3810 Whites Creek Pike, Nashville, TN 37207 (615) 876-1014

Archive date:  August 15, 2002

EstablishingTurf-type Fescue Lawns

To Seed or Not To Seed

With the introduction of turf-type fescues, many homeowners are deciding to establish fescue lawns. Unlike traditional tall fescues (i.e. Kentucky 31), the newer turf-types have been bred for brown-patch resistance, a finer textured leaf blade, rich color, and shade tolerance. Wow! No wonder homeowners are Round(ing)Up their Bermudagrass lawns. Best of all fescues do not have underground rhizomes so they are less likely to invade bedding areas and are much easier to control if they do. Preparation is the key to establishing a lush, weed-free fescue lawn. This is why it is important to begin planning now even though you won’t actually broadcast the seed until September.
Surface Preparation -
Evaluate the area that will be seeded. If you have a newly constructed site with bare soil then you may skip ahead to the soil preparation step. If, however, you are in the majority of Nashvillians then you most-likely have a Bermudagrass lawn that needs to be eradicated. Bermudagrass is a warm season grass that is actively growing right now. This means that now is the time to kill it. Once the temperatures begin to drop, Bermudagrass will quickly become dormant and impossible to root out. The most effective method of eliminating a Bermuda lawn is to apply a non-selective herbicide such as RoundUp while the grass is actively growing. Keep in mind, Bermudagrass is known to hang in there so a second or even a third application is sometimes necessary. All the more reason to start spraying now! After the first application, wait a week to see if any new growth has occurred. If it has, spray again and repeat every 7 to 10 days until everything stays dead.
Soil Preparation –
Create a blank canvas by removing debris, rocks, tree stumps, and your now dead lawn. When removing Bermuda be sure to get as many of the little pieces of rhizomes (big fleshy root-like structures) as possible. Tilling and raking them out is usually effective. Next, determine if the soil needs to be amended. Proper pH is very important so be sure to do a pH test. You may either purchase a testing kit and do it yourself, or collect samples and send them to the Agricultural Extension Service for testing. The Agricultural Extension Service results include recommendations for pH amendments. Plus, you have the option to have more than just the pH tested! The extension service will test nutrient levels as well. For more information on soil testing visit the UT Extension Soil Testing webpage or call the Davidson County Agricultural Extension Service at 862-5995.
Amend the soil according to pH and nutrient needs, (turf-type fescues prefer a pH of 6.5 to 7.0) till the amendments 4-6 inches into the soil and rake to grade.
Seeding –
Finally, everything is ready for broadcasting the seed. The recommended rate is 5 – 8 lbs. per 1,000 square feet. It is a good idea to spread half the seed in one direction and then the other half at a 90 degree angle to ensure uniform distribution. Rake the seed into the soil no more than ¼ inch deep. Or, lightly top-dress the seed with topsoil. One very important step is to press the seeded area to firm the soil and establish good seed to soil contact. This can be done with a lawn roller available at your local equipment rental shop. Then water, water, water, and water some more! But do it lightly and often. The idea is to keep the seed surface moist at all times but not soaking wet to the point of run-off. Usually this means misting the soil 3 to 5 times a day until germination. Once the seed has germinated gradually reduce the frequency of watering and increase the duration to allow the water to seep deeper into the soil. Once the grass has reached 3 inches it is alright to mow. Remember, tall fescues (including turf-type tall fescues) like to be tall so do not mow any shorter than 2 inches. One last note, hot dry summers can thin a fescue lawn and make it lumpy and susceptible to weeds. To keep the lawn lush and healthy, overseed every fall with about 2 to 3 lbs. of seed per 1,000 square feet.