Don’t Delay, Seed in September

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Does your tall fescue lawn need some help? Well the good news is September is the best time for renovation and seeding tall fescue lawns. Spring-established tall fescue is more susceptible to drought, heat, fungal diseases, and weed encroachment than those establish in the fall. With normal summer weather patterns, spring seeding is not likely to result in a good stand of tall fescue. So do not delay, seed today!

Young seedlings normally emerge and grow best when air temperatures are between 70 and 80 degrees. Soil temperatures need to be greater than 60 degrees for good germination. It is generally better to go a bit early than to seed late. If tall fescue is seeded in less than ideal conditions (too cool or no soil moisture), you may experience a thin turf stand going into the winter. So try to get your seed out in September. If you must wait until October there is an increased likelihood of slow/low germination.

A typical tall fescue seeding rate is 5 to 6 pounds of seed per 1000 square feet. Germination normally occurs within 7 to 21 days under suitable moisture and soil temperatures conditions.

For best results and to make the most of your investment, select cultivars recommended on the Turffiles website. Cultivar names should be listed on the seed bag label.

Trail for fescue

Tall fescue variety recommendations are based on research trails performed at the NC State University Lake Wheeler Field Laboratory. This turf variety research is part of the National Turf Evaluation Program. This picture was taken at the annual turfgrass field day in August. (Photo credit Seth Nagy)

If you buy a tall fescue blend, try to find one with at least one of the cultivars from the list of recommended cultivars. These grasses were chosen because they produce a high-quality turf in North Carolina and have been shown to be less susceptible to brown patch. Some like to mix in a little Kentucky bluegrass (darker color and finer texture) or fine fescue (for shady areas). Do NOT add ryegrass to the mix.

Important information to look for on the seed bag label includes:
● Name of grass cultivars included in the mix. Look for varieties recommended by NC State University based on their turf variety trials. Top performers include Wolfpack II, Talladega, Faith, 3rd Millenium, and Gazelle II.
● Germination % (85% on this label for all three varieties) – higher germination rates mean more seeds come up.
● % Weed Seed – choose mixes with very low weed seed levels (ideally less than 0.25%).
● Sell by Date – fresher seed generally have higher germination rates. Choose seeds packaged for sale this year or next year. Avoid seed that has already passed the sell-by date.

Before seeding, core aerification is recommended to reduce soil compaction. Getting good soil to seed contact is paramount to maximize available soil moisture. The core aerification holes will capture seed and hold moisture – as a result, the tall fescue seedlings often come up as a tuft of turf from the aerification holes.

Apply fertilizer and lime before planting based on soil test results. If you did not perform a soil test, apply 45 pounds of ground limestone, and 20 pounds of 10-20-20, or 16 pounds of 18-24-6 per 1,000 sq ft.

If irrigation is available, irrigate to keep the top 1.5 inches of soil moist after seeding. This may require light watering once or twice a day for 7 to 21 days depending on your soil type and weather conditions. As the seedlings grow and root, water less often but for longer periods, working up to the recommended fall irrigation rate of 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 inch water per week (via rainfall or irrigation). Irrigate early in the morning to reduce water loss due to evaporation.

Since seeds and seedlings may be damaged by some herbicide applications, fall-seeded, cool-season grasses should not have any herbicides applied (including “weed and feed” products) until they have been mown at least 3 times. If applying herbicides to kill weeds before seeding, be sure to check the label for any waiting periods that should be followed before sowing new seed.

K31 grass

Kentucky-31 or K-31 is a very popular tall fescue variety so it is always part of any test. However, there are many improved varieties that have been bred for better color and texture than k-31. (Photo credit Seth Nagy)

It is very important that tall fescue be maintained at the proper mowing height to allow it to mature before winter and to minimize weed incidence. Studies have shown that a 3.5” mowing height provides the best growth condition while minimizing disease incidence and weed encroachment. Mow newly seeded fescue back to 3” when it reaches 4.5” in height. How often you need to mow will depend on how quickly the turf grows, which will vary with temperature, fertility, and moisture levels. Allow clippings to fall into the turf where they will decay and release nutrients. This can reduce the need for fertilizer by 20-30%.

For answers to your agricultural questions, call the N.C. Cooperative Extension, Caldwell County Center at 828-757-1290 or visit us online anytime.

Thanks to Dr. Grady Miller, NC State Turfgrass Management Specialist for assistance with this article.