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  Food Gardening > Vegetables > Fescue Questions and ANSWERS!


Fescue Questions and ANSWERS!

On the Friday evening of Labor Day weekend I concluded that it was either now or never. I would have no more weekends in which to plant my fescue lawn until late October: too late for my taste. Though it was a smidge early, I decided at 10:30 p.m. that I must strike while the iron was hot and that THIS was the weekend to dig up my lawn and start from scratch.

Many homeowners came to the same conclusion in the past weeks as they surveyed the damage that heat and drought did to their fescue grass. If you are one of them and have planted your fescue recently, you might have questions about the process. Here are a baker=s dozen fescue questions and answers:

1. Q: Labor Day? You planted on Labor Day six weeks ago?!! Am I too late to plant fescue this year?

A: The best time to plant fescue in north Georgia is from September 15 to October 15. You still have a few days to spare but make plans to hurry. Seed planted in November doesn=t have quite enough time to grow good roots before cold weather sets in.

2. Q: I have a spot of dead grass where my sprinkler didn=t reach. Previously, grass grew there fine. Can I just scratch the soil and overseed?

A: If fescue grew there successfully before, the earth is probably soft enough. You can use a stiff iron rake to scratch the soil thoroughly. Scatter seed thinly over the spot and mulch with a bit of straw. Remember that we only use six pounds of seed per thousand square feet of lawn. If your spot is twenty five square feet, you only need 2.5 ounces of seed. If you plant too many seed now, they will die from overcrowding next May.

3. Q: I want to plant fescue sod instead of seed. Is this the right time to plant it?

A: Sure, you can plant it now - but you=ll have a hard time finding it. The fescue sod producers have the same trouble growing fescue in the summer that you do. To offer a high quality product, they wait until November or December to ship their sod to Atlanta. You can order sod now and you can dig and prepare your soil now, but you=ll wait in line with the rest of us to plant the sod in early winter.

4. Q: Can I use fescue seed that I had left over from last spring?

A: If it was stored in a cool, dry, dark spot, the seed should be fine. If it became very hot, if it was soaked with rain in your garage, if it was stored near a sunny window, the seed might not germinate very well. You can do a quick test by sprinkling a teaspoon of seed on a wet paper towel and placing it in a plastic bag. Check in five days to see how many seed have sprouted. If only a few show signs of life, you now have a nice bag of bird seed, not grass seed. It is a good idea to check the tag on the seed bag before you purchase fescue this fall. If the seed was tested for germination last year, it has likely lost some of its viability. Look for more recently tested seed.

5. Q: I had lots of crabgrass this summer. Can I do something about it and still plant fescue seed now?

A: In a word, ANo@. You can plant fescue seed perfectly well now but the effort to control crabgrass must wait until next spring. In mid- March you can spread a Apre-emergent@ crabgrass preventer which will deter crabgrass seed germination. The weeds you had this summer have already scattered their seeds and you can do nothing about them now.

6. Q: I have lots of violets and wild strawberry in my lawn. Can I do something about them and still plant fescue seed?

A: The answer is AMaybe@. Weed killers that affect violets do not normally harm fescue grass. But if you put it down when new fescue seeds are emerging, the chemical does inhibit their growth. You can spot spray the weed clumps now and plant fescue seed successfully but do not apply weed killer to your whole yard.

7. Q: I planted seed three weeks ago. The grass has come up nicely but there are some tall sprouts that are twice as big as the rest of the grass. What are they?

A: Did you use wheat straw to mulch your newly planted lawn? If you did, the wheat seeds in the straw have sprouted alongside the fescue seed. The wheat is not a problem; you can mow it down when you mow your lawn. Next summer it will die when hot weather arrives again.

8. Q: Speaking of mowing, when should I mow my lawn after the seeds have sprouted?

A: Technically, you can mow just about anytime after the majority of the seeds have sprouted. The mower won=t Apull them out of the ground@. Practically speaking, wait until the seedlings are six inches tall before you mow. They will have had time to grow roots deeply enough to avoid being squashed by your mower wheels.

9. Q: Which is the best fescue seed for a shady spot? Doesn=t someone test them for shade tolerance?

A: The dean of fescue variety testing in Georgia is Dr. Gil Landry at the University of Geogia college of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Griffin Experiment Station. He compares dozens of fescues over several year=s time to determine which do best under Georgia conditions. While some fescues are a bit more shade tolerant than others, Dr. Landry says that the way you manage your shady lawn is more important than which fescue you use. A shade tolerant fescue is one that has deep roots. If you dig your soil six inches deep before planting, any of the commonly available turf-type fescue varieties will do their best in shade.

10. Q: I want to aerate my lawn and then apply lime, fertilizer and seed. Is there any special order in which I should do this?

A: I like to aerate first and then spread the other items in no particular order. The holes left by the aerator will allow better penetration by the lime and better spots in which seed can germinate. You didn=t mention watering your lawn in this process. You should water a day in advance of aerating to insure the tines penetrate the earth deeply. After spreading the lime, seed and fertilizer, water again to wash the chemicals into the soil and to give the seeds an initial drink.

11. Q: I used a hollow-tine aerator on my lawn. Do I have to collect the little plugs of soil that the aerator left behind?

A: Thank goodness you don=t have to collect them! You do have two choices, though. You can either let them gradually disappear or you can drag a section of carpet or chainlink fence over them to break them up. Wait three or four days after the aeration, allowing them to dry, before you drag and crumble the plugs.

12. Q: My neighbor has a spike aerator that he pulls behind his yard tractor. Will this aerate as well as a hollow-tine aerator that I have to pay to rent?

A: Not at all! In fact, the spike aerator may do more harm than good. It all has to do with the physics of pushing something into the earth. A solid object, like an aerator spike, tends to compact the soil below and on either side of the hole it makes. It also glazes the side of the hole as it withdraws, making penetraion of air and nutrients more difficult. Remember, the process is called Aaeration@, after all. Anything that impedes oxygen getting to grass roots doesn=t help them. The hollow tines that plunge into the ground and withdraw a plug of soil do not compact the soil and they do allow oxygen movement. Hollow-tine aerators are the best.

13. Q: I had brown patch disease throughout my lawn this summer. Can I put anything in the soil to eliminate the disease?

A: Another one word answer: ANo@. The fungus spores of brown patch are in the soil all of the time. They can not be eliminated. You only have a problem with brown patch when the grass becomes susceptible to it - because of drought stress or over-fertilizing or over-watering. All three of those conditions are under your control. If you water deeply once each week during dry weather and avoid fertilizing after May, brown patch won=t be nearly the problem it has been.


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