Today’s Reader Question comes from Ryan in Alexandria, VA:
I have been working on improving my lawn over the last few years. It’s looking more like a lawn than a patch of weeds now. My question is should I aerate in the spring and fall? I am growing fescue.
Great question Ryan! Turf management is something that almost everyone is concerned about, especially at this time of year. To give you the short answer, your fescue lawn should only be aerated in the fall. Let’s take a look at the reasons why this is the case.
Fescue is a cool-season grass which means that it is actively growing in the cooler times of the year. Now by cool, I don’t only mean the winter. I mean times like the fall, winter and spring. That leaves summer out of the equation and it is in this season that fescue’s performance really drops off. You can add supplemental water to help it along or you can leave it alone and let it go dormant. Brown grass in the summer? You can’t have that! Or can you? The answer to that question depends on whether you enjoy using the same water you use to make iced tea to water your lawn. But I digress…
The main reason that you only want to aerate in the fall has everything to do with weeds. When you pull plugs of soil out of the ground, you are making perfect little seed beds. In the fall when you overseed, the fescue seeds fall into these little holes and the result is fescue seedlings. The fescue is actively growing (remember it’s a cool season grass) and it can quickly outcompete most weeds. If you aerate in the spring, those little seed beds get filled with weeds. Weeds like crabgrass, goosegrass, dandelions and other turf monsters. Since the fescue is naturally slowing down as the heat picks up, the lawn isn’t able to outcompete the weeds and you end up with a mess of weeds.
It’s not recommended to sow fescue seed in the spring either. It takes around 10 months for a fescue seedling to mature into a full grown fescue plant. Expecting a juvenile fescue plant to make it through a typical Mid-Atlantic gardening summer is akin to sending a 5 year old on a marathon race. Sure you could give the child water but it still may not make it to the finish line.
I hope that gives you some insight Ryan. We’ll cover proper cool season turf maintenance as the end of summer approaches. Until then, think of the weeds in your lawn as biodiversity and focus on your veggie garden instead. Your wallet and waistline will thank you. Leave me a comment below or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy gardening!