Help with Creeping Red Fescue

studly(4 (MN))June 30, 2008

Last fall I tried to convert our thin, patchy, draught-damaged KBG lawn to something that is more draught tolerant.

After researching everything, I ordered some Wendy Jean Creeping Red Fescue (was the only thing I could find that was reasonably priced and that rec'd good marks on the NTEP tests)and overseeded last fall with that.

This year I haven't fertilized at all (they say the fine fescue shouldn't be fertilized because then the existing KBG patches of grass might out compete the CRF grass, and the grass would require more water). The lawn hasn't done much, and the creeping red is slowly starting to spread, but very, very slowly.

Also, now that we're experiencing warm temps in the 80s and haven't had rain for a week, already the CRF grass is turning yellow before the KBG grass. I thought everything I read said the CRF grass would be more drought tolerant than KBG grass!

I'm guessing it's not established enough and I'm being too impatient. Do I need to keep it well watered all year long until it's more mature? Will it eventually be more draught tolerant?

Any advice you may have on how to get a CRF lawn so it's more drought tolerant and spreads more, when mixed with existing KBG grass, would be greatly appreciated!

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I am in North Carolina, but it should be the same there. Usually it is recommended to water fescue for the first year to help it establish. Usually an inch a week is recommended in the absence of rainfall. It should do better after that, but will probably still need some water in the summer.

    Bookmark   June 30, 2008 at 7:45PM
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Fine fescues may be a good choice for shady areas, but they still need water. Is your lawn full sun? FF don't do well in full sun. Do you not want your KBG grass back to health?

    Bookmark   June 30, 2008 at 8:16PM
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studly(4 (MN))

The CRF is growing in a mixture of sun and shade. The stuff that's not doing as well -- that's yellow now and is either dormant or dead -- is in the sun, next to our blacktopped driveway. I'm guessing the black top is absorbing lots of heat and probably drying out the soil around it. But in other sunnier areas, it's starting to turn yellow, as well, just not as bad.

I don't mind if the KBG comes back to health, as long as I don't have to constantly water/fertilize it. I'm just trying to see what will grow best w/o much water during the dryer months. Everything I read about CRF seemed to say it needed much less water than KBG and was a good low maintenance grass.

Thanks for your help, everyone!

    Bookmark   June 30, 2008 at 9:59PM
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"I'm just trying to see what will grow best w/o much water during the dryer months"

The only grass that is going to do that in your climate is Buffalo.

    Bookmark   June 30, 2008 at 10:37PM
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Actually there's one more, Astroturf.

    Bookmark   June 30, 2008 at 10:38PM
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Buffalo grass would be a poor choice in zone 4 MN. It would grow, but would only be green for a short time in the summer. In extremely cold winters, you might see some of it die off.

There are a few other grasses that would stay green without any water except for what you get from rain. Western wheatgrass and sheep fescue are both native grasses that will stay alive in Utah with no additional water, and they'll stay green where you are.

Creeping red fescue should probably stay green once it's established, but it may take a year or two to establish. I would expect it to spread more slowly than KBG.

    Bookmark   June 30, 2008 at 11:59PM
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I forgot to mention that sheep fescue is a bunch grass, so if you seed it by itself, it may need to be overseeded periodically and it may not compete well with KBG.

Western wheatgrass spreads via rhizomes.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2008 at 12:05AM
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studly(4 (MN))

Bpgreen, thanks for the additional ideas. One web site I saw said wheatgrass isn't recommended for our zone (4). And does it need full sun? Our yard is about 50-50 between full sun and shade. But wheatgrass does sound like a great alternative lawn grass if you have the conditions that are right for it.

Sheep fescue should do well here ... the university here has some test plots of different bunch fine fescue grasses and they all did well with no watering or fertilizing. I was hoping my CRF would be even better because it spreads, but apparently in needs more water than the other bunch-type fine fescues.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2008 at 10:35AM
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Western wheatgrass isn't often listed as a turfgrass. Were they talking about western wheatgrass or crested wheatgrass (or streambank wheatgrass)?

