Fescue Fertilizing

— Written By Brenda Larson and last updated by

Fescue grass is a cool-season grass. It does the majority of its productive growth between September and June. For this reason, fertilizer applications should be concentrated in the fall, winter and early spring.

The amount of fertilizer to apply should be determined by a soil test. If you have not had your soil tested, here are some rule-of-thumb recommendations for fescue fertilization.

If the lawn has not been limed in the last year, the soil is probably acid. You can apply 20 pounds of lime per 1000 square feet in the fall and another 20 pounds in the spring. A soil test might determine that you need more – but 40 pounds per year is a moderate amount, which is certainly better than nothing.

Fertilizer should be applied three or four times between September and May. The times to apply are generally in late September, in November, in February and perhaps in late April.

There are many different brands of lawn fertilizer available. I have no recommendation on which is the best of these fertilizers. All have a high first number, meaning they stimulate foliage growth. Follow label directions and you’ll be fine.

You can put down lime and fertilizer at the same time. As long as the turf is dry, the particles of either one will not stick to grass blades. They will simply fall to the ground and will start their good work as soon as it rains.

Fertilizing fescue in the summer is not recommended. Fertilizing in hot weather robs food from the roots of the grass and makes it more susceptible to drought and disease. Do not be tempted to fertilize a fescue lawn like you would a bermudagrass lawn.

If your fescue turns a bit yellow in July, apply a product that contains water-soluble iron (Ironite, etc).

Cyclone spreaders and drop spreaders can both do a good job. Make sure the spreader is set properly to apply the right amount of fertilizer. It is best to apply half of the fertilizer going back and forth on the lawn and the other half while traveling at right angles to the first trip. This will give even coverage so you do not get streaks of yellow and green in the lawn.

We have to keep in mind the big picture when fertilizing turfgrass. All lawns need extra nutrients (fertilizer) during their growing season in order to look their best. Centipedegrass needs very little fertilizer to look good while fescue and bermudagrass need comparatively more. Whether the fertilizer is in granular or liquid form is immaterial to the grass. So how much fertilizer does grass need?

Scientists recommend that one pound of “actual nitrogen” be applied to a thousand square feet of bermudagrass lawn each month during the growing season. What is “actual nitrogen”? It’s the amount of concentrated nitrogen-containing chemical (ammonium nitrate, urea, ammonium phosphate, etc.) that you spread or spray in one application. Remember, a bag of 10-10-10 granular plant food isn’t all fertilizer. Thirty percent is chemical nutrients and the rest is filler material. The percentage of actual nitrogen is what the first of the three “fertilizer numbers” on a bag refers to.

Most gardeners realize that it takes more pounds of 10-10-10 than 29-4-6 fertilizer to feed a lawn. The later has a higher percentage of actual nitrogen. But how much of either would it take to apply the magical “one pound of actual nitrogen per one thousand square feet”?

The calculation is simple: just divide the first fertilizer number into 100. The result is the numbers of pounds of that fertilizer that equal one pound of “actual nitrogen” you’ll apply each month.

Example: Your bag of turf fertilizer has a 29-3-4 analysis. Divide 29 into 100. The result is just about 3.5 pounds. In plain English, you need to spread 3.5 pounds of the 29-6-6 onto one thousand square feet of lawn to equal the pound of actual nitrogen your grass wants.

Second example: You have a bag of granular 16-4-8 fertilizer. How much of it do you need in order to equal a pound of actual nitrogen? Answer: Divide 16 into 100. The answer is 6.25 pounds; that’s how much of the 16-4-8 equals a pound of actual nitrogen.

Third example: You look at the fertilizer numbers on a liquid feed product: 15-30-15. Divide 15 into 100 and you find that it takes 6.66 pounds to yield one pound of actual nitrogen.

Want more pertinent horticulture information delivered directly to your home computer? Subscribe to the new Lee County home horticulture e-mail list. Simply send an e-mail to mj2@lists.ncsu.edu with subscribe leehomehort in the body of the message. You will then be a member of leehomehort@lists.ncsu.edu.    

Brenda Larson is the Horticulture Agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County

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