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By: Susan Patterson, Master Gardener
Many people are turning to low maintenance grasses for their lawn care needs. While there are a number of these grasses available, one of the lesser known types – creeping red fescue – is becoming more popular. Read on to learn more about red fescue grass.
Creeping red fescue grass (Festuca rubra) is a perennial lawn grass in USDA planting zones 1-7 and an annual grass in zones 8-10. Native to Europe, this cool season grass needs moist soil until it is established. However, once it is established, it has a very deep root system and is very resistant to wear and drought. Red fescue has very fine blades and a very attractive emerald green color when well irrigated.
Red fescue grows well in New York, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and the New England states. In places where temperatures are high and there is a great deal of humidity, grass may turn brown and go dormant. Once fall temperatures arrive and more moisture arrives, the grass will rebound.
Yes, red fescue is a great choice for landscaping, as it grows quickly and covers lots of ground. Because it grows well in sandy soil, it is also great for landscaping in tough spots. It is commonly used on golf courses, recreation fields and for home lawns.
Red fescue is not a good source of forage for livestock. Although it can withstand lower grazing more so than other grasses, when grown out it becomes unpalatable to livestock.
If you are planting a new lawn, you will need about 4 pounds of seed per 1000 square feet (93 m). Plant 1/8 inch (3 ml.) deep and keep mowed at 3-4 inches (7.5-10 cm.) high.
While red fescue will grow fine on its own, it does much better when mixed with other grass seeds. Ryegrass and bluegrass are the perfect seeds for mixing to create the best stands. Some companies sell the seeds already mixed to the proper ratio.
If you are in a fairly dry climate and receive under 18 inches of rain annually, you will need to irrigate for best growth. However, if you receive more than 18 inches (46 cm.) of rain, irrigation will not be needed. Red fescue does not have any serious pest threats.
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Most people don’t know (or even care) about what types of grass are in their lawn.
However, different types of lawn require different types of grass if they’re going to look their best.
For example, you might have a busy family who uses the lawn for play. In which case your lawn will need to feature grass types that’ll cope with the wear and tear.
On the other hand, your neighbour might have a showstopper of an ornamental lawn. This calls for entirely different species of grass with different characteristic.
The lady across the street might have a shady lawn thanks to a big tree in her garden. In order for her lawn to grow well in this environment, she’ll need different grasses to you and your neighbour.
Knowing which grass types your lawn needs will not only make caring for it much easier, it’ll look thicker and healthier too.
And if you’re creating sowing a new lawn from scratch or overseeding an existing one, you’ll be able to choose the best grass seed for the job.
A healthy, green yard offers more than just a lush landscape to look at. A well-manicured lawn increases a home’s value, reduces the noise from surrounding streets or businesses in the area, and keeps dust from rising from the ground and settling on all your surfaces.
A fescue lawn has quite a few benefits, including:
Starting your fine fescue lawn is easy with proper preparation. Ideally, we suggest choosing the autumn months for germination when the high temperatures are maximum 80.
When choosing fescue grass seed, make sure the plant blend is of high quality and purchased from reputable source.
Ideally, the germination rate should be lower than 80% while the crop, weed, and inert matter should be close to 0.00%. These rates are all indicated on the labels when you buy grass seeds.
Planting rates for the seeds vary between the different grass types. For tall fescues, 10 lbs. per 1,000 sq. ft. should be planted. However, other varieties of fescue have smaller seeds and require 5 lbs. per 1,000 sq. ft.
Check out the seed chart for other types of grass here.
A general gardening rule is that the healthier your soil is, the healthier the grass will grow. Soil that is well-structured has a better ability to absorb water and nutrients. This also encourages the fescue’s root to grow deeper and have better access to the required component.
Test the soil to check if it’s acidic or alkaline with a DIY pH checking kit. Fescue grass prefers acidic soil with pH levels between 5.6 and 7. Having the soil levels at optimal numbers will ensure the availability of nutrients to the plant – allowing it to thrive.
However, if your soil kit indicates too much acid (pH 6 or lower), add lime to reach the target pH levels. On the other hand, if the alkaline levels (pH 7 and higher) are recorded, work in granular gypsum to the soil.