Streambank wheatgrass isn't normally found as far east as MN, so I didn't list it. I don't like crested wheatgrass very well. I don't like the color very much (too yellow) and the way it lives in low water conditions is to go in and out of dormancy very quickly

Western wheatgrass deals with drought by having an extensive root system. So it has to be dry for a long time to go dormant (the native stuff in fields here usually goes dormant in mid July after no rain since the first week of June). It's not without faults, though. It's almost blue in color and has wider blades than most of your other options (with the exception of K31 tall fescue).

I've seen native stands here under trees along the road that look like they'd keep it shaded most of the time. Most of this area is either zone 5 or 6, but at higher elevations, it's zone 4 and I've seen it growing there, too (native, no water at all except for snow, early spring and late fall rains).

If you want something that is closer in color and blade width to a traditional lawn, western wheatgrass is not what you want, but if you want something that will stay green (or blue, anyway) with no water from the sprinklers, it'll do the job.

The fescues will probably stay green in MN, so CRF + sheep fescue might give you a lawn that will stay green for the most part and look more like what you're used to seeing.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2008 at 10:55AM
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When you attempt to interseed two species of RHIZOMOUS grasses, such as you are with CRF into an existing KBG stand, you absolutely SHOULD take dramatic action at the point of interseeding in the form of effectively 'stunting' the existing allow for an 'avenue' for the invited specie to have some breathing room.

This is often accomplished by a series of somewhat 'close' mowings...followed by thorough soil aeration on a MOIST lawn, of course (2x over if at all possible) and then slice seeding with the invited specie.....only ONCE the aeration cores have dried thoroughly.

Double aeration is done here not because of the traditional reasons of relieving compaction or thatch control, but in an attempt to increase % of seed to soil contact, by bringing MORE soil up nearer to the surface, for the slice-seeder to later PULVERIZE and 'cut into', with the invited specie... as it drop it.

Then...these relatively "close" mowings...with very SHARP blades (to prevent possible 'pulling out' of tender new grass)...must CONTINUE until the invited specie gets a full foothold in the given stand of turf.

Successful seeding is ALL about :

1) Making sure competition will not interfere
2) Getting optimal seed / soil contact
3) Erosion considerations
4) Proper irrigation for SEEDING, (not 'maintenance' irrigation)
5) Fertilizer requirements...(high P fert, or endo mycorrhizae spores for the organic minded)

    Bookmark   July 1, 2008 at 12:49PM
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studly(4 (MN))

Bpgreen, it may have been steambank or another wheatgrass I was looking up that didn't go to zone 4. That's encouraging that western wheatgrass will grow here. I'd like to see some of that in a lawn, but have never heard of anyone here using that. Worth looking into, though.

Mark, thanks for the tips. We did follow most of them and did a double aeration and had a slit seeder plant the CRF, etc. Our planting of the seed last fall went well with most of it germinating.

As a follow-up to my original message, I've since watered the CRF that looked dead and it's coming around. So apparently it's just dormant. Looks like I'll have to water it this year, and hopefully the roots will grow deeper as it matures and it'll be more drought resistant than the KBG.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2008 at 10:22AM
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Studly--it's not very likely that you'll find a western wheatgrass lawn to look at. It's not often used for lawns. I'm using it and I know of a few people who participate in the Rocky Mountain forum here.

It's more of a blue than a green, so I would only suggest using it if your main goal is water saving. In MN, you get enough rain that I would expect creeping red fescue and sheep fescue to stay green, and they'll look more like a traditional lawn in color. Sheep fescue is more drought resistant than creeping red fescue, but it's a bunch grass, so it might be a good idea to plant both of them so the creeping red fescue can fill in any bare spots.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2008 at 10:49AM
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