It Is Time for Fall Seeding of Cool Season Grasses

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Fall is the best time for renovation and seeding of cool-season lawns. Temperatures are currently above normal for early September, but long range forecast predict they will begin to moderate. Hurricane season has also been active, so consider heavy rainfall in your planning as much as practical. Much of the state has been dry in July and August, so some rain would be appreciated to help make aerification a bit easier. Heavy rainfall can wash seed.

Remember that spring-established tall fescue is more susceptible to drought, heat, fungal diseases, and weed encroachment. With normal summer weather patterns, spring seeding is not likely to result in a year-long stand of healthy tall fescue. So do not delay, seed in the fall!

Young seedlings normally emerge and grow best when air temperatures are between 70 and 80 degrees. Soil temperatures need to be greater than 60 degrees for good germination. So, it is generally better to go a bit early than seeding late. If tall fescue isGrass on a black surface being measured for height seeded in under less than ideal conditions (too cool or no soil moisture), you may experience a thin turf stand going into the winter. So try to get your seed out in September. If you must wait until October there is an increased likelihood of slow/low germination.

Contact your local Cooperative Extension office for a listing recommended cultivars and fertilization practices. These grasses were chosen because they produce a high quality turf in North Carolina and have been shown to be less susceptible to brown patch. Some like to mix in a little Kentucky bluegrass (darker color and finer texture) or fine fescue (for shady areas). Adding ryegrass to the mix can dominate and reduce the stand of the more heat-tolerant tall fescue. A typical tall fescue seeding rate is 5 to 6 pounds of seed per 1000 square feet. Germination will normally be in 7 to 14 days with soil moisture and suitable soil temperatures.

Before seeding, core aerification is recommended to reduce compacted areas. Getting good soil to seed contact is important to access the most available soil moisture. The core aerification holes will capture seed and hold moisture so the tall fescue seedlings often come up as a tuft of turf from the aerification holes.

The suggested yearly fertilization application for nitrogen is about 1.0 pound of nitrogen fertilizer per 1000 square at seeding. Include phosphorus and potassium fertilizers if soil tests indicate there is a need. In the absence of a soil test, a 16-4-8 or similar N-P-K ratio fertilizer may be used this spring. Before additional fertilizer or lime is added, conduct a soil test.

To apply 1 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet: Divide 100 by the first number on the fertilizer bag to determine the amount of product to be used per 1,000 square feet. Example: Using a 16-4-8 fertilizer, 100 divided by 16 equals 6.25, therefore, 6.25 pounds of fertilizer per 1,000 square feet will deliver 1 pound of nitrogen.

If irrigation is available, set your controller within current water restrictions for your area. Irrigate early in the morning to reduce water loss due to evaporation. In the fall, ¼ to ½ inch water per week of water (via rainfall or irrigation) is generally enough to meet the turf’s water needs. Irrigation can usually be discontinued in November without any reduction in turfgrass quality.

Since seeds and seedlings may be damaged by some herbicide applications, fall seeded cool-season grasses should not have any herbicides applied until it is extensively “tillered”. Tillers are shoots that develop from the plant crown area. Mature tillers produce leaves, stems, and root systems.

It is very important that tall fescue be maintained at the proper mowing height to allow it to mature before winter and to minimize weed incidence. Studies have shown that a 3½ mowing height provides the best growth condition while minimizing disease incidence and weed encroachment. A 3 to 3.5 inch mowing height is also a good height for tall fescue + Kentucky bluegrass.

Warm-season grasses such as bermudagrass, zoysiagrass, centipedegrass, and St. Augustinegrass can be sodded in the fall, but it is generally not recommended due to the increased chance of winterkill. Warm-season grasses should not be seeded in the fall as there is inadequate time for maturity before the first expected frost.

Minda Daughtry is Horticulture Agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.