But note that both – lime and gypsum take 2 -3 months to react. The method can be repeated until the soil reaches the required level of pH – so make sure to schedule this time in your grass planting agenda.
If the ground chosen for your landscape is uneven, you may need to till the land as well. This process would also help breakup the soil while encouraging better water absorption and root growth.
Once you are satisfied with the condition of soil, spread out the seeds evenly on the ground. Many people choose to cover the seeds after planting as it helps retain moisture. If you wish to do the same, cover them with peat moss or fluffy top soil of around ¼ inch thickness.
Water the seeds gently until they began to sprout. You can decrease the water frequency as the grass starts to grow.
Avoid mowing the grass for at least 4 weeks from the planting time. Fertilizers are also recommended after 10 weeks of planting.
Throughout the year a good quality Fescue lawn can benefit from your careful planning and maintenance. The time to solve problems is actually before they occur. Follow through our site on Fescue grass lawn care to keep your lawn area beautiful year round.
Note: Planting Tall Fescue in Northern colder states with temps below 10 degrees can result in winter kill on Tall Fescue.
Planting with seed - Overseeding - Fertilizing & Soil Tests
De-thatching - Mowing & Weeds - Diseases & Pests
Pre-emergence herbicides can be applied just before dogwoods bloom.
March 15 is the deadline for fertilizing tall fescue. Do not fertilize until next fall.
White grubs may be present. Control.
White grubs may be present. Control.
Summer is the off season time for fescue, especially in the hotter parts of the country. During the summer months set the mower height higher to retain as much moisture as possible and help through the periods of drought. Water or let the grass go dormant in the summer but water if it is really dry to keep alive about every three weeks.
This is the best time to take soil sample for the coming year to get ready to add amendments that have depleted during the growing season. Water if necessary.
Look for areas that may be subject to brown patch disease in cool season grasses. High moisture content and heat are ideal at this time of the year. Treat as directed if the problem occurs. Start looking for white grubs from now through August and treat accordingly. Water as needed.
Mid August is the best time to start reseed cool season grasses. Water as needed.
Seed and re-seed from mid September to mid October.
Soil testing can be done to get the best advice on how much amending needs to be done for the healthiest lawn. Healthy lawns help in the control of diseases and insect damage. Mow to remove not more than 1/3 of the growth at the time. Fertilize with a higher nitrogen level fertilizer for lawns to stimulate growth and prepare for the winter growing season . A 3-1-2 ratio is usually the right balance of nutrients at this time unless the soil test was taken earlier. Micro nutrients are also needed at this time. White grubs should be beginning to show early signs. Control if needed.
Mid October is the last of the cool season seeding. Grub patrol again and apply correct insecticides recommended . Aerate lawns during the fall on compacted soils.
Fertilize again with 3-1-2 ratio for the second yearly feeding.
Fertilize for the last of the fescue growing season. Applications of herbicides for broadleaf weeds can be applied according to directions if needed.
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Fine fescues are particularly low maintenance when it comes to the care they need to thrive.
With mowing, this cool-season grass can be mowed as low as 1.5 inches, but it’s better to leave it higher, usually around 3 to 4 inches. Bigler adds that if the area is shaded, the mowing height should be on the upper end of the range.
“Some people leave them un-mowed except for two or three clean-up mows per year,” says Grady Miller, a professor and extension turf specialist for North Carolina State University.
As for watering, fine fescue prefers drier soils, but without regular irrigation, the grass will go dormant.
It also has low fertilizer needs, with about 1 to 2 lbs. of nitrogen per 1,000 sq. ft. needed per year. If the grass is left un-mown, it should only be fertilized once a year in the fall.
Fescue lawns lacking in nitrogen will appear yellowish to light green, with a thin appearance. However, applying too much will hurt the turfgrass’s ability to tolerate temperature extremes, foot traffic and drought.
Tall fescue is one of the more important cool season grasses. It is known for its dark green color, wear resistance and heat tolerance. Of all the types of grass, this is one of the few cool season grasses that can do well in areas outside of what is considered its normal adaptation zone. It even does well in the dry heat of southern California, where it is a popular turfgrass.
