grass

Fescue in the off season!

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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 lawn with dappled sunshine.

Fescue lawn with dappled sunshine.

 
  • Fescue lawns that are aerated in the fall have stronger root systems and can better withstand hot, dry days.

 
Fescue when watered and mowed properly in full sun in the heat of the summer.

Fescue when watered and mowed properly in full sun in the heat of the summer.

 

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.

 
Brown patch in fescue.

Brown patch in fescue.

Fescue with a mild case of brown patch.

Fescue with a mild case of brown patch.

 
  • 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.

 
Drought stressed fescue.

Drought stressed fescue.

 
  • Tight clay soil that has never been aerated result in shallow rooted fescue that will struggle in the heat.

 
Fescue seeded over Bermuda in full sun in the heat of the year.

Fescue seeded over Bermuda in full sun in the heat of the year.

Fescue in full to dappled sun in July.

Fescue in full to dappled sun in July.

 

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!

Lorne Hall

Hall | Stewart Lawn + Landscape

(405)367-3873

   

Is your lawn good or great?

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A good lawn is a result of several key activities:

  1. Correctly timed pre-emergent applications to prevent weeds before they germinate.

  2. Applying the right amount of fertilizer to insure you have a thick and healthy turf.

  3. Regularly scheduled mowing that only removes the top 1/3 of the leaf blade each time.

  4. Infrequent deep watering based on seasonal need.

But, there is a 5th activity that will move a good lawn to a great lawn:

AERATION

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What is aeration? 

Aeration is the process of mechanically removing 2”-3” cores of soil, 4”-6” apart, from your lawn.

What are the benefits of aeration? 

  • Soil compaction is reduced. 

  • Air movement into the soil is improved.

  • Fertilizer can quickly reach the root zone.  

  • Water runoff and puddling is reduced. 

  • Roots grow stronger and deeper. 

  • Thatch is reduced.

  • Reduction of weeds that love compacted soils.

Compact soils prevent grass from establishing a healthy root system and prevents air, water and nutrients from reaching the root zone. Walking, playing, mowing (in other words everything you do on your lawn) increases soil compaction.

As Oklahomans, we are all use to having tight clay, compacted soils.  Our clay soils make growing a great lawn a challenge.

Have we accepted compaction as the status quo? 

Stop accepting the norm.  You don’t have to have tight, compacted soil.

Golf courses typically aerate their turf at least two times per season.  No wonder the fairways always have better turf than most home lawns.

Lawns with compacted soil also are more susceptible to weed development.  Many weeds thrive in tight compacted soil. 

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Nutsedge, one of the most difficult to control summer weeds, thrives in tight soils.  Our experience has shown that annually aerated lawns have far less problems with nutsedge.  

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When should you aerate?

  • Warm season lawns (Bermuda and zoyia) should be aerated any time after spring green-up and before the end of July.

  • Cool season lawns (fescue) should be aerated in the fall, September through October.  Aeration in conjunction with overseeding will not only improve the soil structure, but it will also improve seed soil contact resulting in better seed germination.

Should the cores be removed or left on the lawn?   Leave the cores on the lawn. As they breakdown and dissolve, they will refill the holes with loose soil resulting in improved soil structure. The cores will break up and settle back into the lawn within 2-3 weeks.

Should the cores be removed or left on the lawn?

Leave the cores on the lawn. As they breakdown and dissolve, they will refill the holes with loose soil resulting in improved soil structure. The cores will break up and settle back into the lawn within 2-3 weeks.

Nothing will take your lawn from good to great more than an annual aeration! 

Aeration, the most overlooked lawn practice, will give you a healthier, more vigorous, less weedy lawn. 

Lorne Hall

Hall | Stewart Lawn + Landscape

(405)367-3873