rule of thumb is to mow often enough so no more than 1/3 of the leaf height is removed in a single mowing effort. No matter the lawn grass, that has been tough to follow the 1/3 of leaf height because of the rainfall this summer. Sometimes you just do not have good mowing conditions. Try to not mow grass when it is wet especially if the grass is new and in the seedling stage. Another tip is to make sure mowing blades are kept sharp when you mow. Don’t stress the grass with dull mowing blades.

There will be times when fescue will need to be reseeded. Fescue will thin out for various reasons ranging from improper irrigation, stress, improper mowing heights, too much nitrogen and going too high on seeding rates, just to name a few. You can also have to reseed due to disease or insect issues.

If you think it is time to reseed the fescue lawn, first you need to estimate the percentage of fescue loss in the lawn. Then, you will multiply that number by the seeding rate of 5 lbs of seed per 1,000 square feet. The example given is if the lawn is a 50 percent loss, you would take 0.5 and multiply by 5 which will give you the rate of 2.5 lbs of seed per 1000 square feet. Again, seed to soil contact is important even in a reseeding scenario. You need to mow the lawn to a height of 1 to 1 ½ inches. It is suggested to disturb the soil by coring or vertical mowing before and/or after the seed is distributed. You can get this type of equipment if needed at rental or garden centers from time to time. Getting the seed to the soil surface will help with germination. Reseeding can be more successful when done in the fall in September and October just like if you were starting from scratch. Spring reseeding is not as successful due to lack of establishment before the stress of summer arrives. Reseed thin areas in the 2 to 5 pound range per 1000 square feet. You will need a starter fertilization plan at this time at the rate of 1 lb of nitrogen per 1000 square feet. It is also suggested to keep the soil moist as we stated for a new lawn starting from scratch.

Finally, one final reminder on our commercial vegetable and small fruit workshops for commercial growers in September. If you would like a flyer or have questions, please contact UGA Extension- Gordon County at 706-629-8685 or email gbowman@uga.edu.

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