By SHANNON HATHAWAY, Landscape Horticulturist and Sod Specialist

Yes, it is that time of year again – fescue re-seeding time. If you have a warm-season lawn, be grateful that this chore does not apply to you. Kick back and relax. But there are diehard fescue fans out there (you know who you are), and autumn is a critical time for fescue care and revitalization. It is time to aerate and reseed the fescue lawn.

So why do fescue fanatics have to go through this every year? 

  1. Fescue is a cool season grass, and NC is a warm season state. Some of your fescue did not survive the hot summer.
  2. Fescue is a high-maintenance grass. It can be beautiful when you pour a lot of money and resources into it. It is not hardy on its own. 
  3. Fescue is a clumping grass, meaning it does not send out rhizomes or stolons to spread. It cannot repair itself like warm-season grasses can.
  4. Fescue is sensitive to disease, drought, heat, pests, excess sun, and traffic. If it is damaged by any of these factors, refer to #3 above.
  5. Our hot summers and sporadic rains lead to compacted clay soil that is difficult for roots to penetrate. Seeding alone will have poor results, so aeration is necessary to allow water, nutrients, and roots to penetrate the compacted soil.

Timing is everything. If you aerate and reseed too early, the heat will damage the new seedlings. If you wait too long, the weather will be too cool for seed germination. An active hurricane season can wipe out your hard work, so keep an eye on the tropics when you schedule this chore. It’s complicated! You have to hit the sweet spot which is usually late September and early October, but watch the forecast. Proper germination requires warm days, cool nights, and consistent moisture. 

Doing it right. 

  1. Make sure the soil is damp but not soaking wet before aerating so the aerator will not just bounce off the hard surface. Start by watering deeply a day or two before aerating.
  2. Using a power aerator, run the machine over the lawn in a north-south direction, and then repeat in an east-west direction. Don’t rake off the plugs. They will break down and contribute to the topsoil layer.
  3. Spread a high-quality fescue seed (blue tag certified is best) using a broadcast spreader, north-south, and then east-west to get even coverage. 
  4. Topdress with a thin layer of compost or 50/50 topsoil compost mix (¼” deep) and rake evenly.
  5. Water the new seeds daily and evenly, keeping the seed consistently moist to ensure a high rate of germination. Allowing seeds to dry out will decrease their germination rate significantly. Too much water will cause the seeds and seedlings to rot. Keep foot traffic off the lawn.
  6. Once the new seedlings emerge (7-10 days), water consistently every other day or as needed to ensure the survival of the delicate new seedlings. Keep foot traffic to an absolute minimum for at least 2-3 weeks. 
  7. Make sure you continue to follow routine fescue care instructions..
  8. Mow when the seedlings are 5” tall, reducing them to 4” the first cut, and keeping the lawn 3-4” high through the fall and winter months.

I know this sounds like an awful lot of work. It is. Fescue is very high maintenance. Warm-season lawns are much more sensible, sustainable, and economical in our area. And warm-season lawns are a lot less work. If you are considering converting to a warm-season lawn, or if you need your fescue lawn patched with sod, contact us. We are here to help!