Most people associate fall with falling leaves and cooler weather, but it is also the perfect time to rejuvenate your cool-season turfgrass. October is the prime month for planting or re-seeding tall fescue lawns.
Tall fescue is a popular turf species because it stays green longer than some warm-season grasses like Bermuda or Zoysia. It is a cool-season grass, which means it grows well in fall and spring but tends to thin out and become stressed during a hot summer. Tall fescue is also easily started from seed, making it easier to establish than some other turfgrasses.
When establishing or re-seeding your lawn, soil preparation is important.
Your first step should be to have a soil test done to analyze soil pH and which vital nutrients your soil may be lacking. With a new lawn, use a rototiller to break up existing soil and incorporate lime and fertilizer according to your soil test results. Incorporating soil amendments, such as compost and organic matter, will also increase your chances of establishing a healthy lawn.
If you are rejuvenating an existing tall fescue lawn, it is best to use a rototiller or core aerator to loosen up the soil in problem spots. Compact soil will not allow new seeds to germinate properly. At the very least, use a hard rake to disturb the top few inches of soil. Before spreading new seed, mow the existing fescue down to 1-2 inches to allow the seeds to contact the soil.
Recommended seeding rate for new tall fescue lawns is 5 pounds of seed per 1,000 square feet.
For lawns that need re-seeding, calculate your seeding rate by multiplying your estimated loss by the seeding rate. A lawn with 50 percent loss would need a seeding rate of 2.5 pounds per 100 square feet (0.5 x 5 = 2.5).
When selecting seed, it is best to choose a "turf-type" tall fescue. These varieties are more dense and darker than traditional fescues. They can be mowed slightly lower and have better shade and drought tolerance. Look for bags with blue tags for certified seed. This means they have been tested to be weed free to the percentage listed on the tag.
After seeding, your new tall fescue will need 1/8-1/4 inches of water daily for the first three weeks. Gradually reduce watering after that.
The seeds should start to germinate in five to 10 days under normal conditions. Wait about three weeks, or until the fescue reaches 3 inches in height, before the first mowing. Regular mowing height for turf-type tall fescue is 2 1/2-3 inches.
Tall fescue can also be seeding in the spring, but it is not recommended. Planting in fall allows time for adequate root establishment without the drought and heat stress from a normal summer.
Clark MacAllister is the Dawson County extension agent. For more information, call (706)265-2442.