All turf grasses have an offseason. A season when they are not at their prime. For warm season grasses, it is the winter. No one expects their bermuda lawn to be green and actively growing in January. Everyone understands that it is dormant.
What about a cool season turf? When is fescue’s off season?
Fescue is at its best in the spring and fall, often has greenish-brown freeze burnt leaves in the dead of winter but goes through an off season during July and August when temperatures average 90 plus.
One of the advantages of fescue, when best practices are followed, is it will keep good color during its off season, unlike bermuda. Bermuda will always have more color than fescue in July and August, but March through early June and September into December, you can’t beat the greens of a fescue lawn.
Bermuda is the dominate turf in our region, but it doesn’t grow in shade. Fescue is the preferred turf for shady areas. Gracefully aging neighborhoods in the Oklahoma City area are full of mature trees and lawns that have transitioned from bermuda to fescue. Every homeowner eventually must face the need for fescue in their landscape.
How do you keep a fescue lawn looking its best in the summer heat?
Let’s run through a list of best and worst practices for fescue during its off season.
Best practices for keeping fescue looking good during July and August:
Mow fescue at 3” – 3 ½”. The more leaf space the better color and the more draught tolerant the lawn will be.
Water deep. Water infrequent. Water in the early morning. Fescue lawns that are receiving 1 ½” of moisture per week, on an every other day schedule, only in the early morning, look the best in the heat of summer.
Fescue lawns that receive at least some dappled sunlight look the best during the summer heat.
Fescue lawns that are aerated in the fall have stronger root systems and can better withstand hot, dry days.
Worst practices for fescue during the summer heat:
Fescue cut too short. Remember leaf blades store moisture the plant needs to withstand the summer heat.
Stop watering twice per day, morning and evening, every day. Short and frequent watering does far more harm than good. It is a myth that fescue needs to be kept wet during the summer heat. When temperatures are hot and fescue stays consistently wet for more than 6 hours at a time, brown patch will damage the turf. When brown patch starts spreading in a fescue lawn it looks like the lawn needs more water. The natural response is to water more which makes the problem worse. On most site visits I made in the past two weeks where customers were concerned about their fescue, I discovered brown patch was the problem. In each case the homeowner had increased watering to two times per day, morning and evening, every day.
Heavy shade and low air circulation. Fescue performs best if it receives some light every day. Fescue will tolerate more sun than most realize and does well in full sun when it is watered and mowed properly. Air circulation plays the important role of drying the leaf blades between watering cycles. Small backyards, with wood fences, and heavy shade are the hardest on fescue in July and August.
Tight clay soil that has never been aerated result in shallow rooted fescue that will struggle in the heat.
During fescue’s offseason take a stroll around your lawn and start planning for the fall. The cooler days of September will be here soon.
Do you need to make some changes to how you are mowing and watering your fescue?
Are you trying to grow fescue in full shade, in a location where there is little wind movement? If so, can you improve the conditions, or should you consider transitioning to a shade tolerant ground cover?
If your fescue didn’t perform well due to the excessive moisture and high humidity of the early summer, or if it has struggled with brown patch in the heat, start making plans to overseed this fall.
Do you have areas of the lawn that are becoming too shady for bermuda? Bermuda starts to thin anywhere it does not get at least 8 hours of direct sunlight every day. Is this the fall to start establishing fescue in those areas?
Whether you have a full fescue lawn or just some fescue in shady areas, don’t fret, fescue’s best season is just a few weeks away!
Hall | Stewart Lawn + Landscape