Is It Right For My Lawn?
Should I be planting Fescue in Spring?? To seed, or not to seed? That is the question many homeowners ask when surveying their lawn as the weather first starts to warm into spring. Planting fescue in spring is not as ideal as planting it in the fall, but it does have some merits for a fescue lawn that has struggled since its fall seeding. If a lawn is still experiencing significant thin or bare areas as a result of harsh weather, damage, or subpar fall seeding results, spring seeding may be a viable option if the proper precautions are taken. The best way to weigh the option of planting fescue in spring is with a pros and cons list.
The Cons of Spring Seeding
At PPLM, we like to get the bad out of the way first. Unfortunately, there are several cons to planting fescue in spring that can seriously impact not only whether or not the service is appealing to a homeowner, but also the actual germination success of the tall fescue grass seed. These issues include the threat of summer, the need for homeowner involvement, and conflict with spring weed control.
To start, the most obvious consideration in deciding when to plant fescue is the chance of success for the seed’s germination and development. There is no bigger influence on this than seasonal weather. Fescue is a cool season turf, which means that it does best in mild conditions. As a result, tall fescue grass seed does not germinate properly unless soil and air temperatures average around 60 to 75 degrees. In addition to this, adult fescue grass is easily stressed and damaged by high temperatures like those RVA experiences in the summer.
This is why a fescue lawn does best if it receives aeration and seeding in the fall. When fescue is put down around September or October, it has all of the fall to germinate and begin developing, all of the winter to extend its roots, and all of the spring to thicken up and mature its blades. This is over six months of crucial development as it prepares to withstand the stress of summer’s heat. However, when fescue is put down in the spring, it only has one season instead of three to develop before it gets rocked by summer. As a result, spring seeding has a much higher risk of loss in the summer than a fall seeding does.
This brings us to the second downside to spring seeding, which is the need for homeowner involvement. In order to prevent significant loss of the baby grass once summer arrives, homeowners that have invested in planting fescue in spring have to stay on top of a strict watering regimen from the start. Seeding aftercare is important in the fall between watering, delaying any mowing, and monitoring for problems, but each part of this homeowner care is ten times as important with a spring seeding.
The third issue with spring seeding is the significant limitations it puts on weed control, which is most heavily applied during the spring. When fescue seed is put down in the fall, maintenance herbicide applications are halted to prevent the risk of harm to the seed or baby grass. This break in weed control is accommodated by falling temperatures that result in much fewer incidences of crabgrass and other weeds anyway. Some winter weeds begin to develop after fall seeding, but these are generally controlled with post-emergent weed control in the spring, at which point pre-emergent weed control is also applied to prevent most summer weeds.
When seed is put down in the spring, a standard weed control program has to skip the pre-emergent weed control and restrict the post-emergent weed control. As a result, a fescue lawn that had seed put down in the spring is very likely to see more weed activity for that year than a lawn that received its normal amount of weed control. Some products are available that serve as pre-emergent and post-emergent weed control without being a risk to the germination or development of fescue seed, but these are usually quite expensive and would be an additional cost with a turf management company.
The Pros of Spring Seeding
At the end of the day, the greatest benefits to successfully planting fescue in spring are the improvements to a lawn’s overall health and appearance as well as the faster results in a lawn this option can provide. As we mentioned, a lot can go wrong in a year for a fescue lawn. Problems like extreme weather, fungus, and construction can either compromise the success of a fall seeding or create so many issues in a lawn that just one fall seeding can’t completely recover the integrity of the turf.
Because fescue isn’t able to spread laterally the way warm season grasses can, the grass you have is the grass you have until you seed again. As a result, many homeowners are discouraged by thin or bare areas in their lawn coming out of winter when faced with having to wait until fall to seed again. Seeding fescue in spring offers a compromise that cuts this “wait time” in half. Lawns that are seeded in the spring and carefully maintained to maximize on the lawn’s ability to survive the summer see faster improvement and will be thicker and healthier during the season that they’re most enjoyed than lawns that have to wait until fall.
Keep in mind, however, that a fescue lawn that is already uniform and healthy can actually be harmed by spring seeding. Where turfgrass is concerned, it is definitely possible to have too much of a good thing. If too much grass begins growing together and becomes too thick and overpopulated, the turf can smother and choke itself out, resulting in the thin, patchy lawn a homeowner electing to spring seed was hoping to avoid.
Deciding when to plant fescue is a consistent decision for most lawns where fall seeding is concerned, but it has to be a case by case decision when thinking about planting fescue in spring. Seeding is a large investment for most homeowners, so it is valuable to weigh the pros and cons to make sure the chances of successful germination and development are high while the concern with missing out on spring weed control is low. When trying to decide whether or not to spring seed, homeowners should talk with their professional turf management company to decide whether or not it’s recommended for their lawn.
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