“Fescue Lawns in North Carolina” by Dewitt Hoover of Spring-Green

Most lawns in the Triangle contain Tall Fescue grass. Although it is suited very well to growing in harsh climates like ours, Tall Fescue is a cool-season grass that does most of it’s growing during the cooler periods of the year. That makes the spring one of the most important times to fertilize your lawn. As the soil begins to warm, roots begin to grow faster and stronger preparing for the heat and drought stress from the upcoming summer. Along with the stresses of heat and drought, the increased weed activity of spring and summer must be controlled early to ensure that you have the best lawn possible until the next cool period. The following is a list of Do’s when caring for, or treating your Tall Fescue lawn.

Fertilization, cooler temperatures, and increased moisture from seasonal rains will make Tall Fescue lawns grow thicker, greener and faster. Your Tall Fescue lawn should be mowed between 3” and 4” high. Mowing too short can be devastating to the health of the lawn. The lower the grass is mowed, the shallower the roots become, thereby decreasing drought hardiness and increasing susceptibility to diseases. Longer mowing heights also help to shade the crown and the soil, reducing water loss from evaporation. Another important consideration is your mower blade. Make sure it is sharp so it cuts cleanly and does not tear the grass blade. This will help your lawn look better and be healthier.

Spring typically brings heavy rains, but when it does not, Tall Fescue Lawns still require 1-1½ ” of water per week. In the absence of rain, this should be applied in heavy doses 1-2 times per week. Water should be applied in the early morning, never in the afternoon or evening. Watering in the early morning hours will help the turf fight disease, and deep infrequent watering will help force roots to grow deeper and increase drought tolerance.

Spring is the perfect time to apply pre-emergent weed control. Tall Fescue is a bunch type grass, which means it does not spread and will not fill-in damaged areas. That is why it is important to apply pre-emergent herbicides early enough to minimize weed infestations from Crabgrass and Broadleaf weeds. Grasses and weeds compete for the same real estate. If a weed moves in, the grass typically moves out and must be reseeded. “Do-It-Yourself programs” typically do not have enough pre-emergent material to be effective for the entire summer season.

Fertilization is also important for Tall Fescue grass during the spring and fall months. The proper amount of fertilizer will help to keep your lawn healthy and good looking throughout the summer and into fall when regular fertilization can resume. Most “do it yourself programs” incorporate too much nitrogen at the wrong time. Too much nitrogen fertilizer has been linked to Brown Patch infestations, a disease already present in the soil and aggravated by increased stresses from high heat and humidity.  

Spring is also a great time to devote some effort to your trees and shrubs. Moderate temperatures in the spring and fall present a great opportunity to plant new trees and shrubs. Follow instructions carefully regarding soil preparation and sunlight requirements. Depending on the variety, you may need to prune your existing shrubs in the spring to promote new growth and keep everything looking great. Shaping your plants regularly will keep them thick and full. A light fertilizer will help encourage new growth