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


Educational Opportunities, week of September 1, 2014


Thursday, Sep 4, 2014 6:30pm – 8:00pm 

Where:Sarah P. Duke Gardenes, 420 Anderson Street, Durham, NC (Map)

Grass is one of the most difficult plants to grow in our area. Discussion will be on lawn care for our Piedmont area climate & soil; best maintenance methods & untangle the confusing range of lawn care products. Presented by Charles Murphy, Durham County Extension Master Gardener. Class is free, registration is required 919-668-1707

Lawn Care

Saturday, Sep 6, 2014 10:00am – 11:00am 

Where:Durham Garden Center, 4536 Hillsborough Road, Durham, NC (Map)

Maintaining a beautiful lawn in our area is a struggle for many of us. This class will go over the pros & cons of cool season & warm season grasses, optimal lawn care for our Piedmont climate & soil. You will be introduced to the best maintenance & untangle the confusing range of lawn care products. Presented by Durham County Extension Master Gardener, Gene Carlone. Class is free/ registration is required.
contact: ann at 919-384-7526 or ann3dgc@gmail.com

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

Give Your Lawn Love in February

Give Your Lawn Some Love

If you have a fescue or other cool season lawn**, February is the time to give it some love in the form of fertilizer. Turfgrass experts at NC State University recommend applying 1 pound of nitrogen per 1000 square feet of lawn. If you have the results of a recent soil test, use those recommendations instead.


The following example calculations from Turffiles.ncsu.edu demonstrate how to use the label on your bag of fertilizer:

To determine the amount of product required to apply 1 pound of nitrogen per thousand square feet, divide 100 by the first number on the fertilizer bag.

Example 1:

A 16-4-8 fertilizer. Dividing 100 by 16 = 6.25 (100/16 = 6.25) pounds of product applied per thousand square feet to deliver 1 pound of nitrogen.

Example 2:\

A 10-10-10 fertilizer. Dividing 100 by 10 = 10 (100/10 = 10) pounds of product to be applied per thousand square feet to deliver 1 pound of nitrogen.

Cool season lawns should be fertilized on or around three holidays – Valentine’s Day, Labor Day, and Thanksgiving. Do not fertilize tall fescue after March 15.

If your lawn has an abundance of annual weeds such as chickweed or henbit, an herbicide labeled for controlling these weeds in fescue can be applied as well. A weed and feed product can be used prior to March 15. After this date, herbicides without fertilizer should be used if weed control is needed.

If you have a warm season lawn, do NOT fertilize this month. Fertilizing can begin once the lawn turns green.

** Not sure what “cool season” and “warm season” mean? Cool season grasses grow best in temperatures between 65 – 80 degrees F (spring and fall in NC). Examples of these are the fescues, perennial ryegrass, and bluegrass. Cool season lawns stay fairly green during our winters. Warm season grasses, like zoysiagrass, bermudagrass, centipedegrass, carpetgrass, and St. Augustine grass grow best in our summer temperatures between 75 – 90 degrees F. These grasses turn brown when dormant in winter.

-Ann Barnes