5 Tips to Keep Your Fescue Alive in the South

Brendon Willis

Let’s face it – most of us in the south have a love-hate relationship with fescue. On one hand, you have to have it if you have any sort of shade in your lawn because most southern turf grasses don’t tolerate shade. On the other hand, it’s so hard to get it established and make it thrive, much less just stay alive.

But it’s possible! The goal of this article is to equip you with knowledge so you can keep your established fescue areas alive for 12 months. If you haven’t read our article about 3 Reasons Your Fescue Always Dies, I would encourage you to check that out first. Knowing the cause of decline can be helpful in understanding these tips.

Note: Plant your fescue at the correct time First!

Don’t plant your fescue in the summer! The ideal time to plant fescue is in the fall between September 15th and October 1st for seeding. Sodding can be done further into the fall and even into winter.

Early spring is still ok for sod, but not as ideal. Once we move into late spring and early summer you should avoid installing fescue if possible until fall. If you MUST plant fescue during these times, plant sod. Seed will be highly unlikely to grow, much less thrive.

Tip 1 – Water correctly

The number one killer of fescue results from improper watering. Too much water is a catalyst for brown patch disease to spread. Too little water and the grass will go dormant or possibly die.

In the hottest months of summer, fescue will likely need to be watered every day. Try your best to water no more than once per day, and try to do it in the morning hours when the grass is already wet from dew. Fescue really needs a chance for the leaves to dry off during the day to avoid making a favorable environment for disease.

Watering in the morning ensures that the grass gets almost a full 24 hours of drying time before the next moisture cycle.

You should be watering deep enough so that you can stick a full size screwdriver down into the soil after a watering session. But the surface grass area shouldn’t feel wet or soggy 6-8 hours after your watering period ends.

Tip 2 – Mow with sharp blades

Another contributing factor to rapidly spreading disease in fescue is mowing with mower blades that are dull.

Dull mower blades create more of a tearing action than a cutting action. When the grass is cut this way, a much larger surface area is exposed making it much easier for disease to infiltrate.

Additionally, this creates a much larger brown area on the tip of the leaf which will create a brown look to your lawn after mowing. Lastly – cutting with dull mower blades allow the grass to lose more moisture due to a greater surface area being torn up.

For lack of a better example – if you must lose an arm, would it be better to have it cleanly removed with a surgical knife, or would it be better to have it torn off in a car wreck? The clean removal will make recovery much quicker and less likely to become infected.

Tip 3 – Don’t ask too much of your fescue

Fescue is a beautiful, helpful grass. But it’s not as tough as most southern turf grasses such as Bermuda, Zoysia, and St. Augustine. There are a places and requirements that are not ideal for fescue where you may consider other types of ground cover.

High Traffic

Fescue can handle a bit of traffic for one or two days per week. But, extreme traffic just once can really damage your fescue. Even medium traffic on a daily basis can be enough to cause your fescue issues. Not only are the crowns of the plant more exposed than with other grasses, but the compaction that comes from continuous traffic makes the soil difficult for fescue to grow in.

Tight Spaces

Tight spaces such as the side of a house, or a small nook of the lawn that gets shade can be difficult to keep fescue in. Most of the time these small areas get little air circulation and tend to either get excessive amounts of water or very little water. Also, these areas are usually cut with a string trimmer (aka weedeater) instead of a mower. These string trimmers tear the grass (see the sharp mower blades tip above) which increases risk of decline.

Sandy Soils

If your soil is excessively sandy, it can be difficult to keep enough moisture in the soil for fescue to thrive during the hottest few months of the year. Even in one day, the soil can go from moist to dry in the worst months.

Hot areas or full sun

Fescue can be grown in full sun in the south, but it will easily be overtaken by a more suitable grass type for the sun such as Bermuda grass. Plus, you’ll have to water it quite a bit more which poses its own downsides. (See the watering tip.)

Alternatives

For those small spots in your lawn that need solutions where grass won’t really grow, consider things like a mulch bed, pavers, extending a patio or driveway, decorative rock, or a vegetative ground cover.

Tip 4 – Don’t fertilize much during the summer

Another big time contributor to brown patch disease spreading and killing your fescue is fertilizing with too much nitrogen in the hot summer months. Fescue goes a bit dormant once we hit temperatures of 95 degrees or more, so just nurturing the grass along with basic water and mowing during these months is the best plan.

If you must fertilize, just use something high in iron and very low in nitrogen. This will keep the grass dark green but will not increase the likelihood of disease as much.

Tip 5 – Bag your grass when mowing & keep the lawn clean

Fescue does not tolerate being smothered anything – leaves, grass clippings, kiddie pools, or dog poop.

Try to bag your grass to reduce grass clippings piled on the surface. Piled up clippings are a favorable host for humidity and thus disease spreading.

Keeping your fescue lawn areas as clean as possible will give your lawn the best chance to survive and thrive.

Conclusion

In summary, maintaining a healthy fescue lawn in the South requires proper planning and care throughout the year.

Planting fescue at the right time, usually in the fall, sets a strong foundation. Watering correctly, particularly in the morning, ensures deep hydration without creating conditions conducive to disease. Using sharp mower blades reduces stress on the grass, while avoiding high traffic, tight spaces, and sandy soils keeps the grass thriving in suitable environments. Additionally, minimizing fertilizer use during the hot summer months and bagging grass clippings help prevent the spread of disease.

By following these five tips and understanding the unique challenges of growing fescue in southern climates, you’ll have the best chance of keeping your fescue lush, vibrant, and resilient all year long.

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