Fall Is Time to Sow Tall Fescue Lawns

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Fall is the best time for renovation and seeding cool-season grasses. More specifically, September and October are the best months for sowing tall fescue. After October, cool weather reduces seed germination. Planting now gives tall fescue time to establish and grow a robust root system. Spring-established tall fescue is more susceptible to drought, heat, fungal diseases, and weed encroachment. Spring seeding is not likely to result in a year-long stand of healthy tall fescue.


Established lawns benefit from core aerification when overseeding. This helps improve the seed-soil contact. Seed-soil contact is essential for germination. Seed that is not in contact with soil will not establish. Core aeration also reduces soil compaction.

Tall fescue seeding rate for a lawn is 5 pounds of seed per 1000 square feet. With good soil moisture and suitable soil temperatures, germination will normally be in 5 to 12 days.

Seeds and seedlings can be killed by some herbicides, so fall seeded cool-season grasses should not have any herbicides applied until it is extensively tillered. Tillering is when the seedling grass produces new side shoots. Once this occurs, it is tolerant of pre-emergent and broadleaf herbicides.

Fall is also the time to fertilize cool-season lawns. Take a soil sample and have your soil tested. This will make sure your soil fertility is not deficient for a healthy lawn. A soil test is free if submitted before Thanksgiving.

If you don’t test your soil for nutrients, apply a complete nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium (N-P-K) turf-grade fertilizer with a 3-1-2 or 4-1-2 ratio (that is, 12-4-8 or 16-4-8). For a basic level of fertility, fertilize with 1 pound of N per 1,000 square feet in mid-September and again in November (about the time the grass is green but not actively growing).

If you bag your grass, apply 1 pound of nitrogen (N) per 1,000 square feet of lawn. If you use a mulching blade and do not collect the grass clippings, reduce your fertilizer by 25%. To calculate how much fertilizer you need, divide 100 by the FIRST number on the fertilizer bag. (The first number always represents N content.) This is what is needed per 1,000 square feet.

For example, if you have a 10-10-10 fertilizer, divide 100 by 10 and you get 10. Therefore, you need 10 pounds of 10-10-10 fertilizer for every 1,000 square feet of lawn.

One easy way to measure your lawn is Google maps. Find your property and “right-click” your mouse. This brings up a menu of choices. Select “Measure Distance”. The other option is to use the County GIS map and select the measure tool from the toolbar. The measure button looks like a carpenter square.

Lawns are living carpets that add beauty and recreational space to your home. The benefits of a healthy lawn go beyond the obvious. Surveys show that an attractive, well-landscaped lawn adds value to your home. By taking proper care of your lawn, it can outcompete weeds and disease, reducing the need for pesticides.