Coarse Fescues and Fine Fescues
Tall fescue is divided into two groups. They are the "coarse fescues" and "fine fescues". Coarse fescue is the type most commonly seen growing in the full sun sections of lawns.
The second group of fescues is known as "fine fescues". (Fine fescues are not the same as "turf-type tall fescues".) The term "fine fescue" is used for a number of fescue species that are named for their very fine (narrow) blades.
In the U.S. most of the fine fescues are exclusively used for shaded areas, since they can't take high heat. I still hear of people that have planted fine fescue, creeping red for example, in their full sun yard. It looked good until summer hit and then completely died. Learning the difference will save you a lot of headaches.
Coarse fescues have some of the widest grass blades, while fine fescues have some of the narrowest blades of all grass species. Coarse fescues can grow as wide as 5/8", while fine fescues can be less than 1/16".
Two Types of Full Sun Tall Fescue
The first group is simply referred to as "coarse fescue" or "field-type tall fescue". These are primarily bred as pasture grass, but can be used in lawns.
The other is called "turf-type tall fescue" and is an improved variety deveoped to have the qualities needed to be a true lawn grass.
Field-Type Tall Fescue
Kentucky 31 tall fescue and Alta are examples of the older varieties. They were originally a forage grass, but were sometimes used as a turf grass. If you ever purchased Kentucky 31 tall fescue, you may have noticed that the bag is labeled "For fields and lawn use". These field types are a larger plant with blade widths 1/2 inch wide or more and reaching twenty-four inches high. If left uncut in the field, the stems and seed heads can reach four feet. They do not produce a thick turf and are not compatible with warm season grasses, such as bermudagrass. Whenever these field type tall fescues are growing in dormant bermudagrass, the fescue has the tendency to grow in large clumps. During the winter, these clumps stand out like a sore thumb.
Turf-type tall fescue has a much thinner blade width. They were developed specifically for lawns and are the type used by professional turf managers. There are dozens of varieties with many new varieties on the market from the last few years. Most will produce a dark green, beautiful lawn.
All fescues are "bunch" grasses. This term means the plants expand by the production of new grass blades, called "tillers". See our page on Plant Structure for even more helpful information on grass growth.
A tiller is a new leaf blade that grows from the base of the original plant. Each new tiller develops its own root system separate from the other tillers. One plant could produce dozens of tillers. It does not produce any "runners" like some other grasses.
Since tall fescue is a bunch type grass and does not spread, it is necessary to overseed occasionally to maintain turf thickness. The best time of the year to overseed is in the fall. This gives the seed time to germinate, grow and develop sufficient root depth before the summer heat arrives in the following year.
There are a growing number of seed cultivars for turf-type fescue. Each is breed for certain qualities and for growth under certain conditions.
Since there is no single type of tall fescue that works best in any given area, most bags will come premixed with three or four different varieties.
The Good and Bad of Tall Fescue
Advantages of tall fescue
Tall fescue is probably the second most widely used cool season grass with a broad area of adaptation. It is used throughout the cool arid, cool humid and transition zones. Click on the link to see a map of Turfgrass Adaptation Zones.
Tall Fescue has high wear tolerance and for this reason, is often used on sports fields and playgrounds. It has the ability to withstand high temperatures and is used in areas where other cool season grasses would fail. It is even used extensively in urban areas of southern California where summer temperatures exceed 110 degrees for days at a time. When properly cared for, tall fescue comes through looking great. The one drawback is its high water usage in summer. It is occasionally used in the northern parts of the southern adaptation zone by homeowners who prefer it to warm season grasses. Again, the water usage in hotter climates will be higher than in the cooler areas of the country.
Fescue will struggle in hot, dry summers, especially in the lower half of the U.S. or out west. It requires significant water during summer drought. The drought of 2012 decimated my fescue lawns even when water was added. It was just to hot for too long. Over-seeding was necessary that fall to restore the lawns to their previous beauty.
Tall fescue has good cold tolerance except for the coldest areas of the northern U.S. and Canada. In these places, it has been known to suffer from winter damage. Its greatest use is in the central U.S. It is susceptible to the fungal disease "brown patch" in high humidity areas. However, in all the years I lived in Southern California, I rarely saw a problem with brown patch disease because of very low humidity. Now that I live in Missouri, I frequently encounter the problem. Watering at night, or late in the evening, can contribute to disease problems. Be sure to look for seed varieties that have greater resistance to brown patch disease.
