Fescue grass is a perennial, cool-season grass that is popular for its growth habit. It is a low-maintenance grass with dark green grass blades that do not lose their color even in winter. Because of its signature clumping and upright growth pattern, it is sometimes called “bunchgrass”.
As compared to other cool-season grasses, it draws an efficient amount of nutrients from the soil, and therefore, requires less fertilizer. Tall fescue is also heat, cold, and drought tolerant, which makes it a suitable choice for places with both warm and cold climates. It also proves to be a good choice for playgrounds where tough, deep-rooted grass is needed.
Types of fescue grass
Depending on the location of the lawn and the strengths of different types of seeds, fescue grass is mixed with other cool-season grasses like Kentucky bluegrass, ryegrass, and blue fescue. Other seed varieties are:
Tall fescue grass
Known for its coarse appearance, it is a highly durable type of grass. Its dwarf varieties are used for turf lawns. These include ‘black beauty’ which is used for disease resistance and ‘dense shade mix’ for shade tolerance and fast growth in shady areas. Tall fescue can survive long durations without rain because its roots spread deep into the soil and have efficient nutrient intake.
Sheep fescue grass
Sheep fescue is typically known for dealing with problems of erosion and can survive a variety of climatic conditions.
Hard fescue grass
The benefit of using this type in grass blends is that it decreases the need for the grass to be mowed and increases its fertility.
Chewing fescue grass
Chewing fescue is more drought resistant. Its growth habit is similar to that of tall fescue but it has thin leaves. It suits the climate of the Northern areas.
Planting tall fescue grass seed
When planning to build your new fescue lawn, or revamp an existing lawn, starting with tall fescue grass seed can ensure that you create a vibrant, durable, and beautiful lawn. Using tall fescue grass seed will keep your lawn tolerant of a range of climate conditions, increasing its resilience.
Let us find out more about the process of planting tall fescue grass, from seeding to aftercare.
Before you begin to do anything on the lawn, you must make a selection of the grass seeds that will be sown. It is important that you choose high-quality seeds because the quality of your lawn will largely depend on the same. With tall fescue grass seed, you will be able to build a high-performance and low-maintenance fescue lawn.
If you are growing a lawn that will not be exposed to much sunshine, you must choose a shade-tolerant turf variety. On the other hand, use heat and drought-tolerant seeds if your location is in the southern tough climate areas.
Timing for seeding
Since tall fescue is a cool-season grass, the best time to seed it is around late summer or early fall, when the weather is cool. Alternatively, it can be planted in early spring. The aim is to align the plant’s natural growth cycle to the planting time.
The optimal soil temperature should be between 60 to 65 Fahrenheit to support quick germination and strong growth. You must let the soil cool down or warm up to reach this temperature before planting. If you do this well, you will save on the extra labor and watering later on in the process.
Testing the soil
You will need to test your soil before planting to check if it is healthy enough to support your plant. The growth and performance of your tall fescue will also depend on the nutrients the soil contains, whether already present or added through fertilizers.
Testing your soil will inform you about the soil ph, organic matter, and other valuable nutrients present in it. Although tall fescue can grow in a broad range of soil types, a soil ph of 5.5 to 7.5 will be the best to support a tall fescue seed.
You can take recommendations from a soil laboratory to suggest soil amendments and fertilizers that will help in soil improvement and quality upgradation. Soil amendments like sulfur or lime restore ph balance and nutrients in the soil.
Preparing the lawn location
You will need to start preparing your site much before seeding. It involves removing any existing turf, unwanted grasses, or weeds through a sod cutter. You could also use herbicides that kill grass and broadleaf plants.
This step also includes leveling the surface using a rake, so it becomes flat. You must fill up any low-level areas to prevent drainage problems. Fix any problems with the slope that could make mowing harder. A gentle slope of about 1 foot every 50 feet will regulate the water flow optimally. You can consult a professional if you are facing mowing complications or want to prevent erosion.
If you are using quality tall fescue seed, the label will have instructions on how to plant it for the best results. Not following the label instructions can result in wastage of both, labor and seeds. You will need a larger amount of seeds for a new fescue lawn than you would in an existing lawn.
