A common concern is whether fescue grass, a popular cool-season turfgrass, will go dormant during the summer months.
Understanding the fescue’s dormancy behavior is crucial for lawn care and maintenance, as it can help you prepare for the effects of the sweltering heat and potential drought conditions.
Fescue grass, which includes varieties such as tall fescue, fine fescue, and creeping red fescue, is known for its ability to stay green throughout the year in regions with mild temperatures.
However, it’s important to know that fescue can indeed enter a dormant state in the summer, primarily if exposed to prolonged heat and insufficient water. When faced with such conditions, the grass conserves its resources and energy, causing its growth and color to slow down, and it might even appear brown.
With the right care, your fescue lawn can survive even the toughest summer conditions.
Fescue Grass Overview
Fescue grass is a popular type of cool-season grass that is widely used for lawns, sports fields, and pastures. It is known for its adaptability to various soil types, shade tolerance, and resilience to foot traffic. In this section, we will discuss the types of fescue grass, their characteristics, and the differences between cool-season and warm-season grasses.
Types of Fescue Grass
There are two main types of fescue grass: Tall Fescue and Fine Fescue.
Within the Fine Fescue category, there are four subtypes: Creeping Red Fescue, Chewings Fescue, Hard Fescue, and Sheep Fescue.
Each type has its unique characteristics, making it suitable for specific applications:
- Tall Fescue: Known for its broad, deep-green blades and inherent heat tolerance, it is a popular choice for lawns and sports fields.
- Creeping Red Fescue: A fine-bladed grass with a rich green color and excellent shade tolerance. Ideal for lawns with significant tree cover.
- Chewings Fescue: A fine-textured, shade-tolerant grass that can be used to overseed lawns or mix with perennial ryegrass for a dense, lush appearance.
- Hard Fescue: A low-growing, drought-tolerant grass that requires minimal maintenance and is well-suited to low-input lawns or along highways.
- Sheep Fescue: A bunch-type grass with a fine texture, often employed in naturalized areas and meadows or for erosion control.
Fescue grass is a perennial grass that can be identified by its dense, dark green color and variety of textures, ranging from the fine blades of Creeping Red Fescue to the thicker, broader blades of Tall Fescue. They are typically shade-tolerant, making them suitable for areas with partial sun or areas prone to temperature fluctuations.
Fescue grasses can grow in various soils, though they prefer well-draining soil with adequate organic matter. They establish themselves through both rhizomes and tillers, which are modified stems that grow close to the ground and spread outwards.
Cool-Season Grass Vs Warm-Season Grass
Fescue grass is classified as a cool-season grass, meaning it actively grows during the cooler months of the year (spring and fall), thriving in temperatures between 60-75°F (15-24°C). Cool-season grasses like fescue maintain their green color throughout the fall and into the early winter, helping to extend the visual appeal of the lawn.
In contrast, warm-season grasses actively grow during the hot summer months and generally go dormant when temperatures drop below 55°F (13°C). Warm-season grasses include bermudagrass, zoysiagrass, and St. Augustine grass, which are popular in the southern regions of the United States.
Dormancy in Fescue Grass
Why Fescue Goes Dormant
Fescue grass, a cool-season turf, primarily goes dormant in summer due to high temperatures and potential drought. During summer, fescue grass experiences heat stress and stops growing to conserve water.
This dormancy helps the turf withstand extreme weather conditions. When cooler temperatures return in fall, the grass starts growing again and comes out of dormancy.
Signs of Dormancy
Here are some key indicators that a fescue lawn has gone dormant:
- Color change: Dormant fescue grass turns a brownish or straw-like color.
- Reduced growth: The grass stops growing vertically and appears shorter.
- Less water consumption: Dormant fescue will require less water as it’s trying to conserve moisture.
How to Prolong Dormancy
To help your fescue lawn endure dormancy and recover from it, consider the following tips:
- Water appropriately: Deeply water your lawn 1 to 1.5 inches per week to promote deep roots, which can help the grass withstand drought better.
- Mow higher: Raise your mower height to 3-4 inches to reduce the heat stress on the plant’s crown and promote stronger, deeper roots.
- When to seed: Plant fescue grass seed in fall or early spring, when temperatures are cooler and more conducive to its growth.
Summer Fescue Grass Care
During summer, it’s important to maintain a consistent watering schedule for your fescue lawn. Provide 1 to 1.5 inches of water per week, either through rainfall or irrigation.
Water deeply and infrequently to encourage strong root growth. The best time to water is in the early morning to reduce water loss due to evaporation. Installing a reliable irrigation system can help maintain a regular watering schedule.
