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Gardening in Gwinnett: Fall is fescue time

Tall fescue is one of the most popular grasses in metro Atlanta, and it is easy to establish through seed or sod. Its green color during the cold weather months, when warm-season turfgrasses are dormant and brown, makes it appealing to the home landscape.

Tall fescue is a perennial bunch-type grass that grows rapidly during spring and fall. It can grow in a wide range of soil conditions but prefers fertile, well-drained soils with a pH of 5.5 to 6.5. It often needs supplemental watering to remain attractive during the summer. Established lawns tend to thin out and become clumpy, and they may need periodic reseeding.

September and October are generally the best time to plant tall fescue. Seeding it earlier can lead to heat stress and seedling diseases, and later seeding may not become fully established prior to winter. If the seed is applied during the spring, it has less time to become established before the summer heat stress.

The key to successful establishing of a fescue lawn is soil preparation. First, have the soil tested through the local county extension office. Remove debris and weeds, and add any amendments to the soil. Till in lime and fertilizer to a depth of 4 to 6 inches. Apply enough fertilizer to supply 1.5 to 2 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 feet.

Always purchase top-quality seed - that is, seed with a high percent germination and purity. This information should be given on the tag. Inexpensive seed often ends up being quite expensive because of low germination and purity.

Reputable seed dealers are always willing to help customers select good seed. Make sure the seed is certified by the Georgia Crop Improvement Association. It should be marked with a blue tag.

Plant 5 pounds of seed per 1,000 square feet using a mechanical spreader. After seeding, lightly rake or drag the area to cover the seed to a depth of about one quarter inch, and then lightly roll the soil to firm the seed bed. Apply straw mulch to prevent erosion and to retain moisture for rapid germination.

Irrigate lightly and often enough to prevent surface drying. Mow at 21⁄2 to 3 inches tall, and do not mow grass when it is wet, especially young seedlings.

To maximize coverage of seeding, divide the seed into two equal portions and scatter half in one direction and the remainder at a right angle to the first direction. Fertilizer and granular pesticide applications should be applied in the same manner.

The seed needs to be in contact with the soil to assure successful reseeding. Disturb the soil, preferably by core aeration or vertical mowing, before or after seed distribution. This equipment is often available at rental or garden centers.

Reseed thin areas at 2 to 5 pounds per 1,000 square feet. Work the seed into the soil. Although it's not necessary, this reduces irrigation needs. Apply a starter fertilizer at about one pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet at this time. Finally, keep the soil moist as discussed for establishment.

Timothy Daly is an agricultural and natural resource agent with the Gwinnett County Extension Service. He can be reached at 678-377-4010 or timothy.daly@gwinnettcounty.com.