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It is Time for Fall Seeding of Tall Fescue in NC

September 20, 2012
by Grady Miller

Tall Fescue 
Tall Fescue

Tall Fescue 
Tall Fescue Close up/Texture

Grady Miller, Professor and Extension Specialist

Fall is the best time for renovation and seeding of cool-season lawns. And with recent rainfall and cooler weather, it makes for an ideal time for fall renovation.

Remember that spring-established tall fescue is more susceptible to drought, heat, fungal diseases, and weed encroachment. With normal summer weather patterns, spring seeding is not likely to result in a year-long stand of healthy tall fescue. So do not delay, seed in the fall!

Optimum air temperatures for tall fescue germination are 68 to 77°F and soil temperatures greater than 60°F. If tall fescue is seeded in under less than ideal conditions (too cool or no soil moisture), you may experience a thin turf stand going into the winter. With the need for both moisture and moderate temperatures, it is better to seed a little early just in case we experience a cool and dry fall. So, if you have not already planted, try to get your seed out by mid-October as by then the likelihood of slow/low germination will get much higher.

It is best to choose cultivars from the turffiles website (http://turffiles.ncsu.edu). Also, those cultivars listed in “Carolina Lawns” publication is still a good list, although does not have some of the newer cultivars that we have found to be very good. 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. A typical tall fescue seeding rate is 5 to 6 pounds of seed per 1000 square feet. Germination will normally be in 10 to 21 days with soil moisture and suitable soil temperatures.

Before seeding core aerification is recommended to reduce compacted areas. With rain expected over much of NC the first week of September, the soil should be more accepting to the core cultivation tines. Getting good soil to seed contact is paramount to maximize available soil moisture. The core aerification holes will capture seed and hold moisture so the tall fescue seedlings often come up as a tuft of turf from the aerification holes.

Follow normal tall fescue fertilization practices as outlined in Carolina Lawns available on the www.turffiles.ncsu.edu website for free. The suggested yearly nitrogen application is about 1.0 pound of nitrogen fertilizer per 1000 square at seeding. Include phosphorus and potassium fertilizers if soil tests indicate there is a need. In the absence of a soil test, a 16-4-8 or similar N-P-K ratio fertilizer may be used this spring. Before additional fertilizer or lime is added, conduct a soil test (http://www.ncagr.com/agronomi/sthome.htm).

To apply 1 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet:  Divide 100 by the first number on the fertilizer bag to determine the amount of product to be used per 1,000 square feet.  Example: Using a 16-4-8 fertilizer, 100 divided by 16 equals 6.25, therefore, 6.25 pounds of fertilizer per 1,000 square feet will deliver 1 pound of nitrogen.

If irrigation is available, set your controller within current water restrictions for your area. Irrigate early in the morning to reduce water loss due to evaporation. In the fall, ¼ to ½ inch water per week of water (via rainfall or irrigation) is generally sufficient to meet the turf’s water needs. To dial in your irrigation settings based on turfgrass needs for your location, use the TIMS website available at http://turf-ims.ncsu.edu.

Since seeds and seedlings may be damaged by some herbicide applications, fall seeded tall fescue should not have any herbicides applied until it is extensively tillered.

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 3½ mowing height provides the best growth condition while minimizing disease incidence and weed encroachment.

Note that warm-season grasses such as bermudagrass, zoysiagrass, centipedegrass, and St. Augustinegrass can be sodded in the fall, but it is generally not recommended due to the increased chance of winterkill. Warm-season grasses should not be seeded in the fall as there is inadequate time for maturity before the first expected frost.