Growing Tall Fescue
Tall fescue is a popular cool season grass that greens up early in the spring and stays green late in the fall. Tall fescue grows under a wide variety of conditions - sunny or semi-shady, and wet and dry. When managed properly, it has good resistance to heat, drought, wear and disease.
Tall fescue cultivars used to consist of many types that were also used for pasture grasses such as K-31. Today there are numerous varieties of turf type tall fescue cultivars. The turf type tall fescue has a darker color, better density, and a finer texture than K-31, but they are not as fine textured as bluegrass.
Tall fescue lawns usually are planted from seed. September is the best time for planting or overseeding. Spring seeding can be done but there is more risk for success due to weed competition and hot weather prior to establishment. Sodding is becoming more popular as a method of fescue establishment.
Mowing too low or too infrequently are common causes of problems in tall fescue. Fescue grows rapidly and requires frequent mowing. Spring mowing can be greatly reduced by following a fall fertilization program. The recommended mowing height for tall fescue is two to three inches with three inches being best during hot, dry summer conditions.
Fescue is relatively drought tolerant, but may need to be watered during the summer to keep it green. Spring watering should be avoided unless the lawn shows signs of stress. Unnecessary spring watering reduces summer drought resistance and contributes to excessive growth, disease, and weeds. During dry summer weather, fescue should be watered about one inch per week. The grass can be allowed to go dormant, which will turn brown during extended dry periods.
The most important time to fertilize tall fescue lawns is in the fall, specifically September and November. Early spring fertilization, March or early April, causes excessive growth, which requires frequent mowing and promotes disease and weeds. Nitrogen is the most important fertilizer element, and is needed on a regular basis. Phosphorous, potassium, lime and sulfur should only be applied based on the results of a soil test.
Tall fescue gets few diseases but Brown Patch is the most common. The best prevention method is to follow the correct cultural practices. Insects are normally not a problem except for grubs. A healthy, vigorous lawn can usually tolerate moderate levels of insect feeding without damage.
Tall fescue is a good choice for a lawn in the Kansas City area. Following proper cultural practices will lead to success.