Maintenance requirements and lawn care tips
Tall fescue can be a high water user in summer, especially in the transition zone, southern and western states. There are, however, a few secrets to proper watering to keep fescue green in summer. The most important thing about watering is to water deeply, preferably in the morning hours.
The soil should be wet to a depth of three or four inches. After watering, wait several days until the grass appears to suffer from heat or drought stress. It will begin to change color to a bluish green. The color results from the grass blade folding to conserve water, thus showing the lighter underside of the grass. When you see this, it is time to water again. The purpose for watering like this is to force the roots to grow deeper. This will enable the grass to endure extended periods of heat without damage.
Frequent, shallow watering encourages shallow rooting which is not good for the grass or your water bill. If shallow rooting occurs, any extended periods of heat could cook the roots and harm the grass.
Another method is to allow the fescue to naturally go dormant as the drought sets in. You may be surprised at how well the grass will respond once the drought is over, even if the grass was completely tan colored. If you are entering drought conditions, don't water heavily and then halfway into it, stop watering. This may hurt the grass. If that is the case, you will do better to keep watering until the drought is over.
Tall fescue should be mowed at heights no lower than 2 inches. Improved varieties can be mowed at heights of 1.5 in the cooler parts of the year. During the summer months, the grass should be mowed at 3 or 4 inches. It is the same for grass growing in heavy shade.
Fescue can be purchased as sod. However, fescue cannot be made into sod without blending it with another grass type, such as bluegrass. Fescue is a bunch grass and doesnвЂ™t have the structure required to hold sod together. For sod to hold together, it needs a grass with rhizomes or stolons. Bluegrass produces rhizomes, which are stems that grow just below the soil surface. When sod is harvested, the root system is cut. It is the rhizomes from the bluegrass that hold the sod together and keep it from falling apart.
Overseeding is important with tall fescue. A blade of grass only lives an average of 40 days before it dies. Grass must continue to produce new blades to replace the ones that are dying back. Grass is like all other living things and will slow down as it gets older. Eventually, its production of new grass blades will fall behind the rate of older ones dying back. To keep fescue young and healthy requires overseeding. Many professionals overseed every year or every other year.
The photo shows Turf-Type Tall Fescue from BWI. It is a five variety blend. It is an excellent product and one I have used many times. This comes in 50# bags.
The best method for planting grass seed is by using a rotary spreader. It will broadcast the seed instead of dropping it as when using a drop spreader. Great precision and extra work is required if you use a drop spreader.
For cool season grasses, including tall fescue, the best time for planting grass seed is in the fall. If the fall is not possible for you, then the second best time for planting grass seed is in the spring. The biggest problem with spring is that the grass may not have time to develop sufficient rooting before the summer heat arrives. Many well started lawns have suffered or were lost due to a late start and hot summer weather.
When overseeding established lawns, use approximately 4 lbs. of seed per 1000 sq. ft. If you are seeding bare soil, use a rate of approximates 6-8 lbs. per 1000 sq. ft. Lightly rake a thin layer of soil over the seed and keep the soil moist until germination.
Germination can take from 14 to 21 days. In some areas of the country, wheat straw is lightly spread over the seeded areas to shade the grass. There will be some wheat that germinates, but wheat canвЂ™t take low mowing, and after a few cuttings, it will die back. Once the seed has germinated, cut back on the watering schedule.
Note: If you are going to overseed with no additional irrigation except rain, be sure to plan it well. Try to overseed the day of or the day before a string of storms are due to come in. Have the lawn prepared in advance in preparation for overseeding. Spread the seed on dry grass for the best affect. Wet grass will cause the seed to stick to the grass blades instead of falling down to the soil.
The amount of fertilizer to apply to a lawn is usually given in "pounds of nitrogen per 1000 sq. ft." Regardless of the percent of nitrogen listed on the bag, you can put the right amount down by following certain principles. See the вЂњfertilization sectionвЂќ for how to develop a good fertilization progrom. Fescue should be fertilized at 3-5 lbs of nitrogen per year per 1000 sq. ft. Three quarter of the nitrogen is applied in the fall. During the hot summer months, high nitrogen fertilizers should not be applied, or if necessary, use only slow release. In fact, organic fertilizers can be used in the summer months. Organics are slow release using the soil micro-organism to break down the organic matter.
