Trouble with Fescue in NW Arkansas

tkuper05October 15, 2010

This is my third year to plant tall fescue in my yard. The past two years' germination rates have been pretty good (crossing my fingers on this year). I plant in the fall when daytime temperatures are around 75 deg and falling. During the last two seasons 95% of the grass has died. When I mow, I only mow the top third off the grass. I use a sharp blade each season. I pay a lawn care service to fertilize, put down lime, herbicides, etc. I do not have underground irrigation though. We have brutal summers in my area and during the first hot summer season I put out sprinklers and watered after I would mow. The grass did horrible and died very quickly after the heat came. The second season I wondered if I watered too much and I hardly watered at all. The grass lasted longer but then all died. The neighbors have given up all hope for me now and think I'm crazy for trying again. One thing I do notice is that when the grass germinates in the fall, it doesn't get as tall as it does in the spring, and then it goes crazy in the spring and gets much thicker. Any advise is much appreciated.

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

The one thing people never seem to think to do is to sample the soil for moisture, texture, etc. You may as well get the soil tested also. In some states this is done for free but at least test the PH with a $6 kit. You shouldn't be adding lime unless you know you need it.

Dig out a sample of soil to about 8" deep. The shovel should go in relatively easily. If you have to use all your weight you have excessive compaction and may need more organic content. Regardless you need to till down to 6" and then run a roller over it whenever planting seed or sod but the long term compaction is also of concern. I assume you are not watering now but note the moisture content. You can perform a simple soil structure analysis using this method -

Ideally you fit into the loam category. Any extremes of the sand, silt or clay coud pose a problem.

Finally, get a soil test done for PH, N, P, K and organic content. I always add some organic content (compost) because this is what feeds the grass long term. Try to add 20% compost or so but note that this will increase your soil volume.

When you water, set out a tuna can at various locations and check for at least 1" of water in the can (2" per week is a typical requirement). Also push a shovel 8" into the lawn and tilt it so you can see the soil moisture (don't actually remove any soil to avoid lawmn damage). Even though you verify 2" of water it could be running off.

Is there any chance there are toxins in the soil from construction or?

Don't give up, you'll be an expert on lawn care by the time your done.

    Bookmark   October 15, 2010 at 11:49AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

BTW, I would add a irrigation system now if you have time/budget because doing it later will damage you lawn. It's really easy once you have a plan.

Read the site below carefully to develop a plan and only use commercial grade pop ups - most of the stuff in the home improvement stores is consumer grade junk.

All the info is here and the guy will even review you plan for few bucks -

    Bookmark   October 15, 2010 at 11:57AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Alexh has some good points. Definitely get a soil test. I wouldn't waste the 6 dollars on a kit though. Soil testing is very cheap at most Universities/soil labs. One of the best ones it at Umass (13 bucks). Logan Labs in Ohio charges 20, but they have a very good test as well. If you have hard compacted soil you definitely need to loosen it up. Sure tilling the top six inches would be great, but it would require someone with a tractor and a box blade if you have a large yard, and it needs to be done correctly or you will end up with a lumpy yard with many high and low spots. There are ways to add organic matter and condition your soil without heavy machinery. Core aeration is a start. Also treating your yard with soil conditioners containing Yucca extract over time will loosen up your soil. If your soil is high in magnesium and low in calcium then your soil will be tight (this will be revealed by your soil test). Organic matter will feed the soil microbes and make the soil looser, hold water better, and you grass will do much better. Periodic applications of organic fertilizer such as compost, Milorganite, soy bean meal, corn meal, alfalfa meal, etc is a great way to raise your OM levels. One thing you didn't mention, but probably played a big part in the death of your grass was fungal disease. If you have hot humid summers then fungus is always a threat. I live in CT and I have fungal issues. Even the best cultural practices doesn't guarranty you won't be affected. There are some natural products like Serenade and Actinovate that you can use prophylactically to prevent disease. Corn meal applications in spring are also supposed to help prevent fungal outbreaks. If you do get disease a good fungicide is usually the only cure. Heritage G is a very good one, Eagle is also good. You can find those at Lesco. As alexh pointed out your grass needs water. In my opinion it's the most important thing to keeping grass happy, especially in the hotter months. It's important to remember not to water at night in the summer as that will keep the grass moist for a long period of time, allowing fungal disease to flourish.

    Bookmark   October 15, 2010 at 1:48PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Thanks for all the recommendations. Each time I have planted my fescue I have used a core aerator to tear up the soil and reduce compaction. I've never tilled it though. I've found a UofA branch that will test my soil for free. I have seeded this year already so I will have to wait a little while considering I can't even walk on the seedlings yet. The company that sprays my yard offers this service what are your thoughts on that? I seeded a week ago and temps here are still 75-85. Core aerated, raked, rolled, and top dressed with straw. Used Scott's starter fertilizer. Used about 8lb/1000 sq ft of seed. I have about 7k sq ft of yard. I would love to put in underground irrigation but it's not in my budget yet. I am determined to get fescue to florish in my area. I'm not crazy for planting it in my area (Zone 7) am I?

    Bookmark   October 18, 2010 at 12:53PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Free soil tests are usually worth what you pay for them. A good soil test includes: pH, buffer pH (optional), CEC, base saturations, organic matter percentage, Ca, Mg, P, K, Fe, B, Mn, S, Cu, Pb and Al levels. I would do a soil test in early spring before you apply any fertilizer or other amendments. I looked at that website, never heard of it, but I have never heard of a lot of things. It would be nice if you knew what was in their soil conditoner. I'm sure it's similar to other things on the market, and wouldn't be a bad idea as long as it's not too expensive. Tall fescue is probably OK depending on where you live in AR, but here's a good site you should take a look at:

    Bookmark   October 18, 2010 at 8:27PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Take your neighbors advice and give up trying to raise a cool season grass around Wally Land. What you describe is perfectly normal for that area. You plant in fall, it grows, does well in Spring then all dies off in Summer. If you keep trying to grow cool season grass in NW AR, you will keep getting the same result every time.

So get smart and switch to a warm season grass like all your neighbors have. Lay either Bermuda or Zoysia sod and enjoy success.

    Bookmark   October 19, 2010 at 3:44PM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
Shady lawn in winter - what seed is best?
Hi, I have a small garden in London, England. Because...
Poa Annua already making it's jump!
PA typically comes up here in April, we're mid Feb...
hydroseeding this spring or wait til fall?
hello - my lawn took a major hit last year even after...
New bermuda sod just installed
It is 30 degrees here and I was told to water every...
I need lawn renovation help in Zone 7/8
I want to renovate my 24,000 sq ft lawn. The problem...
People viewed this after searching for:
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™