Take the time to calculate your seeding area and the number of seeds you needs per 1,000 square feet. Consider a drop spreader if you want to plant seeds precisely or if your lawn is less than 5,000 square feet. A broadcast or rotary spreader works well for bigger lawns or when you don't need to be as precise.
Once you've put down your tall fescue seed, rake it in so that 1/4 inch of soil covers it, letting in the right amount of light and protection. You can use a lawn roller to strengthen soil-to-seed contact.
Your fescue lawn needs to be continuously moist to promote germination and seed establishment. Newly seeded areas must be attended to and frequently watered so that the top layer of the soil, nearly one inch deep, remains moist.
It will take the seeds seven to twenty-one days, on average, to germinate properly, depending on the location, weather conditions, and soil nutrients. Once you see seedlings grow, decrease the frequency of watering but water deeper.
As it keeps growing, you will soon see a lawn that you have sown. Wait for the grass to be at least four inches or more before you give it its first mow. Your recommended height of lawn grass is usually 3 to 4 inches. Therefore, do not cut more than one-third of the grass blade.
You must care for your fescue lawn like a baby. Avoid heavy chemical weed killers until you have mowed your lawn at least three times. Prohibit heavy foot traffic, especially from children and pets that can uproot your grass, until the lawn has matured.
Things to remember:
Although tall fescue grass is low maintenance, your lawn will still need you to perform simple tasks to care for it. Here are things you should remember while caring for your lawn:
Give your grass seeds plenty of time to grow. They need to be fully matured before they can be given their first mow. Let it grow up to four and a half inches tall and then prepare it for mowing. Never should you cut a grass blade more than one-third of its size because most fescue lawns require the blade to be three to four inches tall. Tall fescue grows in lumps. When you mow it, the fallen grass will spread across your lawn, giving it a fuller look.
Weeds take away the nutrients and space that your healthy grass should have used. Tall fescue wards off weeds and thrives best in cool temperatures because it is primarily a cool-season grass. While little care is needed during the cooler weather, summers will require regular weeding of your fescue lawn to maintain its health and performance. You should keep a check for thinning or decoloring areas where weeds might be growing.
Even though tall fescue is heat and drought-tolerant, like other grass types, it needs extra water during the summer months. Your fescue lawn is unique in its ways of growth, its location, and its needs. You must take responsibility for ensuring that it receives the care it needs, especially proper and timely watering.
Any plant thrives best when it receives all factors, like water, oxygen, nutrients, and sunlight, in time and right amounts. Often, the air supply to the roots decreases when the soil is not aerated. Regular aeration ensures that the air is circulating through the roots and is not blocking pathways. Fescue lawns can be aerated during the fall or spring months for best results. Adding fertilizers right after aeration will ensure that the nutrients are penetrating through the grassroots properly.
Problems with tall fescue grass
For turfgrass mixes, it is a common practice to use dwarf varieties of tall fescue. These varieties are prone to a fungal plant disease called brown patch, which appears during midsummer. The only effective way to deal with this is by removing the affected patch and reseeding it.
Another common problem is that tall fescue tends to dominate other grass varieties when used in a mixed-grass lawn. There are two ways to deal with this effectively. One is to use chemicals and the other is an organic control method.
Tall fescue will grow quicker than Kentucky bluegrass, often used in the grass mix, during spring. This will give you an opportunity to control it by using a glyphosate-based herbicide. The next step is a month-long wait to seed your lawn again. However, this will depend on the exact instructions given on the label. If you want to reseed in the fall, you should get rid of the thatch first.
The organic method to control tall fescue is a longer route. You can dig out the patches but be ready to work hard because tall fescue has thick, deep roots that are hard to pull out. And if you leave a few pieces of root, the plant can grow back.
An interesting fact about tall fescue is that it can be used as an indoor plant for the duration of its growth while ensuring it receives ample light. Though it will have to be replanted outdoors, once matured. When you combine high-quality seeds that are known for good performance in turfgrass mixed with the best practices in seeding and post-planting care, you will set yourself up to build a beautiful, durable and vibrant tall fescue lawn, which is tolerant of shade, head, and drought, as per your grass seed mix.