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It’s Fescue Time!

By Paul James

One of the most popular gardening activities this time of year is sowing the king of cool-season turf grasses, namely fescue, from seed. It’s practically a ritual for folks who’ve come to realize that if you want a thick stand of the stuff, or if you don’t want to stare at brown Bermuda grass all winter, you pretty much have to put down seed. And thankfully, it’s a pretty simple process.

Sow Now Through Octoberish

The optimum soil temperature range for sowing fescue is between 50 and 65 degrees, which is generally associated with air temps of between 60 and 70 degrees. However, it’s perfectly fine to get a jump start on planting as long as you water well both before and after the seed germinates. In fact, this weekend looks absolutely spectacular for seeding.

Stick With Blends

It’s best to use a blend of seeds that contains only tall fescues, or one that contains tall fescues blended with fine fescues, Kentucky bluegrass, or even ryegrass in varying percentages, rather than rely on a single variety. I’ve tried dozens of blends over the years, and while I’ve seen subtle differences in them, I truly believe that the best way to choose one over another is a coin toss, although I’ll admit that in the past decade I’ve used a blend called Five Star, and with excellent results.

Prep The Area

Mow the existing lawn before applying seed, maybe one notch shorter than usual, and get rid of sticks and leaf litter. Use a steel garden rake to rough up any bare spots. Once that’s done, you’re good to go. Some people think you should also aerate the lawn beforehand, but unless your soil is extremely compacted, you can skip that task. Besides, once the seed falls in the holes left by the aerator, the lawn often winds up looking like a bad hair transplant.

Application Rate

If you’re seeding bare soil, the application rate is 10 pounds of seed per 1,000 square feet. If you’re overseeding an existing lawn, cut that rate in half. You’ll find the recommended spreader settings on most seed bags.

Keep It Moist

The most important consideration when getting seed to germinate is even moisture, because dry seed simply will not sprout. Typically, that means watering every day – even twice a day — to keep the top ¼-inch or so of soil moist. Do that and you should see germination within seven to 10 days, 14 at the outside.


Once the seed has germinated and the grass blades begin to grow, it’s time to fertilize. (Prior to germination, the embryo of the seed contains all the nutrients necessary for the seed to germinate.) I only use all-natural fertilizers (Milorganite being my favorite) because they tend to release their nutrients slowly over time, but that’s just me. You can fertilize at planting time, then again in November.

You Gotta Mow!

A big mistake people make is getting so excited about how well their grass is growing that they forget to mow it. Once the leaf blades are four- to five-inches tall, give the lawn a haircut, but don’t remove more than a third of the top growth to avoid stressing the young turf.

Happy gardening, ya’ll.

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4 responses to “It’s Fescue Time!”

  1. Ann Paris says:

    Due to heavy tree trimming, my fescue starts burning up in June. Thinking about fall fescue seeding and spring bermuda overseeding. Any advice?

    • Paul James says:

      Fescue often burns up in the heat of summer, even if you water a lot. Fall is definitely the best time to sow from seed, and I’d encourage you to do that soon. You can also sow again in spring. Bermuda should be sown in May/June. Your situation is a little tricky, because Bermuda needs a lot of sun, whereas fescue can tolerate some sun but does better in shade or dappled light. Your approach should work, but without knowing just how much light the lawn gets, I can’t say with certainty that it will.

  2. Cathy Hoye says:

    We’re putting our house on the market in 30 days; we have a huge bare spot under the trees in the back. It was planted in Bermuda but there was never enough sun for it to grow. If we seed now, will we have some green showing by the first of October?

    • Paul James says:

      Absolutely! It germinates in 7 to 10 days, and by October you should have a lush, thick lawn.