Did You Know? You Can Let Your Fescue Lawn Go Dormant

Well, the time of the year has arrived in the Mid-Atlantic gardening region where cool season lawns like fescue are doing their best to turn brown. The heat has arrived, the rains are becoming less frequent…and the fescue is doing its best to rest. As a cool season grass, it thrives in the cooler temperatures from September through May. It wants so badly to rest during the summer but many gardeners are adamant about keeping it green through the summer.

Before I continue further, I need to explain to readers that aren’t from the Mid-Atlantic that Virginia is considered a “transition zone” when it comes to turf. It’s purgatory for a turf manager. We are too warm for the cool season grasses to flourish through the summer and too cool for many of the warm season grasses to make it through the winter. Bermuda and zoysia do well here but that’s about it. Back to fescue…

Fescue can certainly be coddled enough during the summer to keep it lush and green. It just takes an extreme amount of water to do so. Fescue needs an inch of water per week, whether that be from you or God. To put that into perspective, if you have an acre of fescue lawn, you need to apply 27,154 gallons of water to equal 1″ of rain. Whew…that’s a lot of agua. To avoid getting on my soapbox, check out this Wikipedia link regarding the Ogallala Aquifer. No, it’s not the aquifer that feeds the Mid-Atlantic but it is enlightening to think how quickly that fossil aquifer is being depleted. Don’t believe me? Check out this link about the ghost towns that are cropping up on the outskirts of the aquifer where the water has disappeared.

OK, so what can you do if you have a fescue lawn and don’t want to apply over 100,000 gallons of water per month to keep it green? Stop watering. Let nature takes its course. Yes, your fescue lawn will turn brown. No, you won’t have the prettiest lawn on the block. The fescue will enter dormancy to preserve itself. In horticultural terms, dormancy equals brown. Unless we enter into a drought reminescent of 2010, your fescue will survive. There are summer thunderstorms that provide enough water to sustain your lawn. When the rains return in the fall, your fescue will green up and welcome the refreshing drink of water. But until then, consider turning off the spigot or irrigation system and enjoy not stressing over whether your lawn is receiving enough water. Enjoy your cheaper water bill. And most importantly, enjoy the seasonality of your garden. Your garden doesn’t have to look like something out of a magazine. Chances are, those magazine gardens have a season to them too.

So what are your thoughts on letting your fescue lawn turn brown? Is it something you regularly do? If not, are you considering it this year? Let me and other Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers know your experience. Leave me a comment below or e-mail me. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me on Twitter. Happy gardening!

July 2, 2012Permalink 5 Comments

5 thoughts on “Did You Know? You Can Let Your Fescue Lawn Go Dormant

  1. Why have a lawn when you can put in heavy mulch beds and grow something you can eat!

    Well you asked for it.

    We are in a heavy drought right now. I have a broad mix of plants in the pasture, all are browning. It’s getting pretty gritty out there. Goats are running out of things to eat.

    • I’m with you! BUT many gardeners enjoy their green lawn. It is an internal struggle that I battle constantly. I manage a 580-acre complex and we use A LOT of water to keep the lawns going. I’m hopeful that we can implement a cistern-based system at some point.

      It finally rained here over the weekend but it took 2 nights of powerful storms to get it. There are millions without power; even Polyface lost 30 chicken pens. Nasty nasty weather, but at least it rained. I’ll be praying for rain for you all…

  2. Good read Stacey. This year I decided to ditch my fescue lawn for Patriot Bermuda lawn. I got tired of dumping hundreds and hundreds of $$$ every fall on seed, fert and lime. Now, all I have to do is dump nitrogen on it 3 times a year and water it once every 2-3 weeks.

    • Good for you Randy! If you have to have green grass in the winter, you can easily overseed with annual rye in the fall. It’s dirt cheap and looks great until the bermuda kicks back in in the spring. Just be warned, that you’ll have to cut grass all winter 🙂

  3. Any hints about:
    1) Minimum water amounts? I like the idea of dormancy, but don’t want my hard work to die on me either. I am seeing new lawns completely die. Fortunately, mine is a year old. But, I’ll water when we go 2 weeks between storms if I need to.
    2) How to best transition to dormancy? All at once… boom… or gradually stop watering?
    3) Any additional amendments to help it while dormant? I know nitrogen is a no-no until it is time to wake up. But I hear iron, lime might help during the summer?
    4) Anything else to consider?

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