Tall fescue is one of the most popular turf-type grasses in north Georgia. People love tall fescue for its dark green color in fall and spring. It is also easy to plant by seed, making it popular with DIY, or do-it-yourself, homeowners.
Because it is a cool-season grass, meaning it prefers the cooler temperatures of fall and spring, it often becomes thin during the summer. Don't be alarmed. This is the grass's natural method of protecting itself during the hot summer months.
Tall fescue can be easily reseeded in the fall months, particularly in September and October.
Good soil preparation is always the first step in successful planting of any turf. Remove any debris or foreign objects from the lawn. For new fescue establishment, use a rototiller to break up the soil. Incorporate fertilizer and lime into the soil.
Now is the time to add soil amendments, such as topsoil or organic matter. Smooth the soil out with a hard rake. Have a soil test done at the extension office to determine what fertilizer you need to incorporate.
If you plan to reseed an existing fescue lawn, it is best to try to break up the soil in the bare spots. A core aerator or similar implement can be rented at the local garden centers.
Mow down the existing grass to around 1 to 2 inches. This will allow the new seed to reach the soil.
If possible, lightly rake the new seed to achieve good soil contact.
When choosing tall fescue seed, it is best to choose a ‘turf-type' fescue. These are newer varieties with thinner, more-dense leaf blades and darker colors. They can also take slightly lower mowing heights and have greater shade tolerance. Some varieties have even been shown to have deeper root systems, which improves drought tolerance.
Look for certified seed in bags with a blue tag. These seeds have been tested to be free of weed seed to the percentage listed on the bag. Most retail tall fescue comes in blends of several different varieties. These are cheaper than single-variety blends.
When establishing a new tall fescue lawn, the recommended seeding rate is 5 pounds per 1,000 square feet.
However, when reseeding an existing lawn, estimate the percentage of fescue loss, and multiply that by the seeding rate.
For example, if your lawn has a 50 percent (0.5) loss, then you would need to reseed at a rate of 2.5 pounds per 1,000 square feet (0.5 x 5 = 2.5).
After seeding your lawn, you will need to keep the soil moist. If no rain is present, you will need to water the turf at around 1/8 to 1/4 inch daily for the first three weeks.
After that, start to water the turf deeper and less-frequently.
Tall fescue seeds should start to germinate in 5 to 10 days under good conditions.
The grass should be ready for its first mowing in around three weeks.
Recommended regular mowing height for ‘turf-type' tall fescue lawns is between 2.5 to 3 inches. I recommend letting newly-established fescue grow to at least 3 inches before the first mowing.
If you plan to reseed your tall fescue lawn, or start a new one, it is best to start your planning and preparations now.
Although it is possible to seed fescue in the spring, it is not recommended.
The seed rarely has time to establish before the heat of our summers.
By planting this fall, your tall fescue will be able to establish deep roots without the pressures of heat and water stress.
Clark MacAllister is the Dawson County extension agent. For more information, call (706)265-2442.