Mowing and Fertilizing
Fescue grass should be mowed regularly during the summer to maintain a height of 3 to 4 inches. Avoid cutting more than one-third of the grass height at once, as this can stress the grass and weaken its root system. Keep mower blades sharp to prevent tearing the grass.
Apply a slow-release fertilizer in early summer, as fescue grass is actively growing during this time. Avoid over-fertilizing, as this can lead to excessive top growth and shallow rooting. When choosing a fertilizer, look for products that contain nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, which provide essential nutrients for lawn health.
Managing Heat and Drought Stress
Fescue grass can experience heat and drought stress during the hot summer months. To mitigate this stress:
- Maintain longer grass: Taller grass shades the soil, reducing the soil temperature and conserving moisture.
- Mulch clippings: Leaving grass clippings on the lawn helps retain moisture and provides additional nutrients to the soil.
- Monitor for brown patches: Brown patches may indicate drought stress. If you notice browning, increase the frequency of watering and/or overseeding to maintain a healthy lawn.
- Avoid heavy traffic: Grass that is suffering from heat stress is more susceptible to wear and tear. Limit traffic on the lawn during hot days or periods of drought.
By following these summer care tips, your fescue lawn can remain healthy and resilient during the hot summer months.
Dealing with Brown Patches
Identifying Brown Patch Disease
Brown patch disease is a common problem for fescue lawns during hot summers. It can be identified by the presence of circular brown patches on the grass. These patches usually range from a few inches to several feet in diameter and may have a dark, water-soaked appearance. In severe cases, a light grayish-brown mold may develop on the affected areas.
Preventing and Treating Brown Patches
In order to prevent brown patch disease, it’s essential to maintain a healthy fescue lawn. Here are a few tips:
- Water correctly: Avoid overwatering and water deeply, but less frequently. Aim for about 1 to 1.5 inches of water per week, preferably in the early morning.
- Mow properly: Keep the mower blade sharp and mow when the grass is dry, maintaining a height of 3 to 4 inches.
- Aerate and overseed: Aerating and overseeding in the fall can help improve airflow and reduce soil compaction, which can contribute to the development of brown patch disease.
If brown patches are already present, treating the affected areas is crucial. Here are some steps to combat the disease:
- Remove debris: Rake and remove any debris, such as leaf litter and grass clippings, from the affected areas.
- Apply fungicide: Use a fungicide that’s labeled for brown patch on fescue lawns, following the product’s instructions closely.
Additionally, it’s important to differentiate between brown patch disease and drought stress. Drought stress results in grass turning brown due to lack of water. In such cases, adjusting your watering routine can help alleviate the issue.
Overseeding and Lawn Renovation
Best Time for Overseeding
The ideal time for overseeding tall fescue lawns is in the early fall when soil temperatures are around 60-65°F (15-18°C). During this period, the grass has enough time to germinate and establish itself before winter. Spring is also a possible time to overseed, but be cautious of potential weed competition and lower soil temperatures.
Steps to Overseed
- Mow the lawn: Cut the existing grass short (around 1-1.5 inches) to reduce competition and allow the seeds to make good contact with the soil.
- Aerate: Aerate the lawn to loosen up compacted soil and improve air circulation, water penetration, and seed-to-soil contact.
- Spread the seed: Apply the tall fescue seeds evenly across the lawn. Use a spreader for proper seed distribution and follow the recommended seeding rate.
- Rake: Lightly rake the seeded area to cover the seeds with a thin layer of soil, which helps with germination.
- Water: Keep the seedbed consistently moist but not soggy for the first few weeks. Water lightly and frequently to encourage germination and sprouting.
Germination and Establishment
Tall fescue seed typically germinates within 7-12 days after seeding, depending on soil temperature and moisture levels. It’s crucial to minimize foot traffic during the establishment period to give the seedlings a chance to develop strong roots.
Keep in mind that overseeding may not be as effective for warm-season grasses like Zoysia or Bermuda. These grasses have a different growing pattern and may require different renovation approaches, such as sprigging or plugging.
Benefits and Limitations of Fescue Grass
Advantages of Fescue Grass
Fescue grass is known for its drought tolerance and ability to withstand cold winters. This makes it a popular choice for lawns and landscapes in various regions. One of the primary benefits of fescue grass is its deep root growth, which allows it to survive in hot weather and less-than-ideal conditions. This type of grass can generally manage well in both hot summers and cold winters, making it a versatile choice for homeowners and landscapers alike.
Challenges and Possible Solutions
Despite its benefits, fescue grass isn’t without its challenges. In particularly hot weather, it may struggle to maintain its vibrant green color and can potentially go dormant. To counter this, it’s essential to manage the grass properly by:
- Watering regularly, but not excessively, to encourage deep root growth
- Providing shade during extreme heat
- Mowing at an appropriate height to help the grass adapt to higher temperatures