Saturday, March 8, 2008

Turf - Slower Growing Turf Species

Fine leaf fescues are useful for low maintenance areas to reduce the need for mowing. The following is some information.

Turf grasses with the lowest maintenance requirements are the fine leaf fescues. They are recognized for being survivors in adverse conditions, including our infertile, acidic soils. They also have excellent tolerance to shade, drought, most pests, and cold temperatures. The three most commonly used fine leaf fescues are the chewings, hard, and creeping types.

Traditional sites for growing low-maintenance grasses have included roadsides and highway medians, cemeteries, and large grassy areas in parks and military installations. Low maintenance grasses that retain density and some aesthetic qualities also would be suitable for golf course roughs and some lawn situations. The use of fine leaf fescues should not be considered for athletic fields, intermediate roughs or other sites that will receive large amounts of traffic from people or vehicles.

Noted below are some mixtures that have performed well under low maintenance in Maryland.

1) Hard fescue (1 or a blend of 2 cultivars) @ 90% by weight + 10% sheep fescue, creeping red fescue, or chewing fescue
2) Bighorn sheep fescue @ 90% by weight + 10% hard fescue, creeping red fescue, or chewing fescue
3) Hard fescue @40% by weight + 40% Bighorn sheep fescue + 20% creeping red fescue
4) High Traffic Area Mix: Tall fescue (1 or a blend of 2 to 3 cultivars) @ 90% by weight + 10% creeping red fescue or hard fescue.

Chewings fescues normally out-perform creeping red fescue in full sun, but creeping red fescue has better recuperative potential due to its rhizomatous growth habit. Both chewing and creeping red fescues generally provide inferior quality under low maintenance in full sun when compared to recommended cultivars of tall fescue, hard fescue and Bighorn sheep fescue. Bighorn appears to have better disease resistance than other sheep fescue cultivars that are currently available.

To retain turf density and to retard annual grass weed invasion, the fescues should be mowed no lower than 2.5 inches in height. For best aesthetic quality, fescues should be mowed two to three times monthly during spring and fall of the first year, and less frequently during the summer. In subsequent years, mowing frequency will decline, assuming weeds do not become excessive.

Never mow fine leaf fescues (i.e., hard, sheep, creeping red or chewing) in summer during conditions of heat or drought stress. For stands dominated by the fine leaf fescues, a minimum cutting height of 2.5 inches is recommended, but a 3.5 inch or higher height of cut is preferred and mowing may be as infrequent as once or twice per month during the spring and fall, and once monthly in summer. Mow to ensure that the fine leaf fescues do not produce mature seedheads. Mowing following mature seedhead formation weakens and thins-out stands of fine leaf fescues. Regardless of cutting height, always wait until it rains before mowing fine leaf fescues in the summertime. Mowing fine leaf fescues when it is hot or when soils are dry will cause extensive injury or death of plants, and therefore a marked reduction in turf density. This injury will occur when soils are dry, despite no visual signs of wilt or drought stress in the fine leaf fescues. Tall fescue is not as severely injured by mowing under these summer conditions, but even tall fescue should not be mowed when stressed by heat and/or drought. Mowing high and infrequently in summer is the key cultural consideration for maintaining good quality fine leaf fescue stands under low maintenance. Furthermore, mowing in a 3.5 to 5.0 height of cut range will retard annual grass weed (i.e., crabgrass, foxtail, goosegrass) encroachment for many years.


No comments: