- Red Fescue Planting: How To Grow Creeping Red Fescue Grass
- About Red Fescue Grass
- Red Fescue Planting
- Red Fescue Grass Care
- Tall Fescue: An Alternative to Kentucky Bluegrass
- What Is Tall Fescue: Growing Tall Fescue Grass In The Lawn
- What is Tall Fescue?
- How to Grow Tall Fescue
- Tall Fescue Maintenance
- All You Need to Know About Tall Fescue
- Tall Fescue at a Glance
- Tall Fescue Basics
- Additional Characteristics to Consider
- Tall Fescue Lawn Care
- Tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea)
- How to Grow Tall Fescue Grass in the Shade
- Can we use tall fescue for lawns in Minnesota?
- First Step: Soil Test
- Second Step: Change How You Water
- Third Step: Core Aeration
- Fourth Step: Reseed
- Fertilizing Your Lawn
- Lawn Maintenance Tips for Tall Fescue
- Five Years of Fescue Grass Care
- Fescue Freshman Struggles
- Of Seeds and Craft Brews
- Fescue Knowledge Built
Red Fescue Planting: How To Grow Creeping Red Fescue Grass
Many people are turning to low maintenance grasses for their lawn care needs. While there are a number of these grasses available, one of the lesser known types – creeping red fescue – is becoming more popular. Read on to learn more about red fescue grass.
About Red Fescue Grass
What is Red Fescue?
Creeping red fescue grass (Festuca rubra) is a perennial lawn grass in USDA planting zones 1-7 and an annual grass in zones 8-10. Native to Europe, this cool season grass needs moist soil until it is established. However, once it is established, it has a very deep root system and is very resistant to wear and drought. Red fescue has very fine blades and a very attractive emerald green color when well irrigated.
Where Does Red Fescue Grow?
Red fescue grows well in New York, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and the New England states. In places where temperatures are high and there is a great deal of humidity, grass may turn brown and go dormant. Once fall temperatures arrive and more moisture arrives, the grass will rebound.
Can I Use Red Fescue for Landscaping?
Yes, red fescue is a great choice for landscaping, as it grows quickly and covers lots of ground. Because it grows well in sandy soil, it is also great for landscaping in tough spots. It is commonly used on golf courses, recreation fields and for home lawns.
Can I Use Red Fescue for Forage?
Red fescue is not a good source of forage for livestock. Although it can withstand lower grazing more so than other grasses, when grown out it becomes unpalatable to livestock.
Red Fescue Planting
If you are planting a new lawn, you will need about 4 pounds of seed per 1000 square feet. Plant 1/8 inch deep and keep mowed at 3-4 inches high.
While red fescue will grow fine on its own, it does much better when mixed with other grass seeds. Ryegrass and bluegrass are the perfect seeds for mixing to create the best stands. Some companies sell the seeds already mixed to the proper ratio.
Red Fescue Grass Care
If you are in a fairly dry climate and receive under 18 inches of rain annually, you will need to irrigate for best growth. However, if you receive more than 18 inches of rain, irrigation will not be needed. Red fescue does not have any serious pest threats.
Tall Fescue: An Alternative to Kentucky Bluegrass
Tall Fescue is a cool-season grass that originated in Europe and was introduced into the United States during the early 1800’s. Tall fescue is slowly becoming a more popular choice in Iowa. It turns green in the mid-spring and maintains color into late fall. Tall fescue has the highest heat, traffic and drought tolerance of the cool-season grasses. It is well adapted to wet soils, partially shaded sites and is often used where low-maintenance lawn is desired. Tall fescue will form a deep root system that is tolerant of clay and alkaline soils. Tall fescue also has a moderate tolerance of cold temperatures, but is suitable for a majority of Iowa winters below U.S. Hwy. 20.
Tall fescue is medium to dark green in color and coarse textured. It is a bunch-type grass and forms a coarse, clumpy appearance when used alone. The new, improved turf type varieties have finer leaf texture, denser growth habit, and possess weak rhizomes (Photo 1, at bottom). Tall fescue has distinct longitudinal lines (veination) on the upper sides of its leaves. Key identifying characteristics also include rolled vernation and a pointed leaf tip.
Establishment and Interseeding
The best time to seed turf-type tall fescue in Iowa is between mid-August and mid/late September. However, successful lawns can be seeded as late as late-September in central Iowa and early October in southern Iowa. Late summer planting is preferred to spring seeding because seeds germinate and grow rapidly in the warm soil. The warm days and cool nights provide ideal conditions for seedling growth. Tall fescue seed germinates in five to ten days under favorable conditions. Another option is late-April to early-May seedings. Seeds are required to reach full maturity before the hot summer weather sets in making the establishment window narrow. Spring seed germination is slow when soil temperatures are below 50F. Weed competition from annual grass such as crabgrass, is also increased in the spring. The recommended seeding rate is 7-9 pounds per 1,000 sq. feet. A mixture of tall fescue (90-95%) and Kentucky bluegrass (5-10%) will help provide a uniform establishment. Damaged tall fescue areas are slow to recover and may need to be reseeded. For more information on tall fescue seeding, refer to Iowa State University Extension and Outreach publication “Establishing a Lawn from Seed” (PM 1072).
Tall fescue’s excellent drought and traffic tolerance, coupled with its bunch type growth, can cause a clumpy and uneven lawn when subjected to traffic and insufficient water. Should clumping become a problem, interseeding with additional tall fescue and provide temporary irrigation to regain adequate turf density. Common and improved types of tall fescue need interseeding every 3-5 years to reduce the clumpy appearance. Core aerification presents an ideal time for interseeding.
Mowing and Weeds
Tall fescue possesses a high growth rate, requiring more frequent mowing (every 5-6 days) in comparison to Kentucky bluegrass’s weekly mowing (Photo 2, at bottom). Tall fescue maintained at 3 inches yields rare weed problems. The improved varieties can handle lower mowing heights, but the weed pressure will increase. The presence of weeds is frequently a sign of a thin or weakened turfgrass. Weeds are often the result of improper cultural practices that stress the turfgrass, giving weeds a competitive edge. Weed control should start and end with the development of a dense, healthy, competitive tall fescue lawn. Proper tall fescue maintenance is the best weed control. For more information, refer to Iowa State University Extension and Outreach publication “Home Lawn Care: Weed Control” (PM 930).
Insects and Diseases
There are few insect and disease related problems unless the tall fescue is over-watered or over-fertilized. Older tall fescue cultivars are susceptible to brown patch disease, and occasional fungicide treatments may be required. The best way to prevent brown patch is to plant recommended cultivars and avoid over-watering and over-fertilization.
Masked chafers, Japanese beetles and May/June beetle are the most common grub species to attack Iowa lawns. Annual grubs such as masked chafers and Japanese beetles lay their eggs in the spring, and hatch in the summer. The larvae begin to feed on the root systems in August and these two species are commonly referred to as “fall grubs”, because a majority of damage occurs in the fall.
May/June beetle grubs are larger than Japanese beetles and the masked chafers and have a different life cycle (three-year grub). May/June beetle or June Bugs are frequently referred to as “summer grubs”, because damage happens in the summer.
Although rare in Iowa, sod webworms, cutworms, and other pests may also damage tall fescue lawns. Only treat pests when causing actual damage.
Reducing Inputs (Fertilizer, Aerification, Watering)
The advantages of tall fescue are its ability to handle heavy traffic, hot temperatures, and drought. The new, improved varieties have a fine texture and are generally more aesthetically pleasing. With the introduction of new tall fescue varieties, it is being considered in low-maintenance lawns with limited access to water. It is important to consider that while tall fescue can be used as an alternative to an adequate irrigation system; it would be a mistake on lawns where high quality turf is desired. The key point here is not to discourage you from using tall fescue, but instead to point out that a temporary irrigation is necessary regardless of species choice. Watering as little as three – five times during the summer may be sufficient to maintain a high-quality tall fescue lawn.
A single application of fertilizer in late October/early November containing 1.0 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 sq. ft. may be adequate for low-maintenance tall fescue lawns. Highly maintained lawns may need additional fertilizer in the spring (0.5 – 0.75lb./N per 1,000), September (0.75 – 1 lb. /N per 1,000), and a late October/early November (0.75 – 1 lb. /N per 1,000). To avoid over-stimulation of the grass, apply lower rates in the spring. Over-stimulation of grass may result in increased occurrences of the fungal disease known as leafspot. It will also deplete stored food reserves, making the grass susceptible to heat and drought stress. The number of applications depends on the desires/expectations of the homeowner, soil type, cultural practices, and other factors.
Thatch is an intermingled layer of living and dead plant material that accumulates above the soil surface and is usually not a problem in properly managed tall fescue lawns. Proper balance of thatch requires a combination of management practices. These include preventing thatch buildup by reducing plant growth, adding only the necessary nitrogen fertilization, consistent mowing, and mechanical removal of thatch.
A core aerator punches hollow tines into the soil and removes soil cores roughly the size of your index finger. Core aerating does not remove large amounts of thatch. Rather, it is an effective means of preventing thatch from developing and reducing soil compaction. Aeration and power raking services are available from professional lawn care companies and the machines can be found at rental companies.
Overall, the new turf type tall fescues offer a great low maintenance alternative to Kentucky bluegrass, and are recommended in non-irrigated lawns across central and southern Iowa. If Kentucky bluegrass or perennial ryegrass has failed due to the lack of water and summer droughts, it may be time to seed tall fescue (Photo 3, at bottom).
For more information on lawn care, the following publications are available at your county extension office, the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach online Store, or online at www.yardandgarden.extension.iastate.edu.
“Thatch Control in the Home Lawn” (PM 1127)
“Mowing Your Lawn” (PM 1213)
“Fall Tips to Ensure a Healthy Green Yard for Spring” (HORT 3021)
“Lawn Fertilization” (PM 1057)
“Home Lawn Care: Weed Control” (PM 930)
“Responsible Phosphorus Management Practices for Lawns” (PM 1447d)
“Establishing a Lawn from Seed” (PM 1072)
“Selecting a Grass Species for Iowa Lawns” (HORT 3023)
Figure 1: Turf-type tall fescue lawn on Iowa State’s campus. Picture courtesy of Nick Christians.
Figure 2: An example of tall fescue higher growth rate in comparison to kentucky bluegrass. Picture courtesy of Nick Christians.
Figure 3: In this picture, there is tall fescue surrounding our perennial ryegrass cultivar study. All of the ryegrass is nearly dormant, whereas the tall fescue around the outer edge of the trial remained green weeks longer. Picture courtesy of Nick Christians.
What Is Tall Fescue: Growing Tall Fescue Grass In The Lawn
Tall fescue is a cool season turf grass. It is the most common lawn grass in California and useful from the Pacific Northwest to the southern states. It originated in Europe and is now found in North America, Europe and North Africa. Tall fescue in lawns forms a nice dense grass that cannot be mowed below 1.5 inches. The grass is a perennial bunch grass which establishes quickly and is low maintenance in appropriate locations. If you are in a temperate to warm region, learn how to grow tall fescue as an easy turf grass alternative.
What is Tall Fescue?
Grass that adapts well to clay soil is a rarity. Tall fescue grass is one such sod grass and it also has low mowing and fertilization needs. It does, however, need frequent deep watering in summer. It works as a lawn in either sunny or partially shady areas.
Tall fescue in lawns stays green in winter unlike the warm season turf varieties. The plant is available in numerous cultivars, many of which resemble fine fescue
but have wider leaf blades. Tall fescue maintenance is a dream for the lazy gardener because it needs infrequent mowing and has low nutrient needs.
Tall fescue is a turf grass with remarkable drought and heat stress tolerance. It is a coarse textured, dark green grass with rolled leaves. It spreads by seed primarily and does most of its growth in spring and fall. The grass has deep widely set roots. In spring the plant produces a short panicle 3 to 4 inches long with lance-like spikelets. Tall fescue grass is a bunch grass and established lawns may eventually have die out in some areas, requiring spring reseeding.
How to Grow Tall Fescue
Tall fescue establishes best on soil with good drainage and high fertility where pH is 5.5 to 6.5. Work the area well and add in a starter fertilizer to the top few inches of soil. The rate of sowing is 6 to 8 pounds per 1,000 square feet.
Cover the area with a fine layer of sand or soil. Seed needs to be pressed into soil. Keep evenly moist for 14 to 21 days, at which point you should see your first seedlings. The plants can now get used to less frequent watering.
Mow the grass when it is 3 inches high. Turf grass that is kept less than 3 inches is thicker and more attractive.
Tall Fescue Maintenance
Established tall fescue lawns are low maintenance and need infrequent mowing and watering, except in very hot summers. Keep the lawn at 2 inches tall and allow the plants to dry out in between deep watering.
Few diseases bother the grass but some rusts and fungus may become a problem, especially in new lawns. White grubs, armyworm, and cutworm are the biggest insect pests of tall fescue. White grubs are particularly a problem and should be controlled.
Older lawns may develop empty patches and it may become necessary to sow seed again in fall to rejuvenate a patchy sod.
All You Need to Know About Tall Fescue
Tall fescue is valued for its adaptability to a wide range of climates and its tolerances for cold, heat, drought and shade. In its preferred growing zones, tall fescue provides lawn owners with outstanding options for improving lawn resilience and durability. Depending on where you live and your lawn goals, this versatile grass may be an excellent choice for you.
Tall Fescue at a Glance
- cool-season grass with improved heat tolerance
- suitable for northern and transition zones
- heat, drought and shade tolerant
- disease resistant
- bunch-forming growth habit
- limited capacity for self-repair
Tall Fescue Basics
Like many northern lawn grasses, tall fescue originated in Europe. It was introduced to the United States in the early 1800s,1 around the time that lawns became fashionable with Early Americans. However, tall fescue remained relegated to agricultural use as a pasture grass until the mid to late 1900s, when a tall fescue variety known as Kentucky 31 made the leap from pasture to turf, and became an important part of Pennington Seed’s history in the process.
In the years since, many new lawn varieties of tall fescue, known as turf-type and dwarf-type tall fescues, have been developed. A number of modern varieties offer darker green color, narrower blades, and improved tolerances to heat, cold and drought. Durable and easy-to-establish, Pennington Kentucky 31 Tall Fescue and remains a leading choice for lawn owners seeking economical, low-maintenance, heat- and drought-tolerant lawns.
Tall fescue is a cool-season grass that grows most vigorously during cool spring and fall months. Well-suited to northern lawns, it has added value in the turf grass region called the grass transition zone. Extending across the country’s midsection from the Atlantic into the Midwest, this area marks where cool-season and warm-season grasses meet their climate limits. Tall fescue offers greater heat tolerance than other cool-season grasses and greater cold tolerance than warm-season grass options, contributing to beautiful year-round lawns in this challenging area.
Additional Characteristics to Consider
Tall fescue establishes easily from seed and germinates more quickly than Kentucky bluegrass. Its naturally extensive root system can reach 2 to 3 feet deep, much deeper than other cool-season grasses.3 This contributes to superior heat and drought tolerance compared to grasses commonly used in northern lawns. Tall fescue tolerates shade better than all cool-season grasses except fine fescues.
Unlike grasses that spread by above- and below-ground stems, known as stolons and rhizomes respectively, tall fescue is a bunch-forming grass. It does produce short rhizomes, but its spreading capacity is limited. It naturally grows in clumps and spreads primarily through “tillers” — vertical shoots that grow from the base of the grass plant itself, rather than from horizontal stems. This growth habit makes tall fescue easy to contain and keep out of flowers beds, but limits its capacity for self-repair when lawns sustain damage.
Pennington Smart Seed Tall Fescue combines the best qualities of various tall fescue varieties in a premium blend that matures to a uniform, finely textured, lower growing and lower maintenance lawn.
Tall Fescue Lawn Care
As with other cool-season grasses, the best time to plant tall fescue or perform other major lawn tasks is during its peak growth period in fall and spring. Because of its bunch-forming growth, tall fescue lawns rarely need dethatching. However, they benefit from periodic lawn overseeding to keep their density and avoid a clumpy appearance. When damage occurs, Pennington One Step Complete Tall Fescue simplifies repairs. Its combination of premium Smart Seed grass seed and professional-grade fertilizer and mulch repairs bare spots in two weeks or less under proper growing conditions.
Tall fescue’s deep roots make good use of soil’s moisture and nutrients. Roots benefit from wise lawn water management. Encourage deep growth by watering deeply and infrequently. In the transition zone, ordinary tall fescue varieties require more irrigation than warm-season alternatives, such as Bermudagrass and Zoysia grass, to stay green and healthy during hot summer months. However, water-conserving Pennington Smart Seed grasses require up to 30 percent less water year after year than ordinary grasses. Mow tall fescue lawns as needed to maintain the recommended height of 2 to 3 inches.
Tall fescue adapts to a wide variety of soil types and typically requires less fertilizer than Kentucky bluegrass and other cool-season grasses in similar soil.3 Soil testing identifies your lawn’s soil type, soil pH and nutrient needs so you can fertilizer accordingly. Plant tall fescue in soil with pH between 5.5 and 7.5.2 For soil pH outside that range, test results may recommend lime or other soil amendments to restore pH balance and keep nutrients available.
With the advent of new varieties and a growing awareness of the benefits of a tall fescue lawn, many lawn owners consider this tough, resilient grass an essential component of their cool-season and transition-zone lawns. Pennington is dedicated to producing the finest grass seed possible and providing premium lawn and garden products and educational resources to assist you in growing a beautiful, healthy lawn — regardless of your grass choice.
Pennington, Smart Seed and One Step complete are registered trademarks of Pennington Seed, Inc.
1. Duble, R.L., “Tall Fescue,” Texas A&M Agrilife Extension.
2. Patton, A. and Boyd J., “Choosing a Grass for Arkansas Lawns,” University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension.
3. Cook, T., “Tall Fescue,”Oregon State University Department of Horticulture.
Click on images to enlarge
Tall fescue, a cool season perennial grass, forms clumps with upright leaves. It is found throughout California, except the Great Basin and deserts, to about 8900 feet (2700 m). Tall fescue is especially invasive in coastal scrub and grassland on the North and Central Coast. It also inhabits other disturbed dry or wet areas. It is widely planted for pasture, turf, hay, and erosion control, but has escaped cultivation. New tall fescue turf cultivars may be less invasive. Sometimes tall fescue is infected with a fungus, Acremonium coenophialum. Livestock that graze on pasture infected with this fungus exhibit a wide variety of chronic health problems.
Coastal scrublands, grasslands, pastures, roadsides, ditches, and other disturbed dry or wet locations.
Seedling leaf blades are rolled in the bud before they open and are hairless and conspicuously veined. The collar is pale and contains a membranous ligule and auricles with hairy-edged lobes, or no lobes.
Tall fescue grows in clumps and can reach 6-1/2 feet (2 m) tall. Stems are coarse, round in cross-section, and have visible stem joints (nodes). Leaves are rolled, loosely rolled, or flat before they open from the bud. Blades are up to 2/5” (1 cm) wide, 4 to 28 inches (10–70 cm) long, dark green, slightly glossy, coarse, with rasplike edges, and radiate from a central clump. Although similar in appearance to dallisgrass, Paspalum dilatatum, tall and meadow fescues are distinguished by growing in tighter clumps, versus the loose bunches formed by dallisgrass.
Ligules are membranous. Auricles have lobes with hairy edges, or no lobes.
Flowers bloom from May through June. The flowering head is open and branching. Stalked, purple-tinged spikelets attach along the flowering branches. Flower head stalks may lay flat when mowed, resulting in ragged-looking turf.
Reproduces by seed and sometimes by underground, creeping, horizontal stems (rhizomes) fragments that result from activities such as cultivation and movement of soil.
Related or similar plants
- Dallisgrass, Paspalum dilatatum
- Meadow fescue, Festuca pratensis Huds.
- Grass ID illustration
- Calflora’s distribution map
- For agriculture: UC IPM Pest Management Guidelines
How to Grow Tall Fescue Grass in the Shade
Tall fescue grass is an excellent cool-season variety for a lawn. Its deep root system allows it to be extremely drought tolerant, so you can plant fescue grass seed in soils with poor fertility, and it can tolerate some shade, although it prefers sunny areas. But if you have ever dealt with shaded grass, you’ll know that thinning is almost inevitable. So how do you deal with a shaded tall fescue lawn?
The key to remember is that any shaded grass will be performing less overall photosynthesis because it is exposed to less sunlight. Therefore, the shaded grass will have less energy stores at its disposal, which means it will grow more slowly and take a longer time to recover from disease and injuries. You should keep all of this in mind as you maintain this area of your lawn.
First of all, you shouldn’t have to water shaded grass as frequently. Water is used to perform photosynthesis, so less water should be used in proportion to the decreased amount of sunlight. Too much water can also exacerbate humid conditions in the shade and encourage fungi pathogens to grow. Tall fescue doesn’t need much water anyway, so you should only irrigate when you see the classic signs of water deprivation: the grass will turn bluish gray and the leaves will wilt. Don’t water the area just because the sunned grass is starting to look water deprived. Wait until the shaded grass needs it!
Don’t fertilize as frequently either. Too much nitrogen, at the very least, can push the grass to deplete all of its food stores in creating new growth. The result is very tall and very weak grass. At the very worst, an excess of nitrogen can burn the grass. Let the shaded tall fescue reserve as much energy as possible for sustaining itself.
