A Fescue grass lawn requires the most maintenance of any grass. While it is the only shade tolerant turf option, it has major drawbacks as it is a cool season grass growing in an extremely hot and humid environment for 4 months a year. Care in the cooler months is basic, water as needed, mow as needed and treat as needed with fertilizers and weed control. Care in the hot months becomes more critical as this cool season grass is now trying to cope with extreme heat, high humidity, disease and in most cases drought. Below is a guideline which must be followed to maintain a healthy Fescue lawn year round and most importantly through the hot months of a Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama or South Carolina summer.
The most effective way to water any lawn is deeply and infrequently. One hour per zone, one time per week if no rainfall is present. Hours between 3am and 10am are best. This allows your lawn to attain a deep root system while minimizing the moisture period on the lawn. Watering in the A.M. hours allows the sun to dry the turf. Prolonged periods of moisture on turfgrass, especially during periods of high heat and humidity, encourage disease development. This watering program must be followed for established lawns. To quote Dr. Kim Coder of the University of Georgia, water is 80 percent of the problem with all plants and water is 80 percent of the solution. Watering newly seeded lawns has different initial requirements. Frequent shallow waterings are best for seed germination so carefully follow instructions left by your seeding crew. New seeding requires daily watering of 30 to 40 minutes per zone for a three week period. After this period you can gradually decrease the frequency to every other day, then down to every third day. Weather is not conducive for disease development in the fall so prolonged moisture is not a concern.
Mowing should be done weekly throughout the year except when new grass is present. When a Fescue lawn is newly seeded it should not be mowed for at least 3 weeks to avoid damaging the new grass with heavy equipment. All other times one cut per week will keep it looking its best and prevent issues of cutting off too much at one time. Never cut off more than 1/3 of the grass blade when mowing. Cutting off too much of the blade at once will deplete the plant’s energy reserves. Always use a sharp mower blade. A dull mower blade will tear the grass blade and weaken its health making it more susceptible to disease and have a dull browned appearance. Proper mowing height for Fescue is 2 to 3 inches in the cooler months. Beginning in May the cut height should be at least 3 inches. Keeping Fescue at a height of less than 3 inches in the hot months of the year will increase the levels of heat stress on the turf and increase its disease susceptibility.
Fungicides in conjunction with proper cut height of at least 3 inches and deep and infrequent watering during the months of May through August are the most critical components of Fescue turf health and sustainability. Properly timed applications of fungicides will preventatively protect Fescue lawns in the South from Brown Patch Disease. Each fungicide application will effectively protect the plant from the disease for 28 days. Any lapse in fungicide applications must be avoided as this disease can spread quickly through an unprotected lawn in a short period of time under the right environmental conditions. Often customers decide to skip or hold off on a fungicide application thus throwing off the timing of their program. This can lead to major damage to the lawn. Other times customers will get properly sequenced fungicide applications but neglect to water the turf adequately thus leading to die out from heat stress and drought. Adequate irrigation; 1 inch one time per week in the A.M. hours. Uninterrupted fungicide applications from the beginning of May through August. And turf kept at least 3 inches high will maintain the health and look of a Fescue lawn during a hot Georgia summer. Often customers who follow this regimen have no need to reseed the lawn in the fall, effectively creating a cost trade off while keeping a nice looking lawn through the summer.