Blackwelder: Time to get your fescue in order

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 9, 2011

SALISBURY — It’s almost a week after Labor Day, and now is the perfect time to renovate and maintain fescue lawns. Rowan County lawns have suffered through another summer of unusual heat and humidity, which has weakened strong lawns and virtually eliminated those that were seeded late or those with weak stands.
Tropical rain storms made it plausible to proceed with much of this seemingly unending renovation project. Below are a few questions homeowners often ask via phone or email about fall lawn renovation.
Q: You often suggest using a fescue blend of three or more fescue types. Why is it so important to use a turf-type fescue blend?
A: Through years of testing, agronomists have learned that using different types of fescue provides better survival rates from droughts or fungal diseases such as brown patch. Agronomists have discovered that mixing different types provides better disease resistance through different genetics.
Q: What are the seeding rates for fescue seed?
A: Over-seed with 3 to 5 pounds per 1,000 square feet for thin or weak lawns. A new lawn or lawns with completely bare areas should receive about 7 to 10 pounds per 1,000 square feet.
Q: You always recommend core aerating lawns in the fall. What is wrong with using a spike type aerator?
A: Spike aerators make holes, but the spikes compact the soil. Clay soil benefits from plugs of soil pulled out of the earth to allow better aeration and root expansion. Core aeration should be done every other year and only in the fall. Aeration in the spring encourages weed germination.
Q: What’s a good fertilizer for fall lawn renovation?
A: Pre-measured specialty fertilizers are designed to provide maximum growth for fescue and other turf. These contain slow-release fertilizers with high percentages of nitrogen and phosphorus for maximum root growth during the fall and winter. Grade fertilizers such as 10-10-10 are also acceptable, but often do not contain slow-release fertilizers, requiring more frequent applications.
Q: How soon after my fescue germinates can I mow the grass?
A: Fescue should be cut when the newly emerging grass reaches about 4 inches. Raise the mower as high as it will go and mow. Make sure the blade is very sharp.
Q: Every time I use straw mulch I usually get a huge crop of wheat. Can I forgo straw mulch and get a good stand of fescue?
A: Yes, but it would be much better if you used mulch. Straw mulch often contains seeds from wheat or weed seed. You can, however, use paper mulch that works well and does not contain any seeds.
Darrell Blackwelder is County Extension Director, for the Rowan County Center, N.C. Cooperative Extension, 2727 A Old Concord Road. Call 704-216-8970.