Usually you should mow tall fescue at a height of 2”. But in shaded areas you should increase that height to 3”. Why? Simply put, taller grass means more chlorophyll, and more chlorophyll can perform more photosynthesis. Giving your shaded lawn area this advantage will be instrumental in keeping it thick.
Tall fescue grass is fairly traffic tolerant, but it’s a different story with shaded grass. Because the shaded tall fescue does not get as much “food” as its sunned counterpart, it will not have extra energy to spend repairing torn, worn, or crushed grass leaves. Do your shaded grass a favor and avoid walking across it.
If shade is caused by tall trees, you should make sure that all branches within eight feet of the ground are pruned. This will help lessen the overall humidity and improve air circulation. It will also allow more sunlight through. If, after following all these suggestions, your tall fescue grass is still suffering in the shade, you have a couple of options. You can either reseed the area with the more shade-tolerant fine fescue grass varieties, or you can remove some of the shade sources. Whichever you choose will be a good alternative to nursing a continually struggling lawn in the shade.
Can we use tall fescue for lawns in Minnesota?
When I started working at the University of Minnesota in 2004, there was very limited use of tall fescue as a turfgrass in Minnesota; this was primarily due to the perception that the winter hardiness of the species didn’t really measure up to other cool-season grasses. We started putting in turf plots of tall fescue right away, and noticed that it seemed to do just fine under most winter conditions. Based on some research at the University of Wisconsin (led by Andrew Hollman, who at that time started working in our program as a research scientist), we knew that tall fescue would likely survive the winter better if it was mature prior to the onset of fall acclimation. Previous research had also suggested that tall fescue did not do well under prolonged ice cover.
My predecessor, Dr. Don White, mentioned to me that tall fescue stands rarely survived beyond five years due to winter damage. Since that time, we’ve planted tall fescue plots almost every fall, and in every year, there was very little damage from the various stresses of winter. Well, the winter of 2016-2017 changed that. Although the winter was quite mild compared to most winters, a late December rain resulted in a prolonged period of ice cover, especially in lower spots lacking drainage. Tall fescue in these areas had little chance of surviving. As you can see in this photo, most of the tall fescue died, and as spring turned to summer, the area became a weedy mess, with a bit of Kentucky bluegrass here and there. Now a significant portion of this area is dominated by annual bluegrass
We still think tall fescue is a great option for many sites in Minnesota. The deep roots of this grass result in good performance and green color even during periods of heat and drought stress. Now that we are in the ideal time for seeding, it is important to remember that tall fescue does not like ice cover, so avoid planting this grass in low, poor-draining areas. One option that can help deal with the ice cover problem is to mix tall fescue with Kentucky bluegrass in sites where prolonged ice cover is a possibility; we recommend a mixture that is somewhere between 90-95% tall fescue and 5-10% Kentucky bluegrass seed by weight. For data on top-performing cultivars of these and other species, you can check out our cultivar results page.
A reader sent in this latest question about his Tall Fescue grass not looking its best. Harold gives him some great advice on how to care for Tall Fescue, a common transition zone grass type.
“Harold, I have a tall fescue grass in southern California, and cannot get it to stay a deep green. I have a few dead spots that even reseeding won’t cure, and my entire lawn is starting to turn a light brown. Any suggestions on getting my lawn normal? I water once a day for 4 min, also. Thanks!”
Thank you for sending in your question. First of all, I have the deepest sympathy for anyone trying to grow grass or any other plant for that matter during the long drought California is enduring. Of course it is hard to say exactly what is happening with your lawn without actually seeing it, but I can provide you with some basic steps to follow.
First Step: Soil Test
Based on your comment, the first suggestion I have is to have your soil tested to determine if the pH is at the proper level. It should be between 6.5 and 7.0. Having the soil tested is always a good starting point when developing a treatment plan for your Tall Fescue grass.
Second Step: Change How You Water
The second thing I recommend is to change your watering schedule to 30 minutes a week, but provide the water all at the same time. The turf in your lawn, Tall Fescue, is a drought tolerant grass, but it can still thin out if it does not receive enough water. By watering once a day, you are only penetrating the top inch of soil, which causes the roots to grow closer to the service. Tall Fescue is a deep rooted turf, but if the water is only at the surface, that is where the roots will grow instead of going deep to look for more water. Your goal should be to supply 1 inch of water per week to your turf. To properly care for Tall Fescue, it’s much better to water for a longer time and less frequently.
