Blackwelder column: Good weather for fescue lawns

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 10, 2011

SALISBURY ó Abundant rain and mild temperatures over the past few days have created the perfect environment for newly seeded cool season fescue lawns.
It is important to note that emerging seedlings need to be handled very carefully this fall to ensure maximum growth and establishment. Well established fescue lawns have better survival rates during the summer months when heat becomes the primary enemy.
Itís impossible to have complete coverage when over-seeding, especially when applying to existing turf. For a number of reasons, gaps or bare spots often appear in the newly seeded areas. There is still time to add more seed to areas that need reseeding for gaps or bare areas. Fescue seeds will germinate quickly if our pattern of warm weather and ample rainfall continues.
Mow newly emerging turf when it reaches a height of 4 inches. It is important the mower blade is sharp; dull blades have a tendency to yank new seedlings out of newly seeded or wet soils.
It is also important to make sure that germinating fescue seedlings have full sun to obtain maximum growth. Falling leaves and excessive straw mulch impedes sunlight, producing weak, frail growth. Removal can be somewhat tricky with young fescue turf. Use a blower or a bagger on the mower to remove leaves or excess straw without damaging roots.
The weather is also perfect for broadleaf weeds to emerge along with the fescue. In most situations, these weeds outgrow the young turf competing for both sunlight and nutrients. Broad leaf turf herbicides easily kill winter weeds. However, these herbicides may also damage newly seeded turf. Donít use these herbicides until the grass becomes well established. Turf that is actively growing and has been mowed at least three to four times can withstand over-the- top weed killers.
Since fescue grows best in the fall and early winter, itís best to maintain an ongoing fall and winter fertilization program. The root system continues to grow as top growth slows during colder weather in December and January. Fescue turf needs about 2 pounds of actual nitrogen per 1,000 square feet to maintain constant growth. Split applications of grade fertilizers in September, October and November are recommended to supply growing turf constant nutrition. Specialty, pre-measured cool season turf fertilizers are slow release allowing slow, steady growth in the fall and winter months.
Darrell Blackwelder is the County Extension Director with horticulture responsibilities with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service in Rowan County. Learn more about Cooperative Extension events and activities by calling 704-216-8970 Facebook or online at