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!

Reader Question: Should You Aerate Your Lawn in the Spring?

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.

Photo courtesy of www.colostate.edu

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 stacey@midatlanticgardening.com. Happy gardening!