Time to Fertilize Your Tall Fescue

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High quality turf starts by following basic lawn care practices. Most lawns in Caldwell County are made of a grass species called tall fescue. I’ll assume you have a tall fescue lawn too. Tall fescue is a cool season grass. It grows in the spring and the fall. During the summer, fescue is stressed by the heat. During the winter, fescue will stay green if property fertilized and managed.

My approach to lawn care is simple. I want to create an environment where tall fescue is able to out compete any other plant species. Fescue just needs, full sunlight, proper fertilization, some rain, and to be mowed at the optimum height (3.5 inches) to be a vigorous competitor against any weed.

Too often I talk with homeowners that want to grow grass where there is heavy shade. Shade and grass don’t mix. If you have shade, don’t frustrate yourself, just select a plant that thrives in shade.

Proper fertilization Is essential. The North Carolina Department of Agriculture makes soil testing easy. They offer free soil testing April – November, and only charge $4 per sample December – March. Soil testing provides a customized fertilizer recommendation for your lawn.

Although taking a soil sample is easy, right now there is not enough time to take a sample and get the results back before applying fertilizer. I recommend fertilizing tall fescue three time per year in February, September, and October. An easy way to remember these dates is to think of Valentines Day, Labor Day, and Halloween. I do not recommend fertilizing tall fescue after March 15th.

A soil test eliminates guessing at what fertilizer is best for your lawn. However, In the absence of a soil test, use a complete nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium (N-P-K) turf-grade fertilizer with a 3-1-2 or 4-1-2 ratio. For example 12-4-8 is a commercial fertilizer that has the ratio 3-1-2. Apply one pound of actual Nitrogen per 1,000 square feet. If utilizing 12-4-8, this would be 8.3 pounds per 1,000 square feet of turf.

Soon it will be time to start mowing. Be sure your mower is tuned up and ready for the task. This includes sharpening the blades and being sure the mowing deck is set at 3.5 to 3.75 inches. Some mowers will not mow this height. Mowing shorter than 3.5 inches reduces fescue’s ability to compete with weeds and reduces tall fescue’s overall vigor.

Before applying any pesticides to your lawn be sure to thoroughly read the label. You will learn more than just important safety information.

Root of young tall fescue grass

Be sure to fertilize before March 15 and mow at 3.5 inches. Before applying any pesticides read the label. Young grass, like that pictured, can be damaged by many common broadleaf weed killers and preemergent herbicides.

Newly seeded lawns can be damaged by many common broadleaf weed killers and preemergent herbicide applications.

A nice lawn should bring joy. Don’t fight Mother Nature. If you are having trouble sustaining your lawn take a step back and evaluate the situation. Make sure you are following these basic principles of lawn care. When given a chance fescue is very competitive.

For answers to your agricultural questions, call the Caldwell County Extension Center at 828-757-1290 or visit us online anytime at https://caldwell.ces.ncsu.edu.