Fescue grass is quite common in lawns in most parts of the US. Even though this type of grass is low-maintenance and it can repair itself when damaged by playing kids or pets on your lawn, it is not that durable.
Many lawn owners wonder if their fescue grass is likely to flourish, go dormant, or perhaps die during the summer season. Keep reading to find out the answer!
What Happens To Fescue Grass In The Summer?
Fescue is a cool-season grass species so it thrives mostly in cool climates. Cool-season grasses grow rapidly and do well in spring and fall, but their growth significantly slows down during the hot summers.
Remember that it is natural for grasses and other plants to have rest periods in which they go dormant. For cool-season grasses like fescue, that time is summer.
The summer months are the worst time of the year for fescue as it has a hard time surviving extreme weather conditions. Fescue can be stressed in the heat and drought. Thus, going dormant from the heat and drought is the natural way for the grass to avoid stress.
Typically, during the dormancy period, your lawn will not look green. The fescue grass loses vibrancy and it goes off-color, turning brown, yellow, tan, or pale. Only time and lower temperatures will make the lawn turn green again.
The texture of the grass becomes tough, with some edges of the blades turning spiky. Sun-germinating weed seeds might also predominate, and with severe stress, the grass can even die.
However, if properly watered and cared for, this grass can survive high temperatures and drought, and even retain its green color and luster. It can do well in hot weather if it receives plenty of water.
When the temperatures are extremely high, the regular watering schedule for your lawn might not be enough to keep fescue on its typical growth and health trajectory.
As fescue suffers stress due to the excess heat, most of its water escapes into the atmosphere through respiration and evaporation. The general water shortage halts primary plant functions, the soil beneath dries up, and the ordinary watering sequence fails to make up for the water deficiency.
Thus, supplemental frequent and deep irrigation, be it with an automated sprinkler system or by hand, is a must to prevent this grass from going dormant or dying completely at this time.
But still, cool-season grasses such as fescue will never look their best on those hot summer days.
Also, fescue grass, particularly the Tall Fescue type, is tolerant of shade. The shade can help keep the grass from going completely dormant in the heat of the summer. This is why the shaded areas of your lawn will do much better.
However, some Fine Fescue species will also tolerate partially shaded areas, but may never live up to your expectations as a lawn grass. Note that fine-leaved fescue species are also not as tolerant to heat and humidity as the coarser turf-type fescue grasses.
Another important reason for the fescue dormancy occurring, other than high temperatures and inadequate watering, is the “brown patch” or “brown spot” fungus affecting the grass.
In the southern US, fescue is quite susceptible to foliage diseases, partly because of the high humidity.
Humidity and high summer temperatures provide optimum conditions for the growth of the death-causing fungus which eats up parts of the grass blades. The fungus forms spores on the grass blades, turning them brown in color.
The fungus looks like irregular circular spots on the lawn that range between six inches and several feet in diameter.
Be careful not to mistake the brown patch for an indication of water shortage.
Also, some of the most affected blades will die, making it difficult to spot the presence of the fungus. In this case, your fescue will need reseeding in the early fall.
How Can You Be Sure That Your Fescue Grass Is Dormant?
The primary indicator of dormant fescue is the pale or yellow color of the grass blades.
There might be some brown spots appearing on the lawn as well, which indicates the presence of the brown patch fungus.
When the fescue is dormant, the rate of regrowth is also slower. You will realize that your lawn doesn’t require as regular mowing as usual. If you keep track of your mowing heights, you will notice little to no growth during dormancy.
Also, if you mow your fescue lawn just before summer, the cut edges dry out and develop into a tough, detrimental tissue. This tissue inhibits the development of new shoots and, as a result, the grass goes dormant.
The extreme summer temperatures destroy the action of basal cells regeneration in the roots, and the grass is unable to absorb water properly. So if you continuously water your lawn and don’t see any improvements in color and luster, your fescue grass is probably dormant.
What Temperature Does Fescue Grass Stop Growing?
Fescue tends to grow rapidly in spring and fall, but lapses into dormancy in the summer. No plant growth occurs due to unfavorable environmental conditions.
Typically, this grass species will shift into and out of dormancy as soon as the temperatures change, without requiring much human intervention.
Dormancy is a normal stage of the grass growing cycle, and in the case of fescue, it happens to be easily triggered by the extreme conditions of summer.
As we have already established, fescue stops growing when temperatures are too high. However, you must remember that it also goes dormant in winter when the temperatures are very low.
Thus, fescue slows down when the air temperatures hit the mid- to high 80°F and goes entirely dormant as the temperature rises above 90°F in summer, and drops below 50°F during the wintertime.
The mean temperatures between these two extremes, that is when the air is 60°F up to 80°F, represent the optimum conditions for fescue to grow and thrive.
Also, most root growth occurs when the soil temperature is between 50°F and 65°F, and it is ideal for fescue seeds to germinate and develop strong roots.
Tips For Keeping Fescue Grass Green In Summer
Don’t think about fertilizing your fescue during the summer. As it won’t make a difference on a dormant lawn, you may save your fertilizer for the season when it is growing briskly.
The best time to fertilize fescue is in the fall when it is growing rapidly in cool weather.
You need to feed the grass at least once a year. But doing it twice is even better, while fertilizing it three times per year will make your lawn the crown jewel of the neighborhood.
Thus, fertilize it once in early fall and once in late fall, and again in spring if you plan to do three applications.
Fescue, like other cool-season grasses, typically grows in clumps. It forms into a clump that has no rhizomes or stolons and does not spread.
Thus, to keep the lawn nice and thick, it requires overseeding every couple of seasons. Routine reseeding is needed, which can be done as often as once a year, preferably either in the fall or spring.
Also, the best way to restore withered or dead patches of fescue is to do reseeding. In early fall, temperatures are cooler and favor seed germination, and the grass has ample time to catch up after sprouting.
The coarse blades of fescue grass respond best to a higher mower setting, often as high as the mower can be set. This is especially true if the grass grows in the shade. This encourages the roots to grow deep, which is needed for the grass to cope better in the summer heat.
If you decide to water your fescue often during dormancy, you will need to maintain this trend for the rest of the summer. Frequent watering at this time makes your grass water-dependent, and it may die when you retract watering.
⁕ On A Final Note ⁕
Not surprisingly, given their name, cool-season grasses thrive in cool temperatures but suffer in summer. These grass species grow best in the northern parts of the US and are particularly well suited to the Transition Zone.
However, a handful of fescue grass species do better than most.
These include Tall Fescue which is probably the most versatile. It is shade tolerant, drought-resistant, and is better suited to humid summers than most others and can even withstand cold winters in many regions.
Tall Fescue has the deepest and most extensive root system of all cool-season grasses and is tough enough to be used even on sports fields.
Also, Fine Fescue species have the finest texture and are the most shade-resistant of the cool-season grasses. Fine Fescue prefers cool summers at high altitudes, it tolerates cold winter weather and arid climates.
Fescue grass species go dormant in summer, so they require the right care at the right time. Fortunately, a healthy, lush, and thick lawn is not as hard to grow and maintain as you may think.
All it takes is a bit of know-how and a commitment to regular watering, mowing, and basic upkeep to create a lawn that is naturally protected from pests, diseases, heat, and drought.
Hopefully, this short guide has helped you get an overall idea of the growth cycle of fescue grass.
However, if you need more help caring for your lawn, contact the lawn maintenance companies in your area as they are proficient enough to keep your yard looking great all year round.