There’s a common misconception that you can’t plant fescue grass in the summer. Many do-it-yourself landscapers and lawn care professionals shy away from planting fescue in the heat of the year. Homeowners who live in the Charlotte metro region, including the Rock Hill, Waxhaw, and Fort Mill areas, favor Tall Fescue grass for its deep color that stays green all winter, its density, and its disease resistance. It’s no wonder that Tall Fescue is the most popular turf we deliver to homeowners in North Carolina. It is the most widely grown cool-season grass in the Tar Heel State. So, when is the best time to plant fescue grass?
The best time to plant fescue grass is in the spring and fall. If you’re planting seed, fall is the best time of the year to plant. However, if you are installing Tall Fescue sod, you have a bit more flexibility in the timing of laying your new lawn. Turfgrass sod is live grass, cut in strips and delivered as small rolls with live roots still adhered to a thin strip of soil. Sod rolls are installed on top of bare soil in a new home situation or at an existing home where the old lawn and weeds have been removed. We recommend that the soil is treated with a pre-sod fertilizer with micronutrients and iron. A soil sample may test for pH or other nutrient deficiencies. Rather than sowing seeds and waiting for grass seed to grow in, sod creates an instant lawn. And because it’s a more mature plant than seedlings, turfgrass sod is more resilient than newly emerged seeds.
Still, planting Tall Fescue sod in the spring or fall is the most common practice. If you sod in the spring, once there’s no risk of frost that can damage young plants, including grass, moderate temperatures, ample sunshine, and spring rains, give the sod a healthy start. In the early fall, before frost sets in and temperatures are still moderate, the sod’s roots have time to tack down into the soil before temperatures grow too cold.
Yes, you can install Tall Fescue sod in the summer. While spring and fall are preferred times to plant Tall Fescue grass, you can install fescue sod in the summer if you take the proper steps to help the grass survive heat stress and disease stress, explains Craig Chambers, owner of Evergreen Landscaping & Maintenance based in Timberlake North Carolina.
Perhaps the most important step you can take is to buy good, quality, healthy sod. As soon as the sod is cut, have it delivered to your home or job site and install it immediately. Do not let it dry out. As soon as it is laid, put water on it.
The summer heat can quickly dry out sod, making it wilt. Water is critical to any sod installation, but especially in the summer months when the warmer temperatures and strong sunshine can quickly suck the moisture out of the grass and soil, (this is called evapotranspiration). Warm summer temperatures can also stress the grass, opening it up to disease. Proper fungicide applications can help combat disease. The bottom line for summer sod installation? “Don’t skimp on the water or fungicide,” Chambers says.
In the summer heat, new sod requires 1-inch to 1-½-inch of water per week. Getting the proper amount of irrigation in the first six weeks, Chamber says, is crucial to getting the sod established and rooted down.
Unfortunately, most irrigation systems use timers, not amount of water applied, in their settings and depending on water pressure where you live, it’s hard to create a rule of thumb for how long you can run an irrigation system to achieve that 1-inch mark. Instead, use these strategies to gauge if your sod is getting enough water.
“You want to keep the ground soft and moist, not muddy,” Chambers says.
To test this, stick your finger down through the sod and into the soil at least 1-inch to 1-½ inches down until you can feel the soil. If the soil is moist, it’s good. If it’s muddy, there’s too much water. If it’s dry, there’s not enough water.
You can also test how much water your irrigation system is putting out by doing a can or bowl test. Place a few empty bowls or cans around the lawn and let your irrigation system run through its normal cycle. Once the cycle is complete, collect the bowls and measure how much water is in each bowl or can. A rain gauge or ruler can be used as a measuring stick. This will give you a measurement for how much water your system puts out and will let you know long or how often you need to run the irrigation to reach the 1-inch of water recommendation. Don’t be surprised if some of the bowls or cans have more water than others. Irrigation systems are often inconsistent in their spray patterns. Note where the water level is less even, which could become a hot spot that might require extra water if your irrigation system allows you to run in zones. If not, you may want to consider spot watering those areas with a hose on the hottest days.
The goal with any irrigation cycle is to run the irritation long enough to get the water down past the roots into the soil column below your lawn. Where the water goes, the roots will follow. Deeper roots make for a healthier lawn. Chambers explains how to accomplish this:
“What I always tell homeowners to do is, instead of doing it one time at 30 minutes, I would run the irrigation system two times at 15 minutes, meaning, let it go through all the zones and then come back and do it again. In that way, the water is beaten down into the soil instead of being on the top running off,” Chambers says.
During the summer, as your sod is growing in, it’s not only growing roots into the soil of your lawn, it will also be growing the leaf blades vertically. You will need to mow it, probably around the three-week to four-week mark. Chambers recommends you turn the irrigation system off the day before the first mowing to ensure the soil is not too soft so that your mower wheels won’t sink into the soil or create ruts. Turn the irrigation system back on after you mow and resume your irrigation program.
By the way, Tall Fescue sod in the Carolinas is generally maintained at around a 4-inch to 5-inch height of cut. Be sure not to lower your mower blade too low. You’ll not want to remove more than ⅓ of the leaf blade whenever you mow your grass to avoid scalping which can cause the tips to run brown and open your lawn up to disease. Always use a sharpened mower blade.
Summer heat can stress new sod and make it vulnerable to disease. Chambers recommends treating new sod with a liquid fungicide, applied as a spray, the day following installation. He then recommends retreating every 30 days to keep the new sod healthy in the hottest moths.
Chambers prefers to use liquid fungicides applied as a spray because they last longer than granular applications. Spray fungicides, he says, last about 30 days while granules last about three weeks. As with any chemical application, please follow label instructions.
Turf Connections grows our proprietary blend of Tall Fescue sod at two farm locations near Charlotte, NC. It is grown from a blend of three tall fescue varieties and Kentucky bluegrass for extra durability. This grass is a popular choice for homeowners, site contractors, landscapers, and home builders working with residential lawns–especially areas with partial or full shade. It keeps its green color all winter long. Turf Connections Tall Fescue blend produces a fine-textured, deep green lawn.
• Deep green coloration, even in the winter
• Resistant to disease and drought
• Fine texture
• Deep root system for strength and nutrient efficiency
• High tolerance to traffic
• Requires minimum maintenance
• Adaptable to growing in different types of soil, including sandy soil and poorly drained areas