Third Step: Core Aeration
The third thing I suggest is to core aerate your lawn by using a machine called a core aerator. These are available to rent at many hardware stores, rental agencies and home improvement centers. You can also employ a certified professional to do the service for you. A core aerator, as it is runs across your turf, will take out cores of soil and thatch and leave them back on the top of the lawn. This will open up your lawn to allow more air, water and nutrients to reach the root zone. The cores that remain on the lawn will break down with normal irrigation and melt back into the lawn. The microorganisms in the soil will work to break down the thatch. Your lawn does need to be moist to allow the core aerator tines to penetrate into the soil, so try to schedule this for a day after you water or, hopefully, after it rains.
Fourth Step: Reseed
Reseeding your turf after it is core aerated is a very good practice. Tall Fescue has a “bunch-type” growth habit and does not spread out to cover bare areas quickly. The core aeration holes provide a great place for the seed to germinate. You should spread 5 to 6 pounds of good quality Tall Fescue seed per 1,000 sq. ft. I suggest seeding this time of year as traditionally winter is a wetter time for California. I also suggest you reseed every year in the fall to early winter.
Fertilizing Your Lawn
Once you’ve received the results from your soil test, it will be much easier to determine the amount of fertilizer your lawn needs. Tall Fescue does not require an abundance of nitrogen to stay green. Generally, 2 to 3 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 sq. ft. per year is what Tall Fescue requires. The most nitrogen should be applied in the fall and less in the summer. The soil test will provide recommendations on the amount of Phosphorus and Potassium your turf will require.
I am confident that by following these basic steps, your lawn will respond and look better. If your lawn has Tall Fescue turf that needs some TLC, contact your local Spring-Green professional today!
Lawn Maintenance Tips for Tall Fescue
Tall fescue – the cool season go-to lawn for much of Southern Australia – is a wonderful choice of grass for a wonderful amount of reasons.
For its hardiness, whether it be in the face of an extended drought, or coping with a heavy frost, there’s almost no better choice for the cooler climates of Australia than this unfussy, low maintenance lawn.
Low maintenance doesn’t mean no maintenance though, and while it can certainly survive in harsh conditions, you may need to give it a bit of a helping hand if you’re looking for it to thrive. Here are some general guidelines to help you get your patch of fescue to be the talk of your street.
Drought tolerance and generally minimal water requirements are key strengths of fescue, which means you want to be careful not to over-water. For the cooler climates of Australia where air and overnight moisture isn’t lacking, only the most infrequent watering should be required.
When over-watered, fescue can be prone to diseases that are fostered in the damp. If you’re in a humid area where the moisture is unavoidable, a preventative fungicide treatment may be in order.
In the case of an extended dry spell, if the grass isn’t watered it will go into a state of dormancy, ready to jump back into life when sufficient moisture returns. If you want your backyard to be green all year round, a timely water will avoid this, but it is reassuring to know the lawn itself is hard to actually kill off.
If you keep a steady lawn maintenance routine, you can easily keep your fescue at a nice green hue all year round. If you’re seeing some thinner patches, or are noticing a less dense sod, overseeding may be the answer. Overseeding should be done in autumn or spring. Thinning of the lawn can happen for a variety of different reasons, including insect damage, heat stress and disease.
Overseeding can be a great chance to inject some different life into your lawn. New varieties of fescue with different strengths are coming out every year, and may help keep your lawn looking healthy even when your original variety is struggling.
To overseed fescue:
- Mow your lawn as low as is advised for the variety
- Rake to remove cuttings and debris
- Aerate the patch
- Apply a new seed fertiliser
- Sow at the recommended overseeding rate (usually around 20g per square metre)
- Water to keep the lawn moist for 2-3 weeks while the seeds germinate
Again, being a hardy grass, you might look at your fescue lawn and think “it’s doing just fine without me.” And for the most part, you’d be correct. A mildly fertile soil is usually more than enough to get fescue up and healthy.
But like all grasses, to reach its full potential a little bit of help goes a long way. The addition of a good fertiliser will have you lawn looking the best it can look.
Fescue loves the taste of nitrogen, so giving it a healthy dose throughout the year will have it licking its leafy lips. Being a cool season grass, autumn is the best time to do the bulk of your fertilising, while it is wise to avoid sprinkling it on over summer.
The key is in the name when it comes to cutting back your tall fescue. Mowing to a blade height of 7-10cm is ideal, but can be lowered if your turf needs to survive a bit of knocking around on things like sports fields.
