Growing turf grass in shady areas under and around large trees is certainly challenging. Especially trees like Maples that root close to the surface and drink up a lot of water all season long. A good turf choice in these areas is Creeping Red Fescue (Festuca rubra). Creeping Red Fescue prefers to dry out a bit between watering, requires less fertilizer, has a high tolerance for cold temperatures, can be grown on a wide range of soil types, and performs well in the shade. It has a fine blade with a medium to dark green colour and dense uniform appearance. It can also be grown in full sun, and you will often find it for sale in a blend with Kentucky blue grass.
How to Care for Creeping Red Fescue Turf
- Over seeding and patience: To establish red fescue in a shady area top dress the area with fresh topsoil and then overseed the area with either pure creeping red fescue seed or a blend that includes creeping red fescue. Creeping Red Fescue is slow to germinate and spread by its creeping rhizomes, but once established, it creates a dense turf with a uniform appearance.
- Ease up on the watering. Creeping Red fescue prefers to be a little on the dry side, but supplemental watering will be required (just to a lesser extent than the Kentucky blue). Red fescue turf will go dormant during summer heat, but its dormancy mechanism is not as good as that of Kentucky bluegrass (Colorado State University Extension, 2013). Thus, it is best to keep this area irrigated and mostly green all season.
- Also ease up on the fertilizers in this area. Red fescue requires only 1-2 lbs. of nitrogen fertilizer per 1000 s/f per year (Seedland, n.d.). Whereas established Kentucky blue grass requires, 2-3 lbs. per 1000 s/f per year (Richard L. Duble, n.d.).
- Control thatch buildup. Creeping Red fescue thatch decomposes very slowly due to its high lignin content. Have the turf core aerated annually or biannually (as required) to improve drainage, aeration and to reduce thatch. Occasionally dethatch the turf using either a dethatching rake or a vertical mower. An occasional top dressing of soil will also help to break down the thatch layer.
- There are no serious pests of Creeping Red Fescue (USDA NRCS Plant Materials Program, 2002). However, the fine fescues tend to be more susceptible to chinch bug damage. Begin monitoring for their presence in early summer, keep the turf irrigated especially during hot dry weather and avoid over-fertilizing.
- Easy does it. Creeping red fescue is slow to heal after being damaged. This is not the area to train for the Olympics or to set up your dog run.
Photo credit: photo by author.
Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of California (2009). UC IPM Online. The UC Guide to Healthy Lawns. Retrieved March 4, 2014 from http://ipm.ucdavis.edu/TOOLS/TURF/TURFSPECIES/creeptips.html
Colorado State University Extension (2013). Fine Fescue for Lawns. Retrieved March 4, 2014 https://cmg.extension.colostate.edu/Gardennotes/564.pdf
David McPherson (2011). Golf Course Industry. GIE Media. Managing Bentgrass Diseases. Retrieved March 3, 2014 from http://www.golfcourseindustry.com/gci1211-bentgrass-diseases.aspx
DLF-TRIFOLIUM (n.d.). Red fescue. Retrieved March 4, 2014 https://www.dlf.com/professional-turf/species-varieties/turf/strong-creeping-red-fescue
Jack Fry and Bingru Huang,(2014), professors of turfgrass science at Kansas State University (Manhattan, Kan.). Grounds Maintenance For Golf and Green Industry Professionals. Help bentgrass beat the heat. Retrieved March 4, 2014 from: https://archive.lib.msu.edu/tic/holen/article/2000may30.pdf
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