I prefer to use a rotary spreader instead of a drop spreader. Rotary spreaders are more forgiving and easier to use. I have seen a number of streaked lawns after the homeowner fertilized using a drop spreader.
Insect and disease problems
Tall fescue is subject to damage from a number of insects including white grubs, army worms, cut worms and leafhoppers. Grub worms can be one of the more damaging insects. They feed at night, chewing through the grass at soil level. A number of controls are available, including some new selective controls that target only the insects that feed on the grass. See the section on Pesticides for more information.
A good biological control for white grubs, sod webworms and cut worms is the microbial insecticide called вЂњBaccilus ThuringensisвЂќ. Once consumed by the insects, it kills by producing toxins within their gut. Mach 2 is another biological control for insects that pupate. The active ingredient is "Halofenozide" and kills the target insects by interrupting the pupation stage of larvae without harming beneficial insects. This product needs to be applied well in advance of any damage. It will have no effect of applied at the time insects are damaging your lawn. Quick kill products include trichlorofon (dylox) and carbaryl (sevin). Be aware that thatch can hinder the movement of insecticides to the root zone where grubs live.
Some pest controls, including some biological controls, are available only to certified pesticide applicators. Many commercial applicators will apply what you need without selling you a whole program. Check with companies in your area to see.
Tall fescue can also be damaged from a few types of diseases. For grass to be affected by a disease, it needs three things:
Once a disease begins the disease progression will usually halt when the environmental conditions that promoted it changes. That is an important thing to know. Disease pathogens that are living in and around the soil cannot infect the grass unless the environmental conditions are right for it. To better understand grass diseases, see the section on Grass Diseases.
One of the most damaging diseases is the disease called brown patch. Brown patch is generally a problem in hot, humid weather. It begins in the leaf blades and can progress to the grass crown. Once it affects the crown, the grass can be seriously injured or killed. If you suspect a problem with brown patch, avoid applications of nitrogen fertilizer, herbicides and night irrigation. It will only fuel the disease.
Organic Fungicide Treatment
There is an organic fungicide that is labeled for Brown Patch. It is called "Actinovate". Actinovate is natural bacteria that feeds on pathogenic bacteria and fungi. It can be used as a preventative and a curative and is safe for pets and children. It must be applied before the grass crown is affected. Once the crown is affected the plants will die. Actinovate is excellent on soil born pathogens, as well as other diseases.
AgriGro biostimulants (on our products page) have been documented to suppress disease pathogens and lessen the effects of environmental stresses. Regular maintenance with biostimulants can greatly lower the occurrence of diseases.
Other fungicides, such as Daconil, are available for homeowners to halt the disease, but timing is important. It must be applied before the disease effects the grass crown. Many improved varieties of tall fescue are available with greater brown patch resistance.
Tall fescue can also be affected by leaf spot and fusarium blight. Leaf spot is generally a problem in cooler, damp spring weather, but is not usually too detrimental to the grass. Fusarium blight can infect young grass that was planted in the spring. Higher mowing heights (3 to 4 inches), proper irrigation and fertilization are things that can reduce stress and help grass to resist disease problems. Click on the link for specific information on different TurfGrass Diseases and Treatment Options.
The use of organic fertilizers can also help. Organics feed the beneficial micro-organisms in the soil, which in turn, feed upon disease causing pathogens.
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Perennial and Annual Ryegrass
Ryegrass has come a long way the the introduction of new turf species. See the pros and cons of using the perennial or annual varieties.
Fine Fescues - The Perfect Shade Grass
The fine fescue grasses are known for their exceptional shade and cold tolerance. They also have some of the narrowest blades of any grass type. Click here for detailed information about its climate range, uses and management.
Watering a New Lawn
Watering a new lawn is very different from watering a mature lawn. When planting a new lawn, success will be greatly increased by learning proper watering techniques.
Overseeding Lawns - Tips and Techinques for a Beautiful Lawn
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