Over the past few weeks I’ve been getting quite a few calls about what homeowners need to do to either establish or spruce up existing tall fescue lawns. If your lawn isn’t as lush as you’d like it to be, and you’ve been considering sowing some seed, this article is for you.
As with many things in life, success isn’t always a guarantee. When it comes to establishing a new tall fescue lawn or interseeding an existing lawn, there are several factors and practices that you should consider to increase your chances of success.
Have you ever been told the phrase “timing is everything?” Generally, seeding fescue earlier than September or October cause the stand to struggle from heat stress and diseases, whereas planting later leaves the young grass seedlings vulnerable to cold weather. Waiting until early spring is also not recommended, as the plant does not have adequate time to develop a deep root system needed to survive Georgia’s hot summers.
Proper soil preparation is also critical for effective seed establishment. Ridding the lawn of debris, tilling, incorporating lime and fertilizer and smoothing the surface are all necessary prior to seeding.
The best way to know if you need to add lime or extra nutrients is by doing a soil test. If starter fertilizer and lime are recommended by your soil test, incorporate by tilling the amendments 3 to 4 inches into the soil. Again, do not just layer organic matter and other amendments on top of the soil without thoroughly incorporating it into the native soil. Tilling deeper is always better!
To ensure you plant high-quality pure seed, search for the blue certified seed tag on the bag. In the retail market, most tall fescue seed is available as a blend of several tall fescue cultivars. Single cultivars are also available, but often at a higher price.
The ideal seeding rate for tall fescue is 5 to 6 pounds per 1,000 square feet. To minimize skips and gaps, divide the seed into two equal portions and broadcast half in one direction and the remainder at a right angle to the first direction.
The seed can be lightly raked into the upper quarter-inch of soil or pressed into the seedbed with a roller. Apply a weed-free straw mulch to retain moisture for improved germination and prevent erosion.
After seeding, keep the upper 1 to 2 inches of soil moist, not wet, for uniform germination. This usually means daily watering of about one-tenth to one-quarter inch for the first three weeks. As the seedlings develop, irrigate less frequently, but wet the soil profile deeper. Under good conditions, tall fescue seed will germinate in 5 to 10 days and be ready for its first mowing between 2 and 3 weeks.
Begin mowing at a height of 2 inches. As the seedlings mature, raise the cutting height to the 2.5- to 3-inch range. Once mature, the lawn can be maintained between 2 to 2.5 inches, but a height of 3 inches is suggested during the summer months. Use a mower with a sharp blade and mow often enough so no more than a third of the leaf height is removed in a single mowing. Do not mow a grass, especially young seedlings, when it’s wet.
If the lawn needs reseeding, estimate the percentage of tall fescue loss and multiply that number by the establishment seeding rate of 6 pounds per 1,000 square feet.
For example, if 50 percent (0.5) of the stand is lost, reseed with 0.5 x 6 = 3 pounds per 1,000 square feet. Spring reseeding is less successful because of the shorter establishment time before summer heat and moisture stress. So, if you’re looking to spruce up an existing tall fescue lawn, September and October are the months to do it.
Lastly, adequate seed-to-soil contact is necessary to assure successful reseeding. First, mow the lawn at a height of 1 to 1.5 inches. Disturb the soil by coring or vertical mowing before and/or after seed distribution. (Equipment for this task is available at rental or garden centers.)
Then, reseed thin areas at 2 to 6 pounds per 1,000 square feet. Getting the seed below the existing turfgrass canopy and to the soil surface improves germination. Apply a starter fertilizer at 1 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet. Lastly, keep the soil moist as discussed for new lawn establishment.