People often wonder why we recommend seeding cool-season grasses such as tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass in the fall. It would seem that the spring would be the more natural time for seeding because you have the entire growing season for the grass to become established before the turf has to deal with winter. Actually there are a number of reasons that tend to make fall seedings more successful.
The soils are warmer in the fall. Warm soils mean less time required for germination and growth so the grass becomes established more quickly. I have seen tall fescue seeded in the last week of August come up in four days. Now, you had to be on your hands and knees to see it but it was up. Tall fescue seeded in the spring may take well over a week to come up and the time required to become established is much longer.
Weeds are less of a problem in the fall. The major weed problems in the fall tend to be the broadleaves such as chickweed, henbit or dandelion. Turf seeded in early September is usually thick enough by the time these broadleaves germinate that often there is not much weed invasion. Even if there is some invasion by broadleaves, the turf is usually mature enough by early November that mild broadleaf herbicides can be applied.
In the spring, our major weed problems are the annual grasses such as crabgrass. The number of chemicals that can be used on young turf is limited, and so these grasses become more of a problem. Also, since the spring-seeded turf is slow to mature, there are often thin areas that are easily invaded by these grassy weeds. If this invasion occurs, the weeds are better adapted to our summer conditions than our cool-season grasses and so the weeds tend to take over.
Summer is the hardest time of the year for cool-season grasses; not the winter. Summertime is very difficult because our cool-season grasses do not have the heat or moisture stress tolerance that our warm-season grasses such as buffalo, zoysia and bermuda have. Therefore they tend to become weakened in the summer which makes them more susceptible to disease and other stresses. Spring-seeded cool-season grasses are less mature and therefore less able to tolerate these stresses.
Seeding cool-season grasses in the spring can be successful but is more difficult to pull off than fall seedings. If you have a choice, always opt for seeding cool-season grasses in the fall. (Ward Upham)
Contributors: Ward Upham, Extension Associate
Horticulture & Natural Resources
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Manhattan, KS 66506