The following is expert advice on how to create and then maintain a beautiful, healthy fescue lawn. It is appropriate to you if your lawn is within about 50 miles of Interstate-85. I assume some of the methods are pertinent to other areas. My expertise, however, is based on the Greenville-Spartanburg,SC area. I85, from Montgomery,AL to Virginia has similar climate and soil as my specific area – and hence my specific advice will pertain. Why listen to me? I first began mowing yards for a living 38 years ago (I was 13). I have since gotten “much education” regarding fescue. This education includes college (Clemson), first hand experience (over 2,000 lawns), advice from greenskeepers at golf courses, advice from quality fescue sod farms, and advice from other professionals in the lawn care industry.
First, realize you need to do WHAT you need to do WHEN you need to do it. Garden centers and the like will sell you seed, fertilizer, herbicides, etc. at any time of the year. That does NOT mean you can apply these things or perform these tasks any time of the year. Imagine if a farmer planted his crop or harvested his crop at his whim. It doesn't work. He knows the season or time of year, in which he must perform certain tasks. Your next step is to measure the area in which you want to have your fescue lawn. The AMOUNT of seed, fertilizer, etc. you use is almost as important as the when. I will give you amounts to use per 10,000 square feet.
THE BEGINNING: Installing your new fescue lawn should be done about September 15. Never before Sept. 1 or after Oct. 31. If your soil needs lime to correct the PH (they usually do), this is not the time. Lime can inhibit the germination of your new seed. We like applying lime in July. Another “pre-seeding” task is to eliminate the competition for your fescue. August is a good time for this. If your lawn is more than 50% bermuda grass and weeds you might want to use roundup and kill it all. If it has a reasonable amount of Fescue, you can spot treat the weeds with 2-4-D or another type of lawn weed killer. 2-4-D should not be used after about the middle of August as it can inhibit germination of your fescue.
The next step is soil preparation. The best method is to thoroughly till up the soil and then rake smooth. A close 2nd is to use a core aerator. You can rent a self propelled (5HP gas engine) type from your local rental equipment store or maybe your local hardware store. I notice most homeowners (and many landscaping companies) don't aerate enough. You need your lawn to look as if it has millions of holes in it. As a guide we run an aerator for a full 3 hours on about 10,000 s.f. of lawn.
Applying seed and fertilizer is next. In relation to the total cost of your lawn and its upkeep, seed is inexpensive. Buy the best you can find. A “blue label” seed from Oregon is a sure bet. You will need to apply 5 lbs of seed per 1,000 sf for new lawns or 3 lbs for existing lawns. You will want to make sure you have even coverage. We like to spread 1/2 of our seed going North – South and the other 1/2 going East – West (direction relative). Your fertilizer will need to be about 8 lbs of nitrogen per 10,000 sf. We like 16-4-8. A 50 lb bag with 16% nitrogen is 8 lbs nitrogen. There are many types of “starter fertilizer” available. We have found them to be more expensive than 16-4-8 and not any more effective. Just as with the seed, extra care needs to be spent so as to insure the fertilizer is spread evenly. It's a good idea to “roll” your lawn with a sod roller after spreading seed. This insures good contact of seed to soil.
Water. Allow me to back up a step and explain why you need to seed very near September 15. Fescue thrives in mild weather. It doesn't like it if it is over 85 or below freezing. That gives us two good growing seasons – Fall and Spring. The winter slows down the growth of the fescue, but doesn't really harm it. The long hot days of summer can be brutal to fescue. Before summer starts you want your fescue to be as mature and healthy with long roots. The way to accomplish this is to have your fescue grow as much during the fall, and then grow again as much as possible in the spring. Now when the 100 degree days of July hit you, your fescue can survive. So plant seed as soon as it is cool enough (Sep 15) and now you need to water to get it to germinate as soon as possible. Ideally you have a properly installed irrigation system. We like to run our irrigation system for a very short time (3 – 5 minutes per zone) 3 times a day. We do this until we see that the seed has germinated. Normally this takes 10-15 days. For the next 2 – 4 weeks, or until the grass is about 3-4 inches tall we water once daily. If at any time you can walk on your lawn and your feet sink down as if the soil is too muddy, turn off the water for a couple of days. If you get a good rain, turn off your water for 2 – 3 days. When your new grass approaches 4″, it is time to mow. You want to not to have watered in the last 36 hours. You will want to set your mower HIGH. With most push mowers and homeowner type riding mowers you will use the highest setting. 3.5 to 4 inches is a good height. You can then water your lawn after you have mowed. For the rest of the fall and then again in the spring, we recommend watering your lawn heavily, but only 1 – 2 times per week. About the equivalent of 1 inch of rain per week is a good guide.
Here is a good schedule (amounts are per 10,000 sf):
- Sep 15 – 50 lbs Seed, 50 lbs 16-4-8 fertilizer
- Oct 30 – 25 lbs fertilizer (with something near 30 % nitrogen)
- Feb 15 – Apply a pre-emergence weed control (crabgrass preventer). Amount varies, read instructions
- Mar 15 – 50 lbs 16-4-8
- May 1 – 25 lbs 16-4-8, apply pre-emergence
- July 200 lbs lime
I will write more in future article about general care, weed control and insect control for your new beautiful fescue lawn.