Reader Question: Warm Season Turf Maintenance

Today’s Reader Question comes from Bill in Williamsburg:

I have a lawn that used to be primarily fescue. Over the past few years, bermudagrass has taken over the lawn and now it’s more bermuda than fescue. Can you let me know if the maintenance schedule is the same as it is for fescue? If not, can you let me know what I should be doing regarding fertilizer?

warm season turf maintenance

That’s a great question Bill and it’s quite timely too. We are in the middle of the warm season turf maintenance schedule and it’s not too late to begin yours. In case you’re not aware, bermudagrass is considered a warm season grass: it thrives during the warm part of the year. Fescue is considered a cool season grass as it performs best in the cooler parts of the year. With that being said, let’s look at the proper steps that need to be performed for warm season turf:

  1. Aeration – use a core aerator to aerate your soil. This lessens the effects of soil compaction as well as opens up little pockets of loveliness for items like compost to fill in.
  2. Perform a soil test – do this before adding any amendments to your soil so that you get a true reading of your soil composition
  3. Add compost – many people skip this step but if you want your turf to thrive instead of just survive, adding compost is a necessity. You only need to add a light layer, no more than a 1/4″ deep. By adding compost, you are feeding the soil which will in turn feed the plants.
  4. JJA Fertilization – JJA stands for June, July and August. Fertilize based on your soil test results applying no more than 1 pound of nitrogen per 1000 ft2.
  5. Dethatching – in the first few years that your bermuda is establishing itself, dethatching won’t really be necessary. As the stolons on your bermuda continue to grow upon themselves each year, they pile up and have a hard time breaking down into organic matter for your soil. By dethatching, you are removing the stolons that aren’t breaking down. Your turf will look thin once you’ve completed the dethatching but it will fill in quickly.


warm season turf maintenanceI want to mention that as you add compost to your soil, you will be able to reduce your synthetic fertilizer inputs. As you transition over to a healthier, organic soil you should be able to completely eliminate traditional N-P-K. Here’s a link to an article describing the myth of synthetic fertilizers that you may find helpful. Also, I have to give credit where credit is due; I have gleaned virtually all of my turf knowledge from one of my co-workers, Brian Williams. He is a wonderful resource and without him, I wouldn’t have the “how-to” part of turf maintenance in my repertoire. Thanks Brian!

If other Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers have helpful hints or tips for warm season turf maintenance, leave me a comment below or shoot me an e-mail. 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

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 Happy gardening!