A Word about Fescue Lawns: Batters Up!

By Davie P. Lowe, EMGV

Our lawns need our attention! With the oppressive summer heat finally receding we once again venture out into our yards. We find that the lush lawn of spring is gone and in its place is a dry brown dust bowl. Your lawn needs an advocate, you need a pep talk and in the ninth inning, Coach Lowe is here to help.

Our lawns face numerous challenges, akin to a baseball game where harmful “pitches” are continuously thrown their way. Personally, my lawn has encountered fungi, destructive insects, soil compaction, and drought. Despite these challenges, it’s still in the game because I’m determined not to let anything strike it out.

Staten Island University Hospital Community Park Photo by: Lia Manos

Your lawn might be looking less than good, but now is not the time to give up. This is the perfect moment to step up to the plate – it’s, “Batters Up” time. Even if your lawn appears to be losing in the bottom of the ninth inning, remember, the game isn’t over; there’s still hope. As lawn owners, it’s our turn to step into the batter’s box.

I live in the Piedmont area, where it’s often recommended to grow cool-season grasses. Personally, I cultivate Fescue blends. There are various Fescue varieties available, but I prefer a blended Fescue that thrives in both sunny and partially shaded areas. You can find these blends at your local stores, and I’ve had excellent results with them.

Tall Fescue Image: Matt Lavin, Flickr  CC BY-SA 2.0

Let’s take a moment to differentiate between blended grass seeds and mixed grass seeds. Mixed grass includes different species of grass seeds, possibly with multiple varieties of other plant seeds.  In contrast, a blend should consist of one predominant grass species with several other added grass varieties. The key takeaway here is that mixed grass is more likely to contain unwanted seeds (weeds), whereas a blend doesn’t. I always opt for the blend as it provides a broader base and enhances grass uniformity.

Regardless of your choice of grass, it’s crucial to conduct a soil test prior to seeding. Why is this important? A soil test removes the guesswork surrounding your soil’s condition and nutrient requirements. Please, don’t assume that what works for your neighbor’s yard will work for yours. Soil composition can vary significantly even in close proximity. A soil test will guide you in making informed decisions about seed selection based on your soil’s condition. For a free analysis of your soil profile, reach out to your local Cooperative Extension office.

There’s an optimal time for planting or reseeding lawns. Fescue thrives when reseeded during the cool, rainy months. Aim for air temperatures consistently around 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit, typically that is between August and October, although this may vary due to current climate change. Consult your local weather service for trends and forecasts.

Last year, I reseeded my Fescue lawn in October, and with the arrival of rain, the grass flourished beyond my expectations. It was like hitting a home run with the bases loaded!

When purchasing grass seed, only buy what you need for the area to be reseeded. More isn’t always better and a crowded field can lead to weak grass that’s susceptible to disease. It’s a survival-of-the-fittest mechanism. If your lawn is thinning, overcrowding could be the issue – remember, everything needs room to grow!

Regarding fertilization, the best time to fertilize Fescue grass is in the fall, particularly if you plan to fertilize just once a year. This provides the necessary nutrients for growth and recovery from the summer heat. Spring fertilization is also an option, and it can be done in March or April. Before you fertilize, make sure you test your soil to know what it needs.

Before we wrap up, remember that Fescue is best mowed at a height of approximately 3.5 inches, though I sometimes opt for 4 inches, depending on the specific Fescue variety and time of season. During the dry summer heat, aim high. It will increase the lawn’s strength and density and shade out lower-growing grass such as Bermuda grass. Cutting it too short introduces stress. The short blades are left with little room to photosynthesize, especially if your lawn is in the shade.

Reel lawn mower. rseigler0, Pixabay CC BY 0

Gardeners, consider the baseball player called up from Minor Leagues to the Major League. That’s me today as I’ve been asked to write this blog. It’s my first, however, I’m making no apologies and I hope I scored with you.  As the player steps up to the plate, he doesn’t apologize for his debut; he just says, “Batters up” and starts swinging!

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