Fertilize Fescue in February

by Ann Barnes

Although we’ve had a stretch of cold, wet weather, the forecast for the rest of the week calls for mild temperatures. Why not take the time to fertilize your fescue lawn while it’s nice outside? Fescue is a cool season grass and should be fertilized in fall and winter. Using Valentine’s Day, Labor Day, and Thanksgiving as guidelines for when to fertilize may help you remember the optimal times for fertilizing. Don’t put it off until it’s warmer – fertilizing fescue in spring and summer can increase Brown Patch, a fungal disease.

If you have a recent soil test, fertilize according to the test results. Otherwise, use a fertilizer with the NPK rate of 4-1-2 or 4-1-3. The recommended amount of nitrogen for February application is 0.5 lb per 1000 square feet.

To apply 0.5 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 sq ft:

Divide 50 by the first number on the fertilizer bag to determine the amount of product to be used per 1,000 sq ft.

Example: A 10-10-10 fertilizer. 50 divided by 10 equals 5. Therefore, 5 pounds of fertilizer per 1,000 sq ft will deliver 0.5 pound of nitrogen. (per http://www.turffiles.ncsu.edu)

 For more information, please see http://www.turffiles.ncsu.edu/PDFFiles/004175/Carolina_Lawns.pdf


by Michelle Wallace

The first two weeks of September is the best time to reseed your cool season lawn.  Do not wait! Use 6 pounds of seed/ 1000 square feet.  Choose seed with a germination rate above 90% and with as high a percentage of guaranteed seed 97% or better as you can find.  Plan to water 2-3 times a day at first for the first 2 to 3 weeks then gradually reduce the number of times a week you are watering to once a week (by the third mowing). The grass needs about an inch of water and the water needs to be reaching depths of 6 to 8 inches deep.  This will promote deep rooting and protect the grass from long periods of dryness.

Tall Fescue

Like many Triangle residents, I moved here from up north. My dad, who has the perfect Ohio lawn, asked why everyone here kept lawns “long”. He was used to the Kentucky bluegrass and fine fescue mix common in his area. Our tall fescue looked – well, so TALL.

In fact, my lawn wasn’t too long. I had checked Extension guidelines for our lawn and we were cutting to the recommended height (3 – 3.5 inches). Tall fescue is well suited for the conditions in Durham, but it is not a compact grass. This grass has a bunching habit and will look patchy if it is cut too short. Patchy lawns have more space for weeds to grow, so a thicker, longer lawn will be less weedy.

Fescue mowed at the proper height tends to have deeper roots. A healthy root system helps the grass be more efficient at getting water and nutrients from the soil, potentially reducing the need for irrigation and fertilizer.

Tall fescue shouldn’t be allowed to get TOO tall, though. Lawns should be cut before they reach 5″, and should be mowed frequently enough that less than 1/3 of the length is cut. Unless you’ve waited too long to mow or have mowed when grass isn’t dry (two lawn maintenance don’ts), there is no need to bag the clippings. Grass clippings decompose quickly and provide nutrients, and they don’t cause thatch.

As a demonstration of proper vs. improper cutting height in a tall fescue lawn, I asked my husband to cut a section of our lawn at the lowest setting (don’t worry, the damaged fescue is in an area that was slated to become a landscape bed). After one cutting at the improper height, the fescue is noticeably stressed. This low mowing removed more than 1/3 of the length of the blades of grass – it removed almost all the healthy green blades!






After two weeks of mowing this way, nearly all the tall fescue in the “too low” section was dead. The only green left was courtesy of some grassy weeds that took advantage of the space. After a little weeding and some mulch, though, this spot is now ready for cooler weather, when I’ll add some lower maintenance plants. The remaining fescue lawn is tall, green, and healthy – and is probably ready to be mowed again tomorrow.

-Ann Barnes


Fertilize Fescue Lawns in November

It is time to fertilize your fescue lawn! If you plan to do the job yourself, take the time to calibrate your fertilizer spreader first. It doesn’t take a long time, and it could save you money while helping the environment.

Calibrating a Fertilizer Spreader

By Michelle Wallace

There are several reasons to take the time to calibrate your fertilizer spreader before applying fertilizer: economics, environment, and plant health. Fertilizer prices are high. The cost to produce fertilizer is directly related to the cost of natural gas, so when natural gas prices are high so are fertilizer prices. It therefore makes economical sense to make sure the equipment you use to spread fertilizer is properly calibrated so that you don’t waste money and spread more than you need. From an environmental perspective, excess nitrogen fertilizer leaches into the watershed affecting the limited drinking water supply and potentially creating algae blooms downstream. The over application of fertilizer can be detrimental to plants. Fertilizer is a salt. Excessive salts in the soil can cause fertilizer burn. Too much salt causes reverse osmosis to occur in plants. Water instead of being taken up by the plants, is drawn back from the plant and into the soil. Ever swallow salt water at the beach? That’s a good way to get dehydrated. The end result is death for the plant. Conversely, the under application of fertilizer will affect plant health and vitality. Calibrating a fertilizer spreader is the process of measuring and adjusting the application equipment in order to make it more accurate.

There are two common types of fertilizer spreaders: rotary spreaders and drop spreaders. The different spreader types require a slightly different method of testing calibration. There are several methods to choose from to calibrate your spreader: Pan Method, Sweep and Weigh Method, Catch Pan Method. Regardless of the method you choose all require that you weigh out the material collected in grams and divide that weight by (spreader width x distance traveled) then multiply that number by 1000 to get grams material per 1,000 sq.ft. The equation is below:

Grams Material per 1000 sq. ft = 1,000 x Grams Material Collected

Spreader width x distance traveled

Fertilizer spreaders are used for multiple applications including spreading of seeds, lime, and pesticides. Prior to calibrating your spreader make sure that it is clean and in good working order. When using the spreader make sure the distribution lever is closed before filling the hopper. Don’t overfill the hopper and make sure the filter is in place. Push the spreader as close to the calibrated speed as possible and only open the spreader lever after you have begun walking, closing it before you stop. Walk in straight lines keeping the impeller level.

Since you may find one method easier than another method you can find a complete explanation and examples by going to http://www.turffiles.ncsu.edu/PDFFiles/004613/AG628CalibrationofTurfgrassBoomSprayersandSpreaders.pdf or requesting a printed copy of WQWM-152 Water Quality and Sprayer and Spreader Calibration.

For more information on Gardening contact the Durham Extension Master Gardeners at 919-560-0528 or email mastergardener@dconc.gov

Lawn Reminders

The snow may have kept some of you from fertilizing in mid-February, but there is still a little time to complete this chore. Keep in mind that tall fescue should not be fertilized after March 15th. Here’s a lawn maintenance calendar for your reference: Tall Fescue. Maintenance calendars for other turf types can be found here: TurfFiles

Soon it will be time to start mowing. If your mower was not in good working order when you stored it for winter, take the time to do repairs or have it serviced before your grass needs attention. Be sure to start spring with a sharpened lawn mower blade. Sharp blades cut blades of grass cleanly rather than tearing them. Cleaner cuts help keep your lawn healthy by reducing potential entry points for disease-causing organisms. Remember to check the mowing height to be sure it is set to the proper height for your lawn type.

More Mowing Tips

-Ann Barnes