Tall fescue is a popular choice for Kansas lawns. It turns green early in the spring and maintains color late into the fall. It grows well under a variety of conditions - sunny or semi-shady and wet or dry. When seeded at the correct rate and managed properly, tall fescue makes an attractive lawn that holds up during summers.
Tall fescue lawns are usually planted from seed, but can also be installed as sod. September is the best time for planting. Seed germinated in four to seven days under favorable conditions. Planting too early increases susceptibility to heat stress and disease, but late plantings may be injured by cold winter temperatures. Spring seeding should be done in March or April to allow grass to become well established before hot weather. Seed germinates more slowly in the spring when the soil is cold. Weed competition is also greater in the spring.
The recommended seeding rate for home lawns is 6 to 8 pounds per 1,000 square feet, using good-quality seed and proper soil preparation and planting procedures. Seeding too lightly or poor technique may result in a thin, clumpy and weedy stand. Heavy seeding can lead to overcrowding, poor rooting, and disease problems, which may eventually kill turf. Seeding either too light or too heavy weakens turf and offsets the advantages of planting tall fescue.
Mowing too low or too infrequently are common causes of problems in tall fescue lawns. Tall fescue grows rapidly and requires frequent mowing. Spring mowing can be greatly reduced by following a fall fertilization program and not fertilzing in early spring. Tall fescue should be mowed frequently enough so that no more than one-third of the height is removed at one time. if the lawn is mowed often, it is not necessary to catch clippings. Clippings return nitrogen and other nutrients to the soil and do not cause thatch.
Mow at the higher end of the range during summer to promote deeper rooting and better drought resistance. Keep the blade sharp at all times or browned leaf tips will detract from the turf appearance and reduce the health of the lawn.
Fescue is relatively drought-tolerant, but it should be watered during the summer to keep it green. Unless the lawn begins to wilt, avoid watering in the spring. Spring watering reduced summer drought resistance and contributes to excessive growth, disease and weeds. During dry summer weather water once or twice a week, applying a total of 1 to 1½ inches. Morning is best.
In the fall, water every other week it the weather is dry. A good soaking before winter is also helpful. Apply water at a rate that can be absorbed by the soil. Avoid watering every day or even every other day, except for a newly seeded lawn. Besides wasting water, frequent watering leads to shallow roots, disease and weeds.
September and November is the most important time to fertilize tall fescue lawns. Fertilizing in March or early April promotes excessive growth that increases mowing and encourages disease and weeds. Delay fertilization until topgrowth slows in May. Then apply a slow-release nitrogen source, which keeps grass from growing too fast as hot weather approaches. Too much topgrowth prevents root growth needed to withstand summer stresses. If fertilizng only once a year, do it in September to thicken the lawn and promote root development. A November fertilizer application helps lawn stay green longer and encourages it to green up earlier in the spring.
Nitrogen is the most important fertilizer element and should be applied regularly. Apply phosphorous, potassium, lime and sulfur only when indicated by soil test results. Phosphorus and potassium can be applied in September and May. For more information, see Fertilizing Kansas Lawns.
A healthy tall fescue lawn is fairly resistant to weed infestation. Fall fertilizing, proper watering (especially avoiding overwatering in the spring) and proper mowing reduce weed infestations. Good cultural practices are less expensive than excessive use of herbicides. Do not depend on herbicides alone for weed control.
Good cultural practices are effective in reducing crabgrass and annual grass weeds. Crabgrass and other annual grassy weeds can be prevented by applying preemergent herbicide before redbud trees reach full bloom or leaves begin to emerge. This typically occurs around April 15, but weather conditions vary from year to year.
The best time to control broadleaf weeds, such as dandelions, chickweed and henbit is September and October. Spring herbicide applications are not as effective and do not provide lasting results. To prevent injury to newly seeded or established tall fesuce lawns always follow label directions. See Weed Control in Home Lawns for more information.