Mowing under 4-5cm will dry the grass’s sod out, particularly in warmer areas, and will cause the grass to thin out. It’s also advisable to uilise the visibility of the fresh mown grass to hunt for any potential problems, such as pests, disease and thinning.
It needs to be noted that the maintenance of your fescue grass will depend on the exact variety you have and the conditions in which it is growing. For any questions of concerns, don’t hesitate to contact your local McKays team.
Five Years of Fescue Grass Care
By Mike Kephart, Guest Blogger and Super-Sod Sales Enablement
For all of my 30 plus years working with turfgrass, in all the places we’ve lived, it’s been warm-season lawns except the five years when we lived in the Kansas City area.
Our home sat on a large pie-shaped lot in a cul-de-sac. The front yard was a little over 40 feet while the back was 186 feet across with no trees (pictured above). While it was great for the kids to play on and for me to practice hitting a lob wedge, my concern was in keeping it looking good by using effective fescue grass care. I knew how hot the summers could be in Kansas City.
Fescue Freshman Struggles
We moved in during spring when the grass was green and flourishing. As a warm-season grass guy, I was used to mowing extra during July and August to keep up with the rapid growth. Mowing this new big yard of fescue a couple times a week with a push mower during those cool spring days was no big deal. I quickly got over wanting the grass to be mowed low and the yard looked great, and I felt great.
Then came the heat of July and August. There wasn’t enough water, even if I could have afforded it, to keep the grass green. All I could do for good fescue maintenance was to water enough to keep the crown of the grass alive. It no longer needed to be mowed frequently — just once every two weeks or more. This was hard to take as a yard guy who enjoyed a lush, green yard.
With the advance of fall came cooler nights and some rain. The crowns of the plant quickly greened up and it looked much better. While it was a little clumpy, from a distance, it looked okay. That first year I watched and observed neighbors who had a great looking lawns.
Of Seeds and Craft Brews
The next spring there wasn’t much I could do and had the same results over the summer.
Then came fall. I jumped in with my neighbors to rent aerators and verticutters (or slit cutters). We all went down to the seed store to decide which seed would be the best. The seed store selection was much like today’s craft brew selection. It seems like every sports bar has all the beers from every local craft brewery. When we go with friends to a restaurant like this, it takes longer to order the drinks than eat the meal. The waiter will want to tell the story of how each beer was crafted. Then someone in the group decides they need to sample a few before making a decision. All I want to do is eat. This is what happened at the seed store. The selection and information on each variety was overwhelming.
Once we had our seed and equipment, we spent the weekend aerating, verticutting and spreading seed. Yes, there was some beer drinking.
Fescue Knowledge Built
What I learned from my five-year experience with fescue lawn maintenance is that you don’t need to spend a lot of money or time to have a stand-out yard of fescue grass.
Fescue grass care can be easy. Beyond not having to mow as often in the dog days of summer, there is the added benefit of the much earlier spring green up (February in the Deep South) and the long fall growing season when you spend time in the yard.
Then there’s the ability to use a non-selective herbicide seven days before you overseed for those hard-to-kill weeds like Dallisgrass, Virginia Buttonweed and others. (Don’t spray non-selective herbicide over your entire yard. Just spot treat the weeds because this type of herbicide will kill whatever plant it touches.)
However, overseeding is absolutely necessary in fescue grass care if you want a full, thick fescue lawn without all the clumps. Get together with you neighbors or friends from your area and do everyone’s yard the same weekend.
Now that I’m back on warm-season grass, come late July and August, I think back to my five summers in Kansas City. I had a great golf short game and would return home after a early Saturday round of golf to sit in the air conditioned house instead of going out in the heat and humidity to mow the yard. Just like most things in life, fescue grass care is easy if you just do it. Let’s not make ordering a beer or overseeding a fescue yard more difficult than it has to be.
Make seed selection easy. Visit your local Super-Sod to reserve your bag of specially selected Elite Tall Fescue seed blend or rent overseeding equipment.
Mike Kephart has possessed a passion for lawn care since his childhood job of mowing yards. This interest, combined with his lifelong pursuit of sales success and leadership development, led him to our Super-Sod team. Mike’s title is officially Sales Enablement, but he reaches beyond sales to serve as an inspiring presence and avid blogger.
Topics: Elite Tall Fescue, lawn care tips, Tall Fescue, DIY, Seeding Best Practices