Tips on keeping your fescue lawn healthy and looking great
Because of its non-invasive nature and relative low maintenance, fescue is a popular choice of grass for lawns all across the country. However, after a long and hot summer, your fescue lawn can begin to look worn down and sparse. Luckily, the warm days and cool nights of the fall provide us with perfect weather conditions to rejuvenate our fescue lawns. Fescue requires annual reseeding since it doesn’t regerminate on its own.
By following these steps, you can optimize seed germination and grass growth, providing you with a healthy and lush fescue lawn.
Prep your yard for aeration
Cut it – Four days before aeration, cut your lawn short – no more than 1.5 inches high. This will ensure the tines on the aerator penetrate the soil rather than fighting their way through thick, long grass. This will also help the fertilizer and lime make their way into the soil, providing nutrients to the existing grass as well as to new grass roots.
Mark it – Using marker flags from your local hardware store, mark all irrigation heads, valve boxes, shallow irrigation pipes or shallow wiring and any other items that could be damaged by aeration.
Water it – For several days prior to aeration, water your lawn (but don’t flood it) until you can easily push your index finger roughly one inch into the ground. If the ground is hard, the aerator won’t be able to penetrate the soil and the seed will not have the holes in the ground and loose soil it needs to germinate, root and establish.
Get the supplies you need to do the job right
Get it – A great option for your aeration task is the versatile STIHL YARD BOSS®. With seven optional attachments, the STIHL YARD BOSS® can cultivate, edge, sweep, dethatch and yes, even aerate, making it a great tool for your yearly reseeding tasks, as well as many other jobs around the yard and garden. Your local rental store will also have aerators available for rent. If this is your first time using an aerator, make sure you receive the proper instructions before beginning the job.
Buy it – The better quality the seed, the better the lawn. The staff at your local sod farm or lawn care store can help you pick out a blend that is best suited for your particular climate. I recommend using only Oregon blue-tagged certified seed. You’ll pay more for premium seed, but if it isn’t Oregon blue-tagged certified, you’ll see blade and color variations and weeds in your mature lawn which will make you wish you’d paid a little more up front than lots more trying to correct it later.
Aerate it – For best results, make multiple passes with the aerator to avoid inconsistent grass growth with noticeable stand alone patches of grass. If your lawn is in good shape, two passes is sufficient. If your lawn has large bare areas, make three to four passes. The more soil plugs and holes you have in your lawn, the better. When you overseed, grass will root and grow in the holes and under and around the soil plugs. The soil plugs will break down as you begin to water, delivering lush and consistent growth.
Fertilize it – Buy pelletized limestone and starter fertilizer from your local lawn and garden store and be sure to read the instructions before spreading. A little goes a long way, so spread only a minimal amount of lime and fertilizer to increase seed germination.
Spread it – In the main lawn area, using a broadcast spreader (which spreads seed approximately ten feet to the left and right) makes the seeding process more efficient. Use a drop spreader (which drops seed straight down onto the ground) around planting beds, along gravel driveways and non-mortared walkways to prevent grass from growing in these areas.
Care for your new lawn
Water it (more) – Maximizing water and sunlight allows grass to grow before the nighttime temperatures of the fall start to become too cold. For the first three weeks, water early in the morning (between 5:00 – 8:00 a.m.) and again in the early afternoon (around 2:00 p.m). If you have an irrigation system, each watering period should be between ten and fifteen minutes per zone depending on water pressure. If you have sprinklers, we recommend a watering period of 30 – 45 minutes.
Avoid it – Stepping on immature grass can stunt germination, so for the first three weeks after spreading the seed, stake and string the sides of your yard to minimize foot traffic.
Cut it – After the first three weeks you can cut your lawn, but only on the highest setting. Be careful making turns to avoid tearing the tender, young grass blades. While new grass can withstand some foot traffic, continue to limit it as best you can. Leaves block sunlight and can impede grass growth, so remove leaves and other debris as often as possible. Use a STIHL blower instead of a rake to avoid damaging new seedlings.
Water it (less) – After the first cut, water once a day in the early morning. As the weather noticeably cools in the fall, water every other morning until the first winter frost. In the spring, resume watering every other morning, increasing to once a day as the weather warms. Watering in the early morning, especially in hot summer temperatures, allows the water to soak into the ground before it evaporates.
Fixing bare spots
Find it – After the first cutting, inspect your lawn for noticeable bare spots. Grass growth can sometimes be spotty on sloped land and undulating areas due to water run off and puddling.
Dress it – Use premium seed and a topsoil/organic, nutrient-rich compost to help the seed germinate and keep it from being washed away, blown away or eaten by birds. Dress the bare spots with approximately one inch of compost and then hand spread the seed, covering about 40% of the area. Next, use a kitchen broom (not a rake) to gently mix the soil and seed together.
Water it – As in previous steps, water these newly seeded areas twice a day for the first few weeks to ensure the soil stays moist for maximum germination.
Keep your lawn healthy all year
Cut it – Throughout the year, mow your lawn at or close to the highest setting on your mower. This keeps the grass thick and helps blades hold moisture, resulting in a greener lawn with stronger roots that will survive summer temperatures and humidity.
Water it – Water your lawn several times a week in the early morning – between 5:00 – 7:00 a.m. Deep watering allows water to penetrate the soil, and watering in the early morning, especially during hot summer months, minimizes evaporation and prevents disease from fungus (like Rhizoctonia or “brown patch”) that can damage fescue grass.
Treat it – Keep your lawn healthy and free of weeds and disease year round with proper lime and fertilizer treatments. Your local lawn care company can help you with a lawn care program that fits your particular climate.
Clean it – Throughout the fall, periodically remove leaves using a STIHL blower instead of a rake to avoid damaging new grass.
Avoid it – When your grass is frozen and covered in frost on early winter mornings, stay off your lawn whenever possible. Walking on frozen grass can create bare spots that will not disappear until the grass comes out of dormancy in the spring.
By: Jeffrey Cartwright, Owner, Cartwright Landscaping