Newbie -- Seeding, Zone 7, shade

Discussion in 'Turf Renovation' started by erinspice, Jul 21, 2007.

  1. erinspice

    erinspice LawnSite Member
    Messages: 9

    Hi! We bought a new house 3 years ago and I want to improve the yard. It's very thin bermuda in sunny spots and very dark green, healthy fescue in shady spots. There are quite a few bare spots where the soil is mostly clay.

    Last fall, I added top soil and fertilizer to those spots and tilled and seeded with fescue, but apparently a different type than the fescue that was already there. It sprung up quickly and grew well all winter and spring, but as soon as the summer sun hit, it quickly dried up and died. It re-grows everytime I water it or it rains for an extended period of time, but after even a week or two of none or inconsistent watering, it's dead again. The seed I used is Pennington Seed Fescue Plus, which is 44% fawn tall fescue, 34% greystone tall fescue, and 19% signia tall fescue.

    What should I do? Should I reseed with a different type of seed? What would you guys recommend for a shady, zone 7 grass that will have to go through a dry and wet spell every year?

    Also, what can I do to thicken up my bermuda?
  2. Kiril

    Kiril LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 18,338

    Get rid of the grass altogether or install a sprinkler system.
  3. OP

    erinspice LawnSite Member
    Messages: 9

    You mean get rid of just the crappy stuff right? I'm planning on that, but what should I put in it's place?
  4. RAlmaroad

    RAlmaroad LawnSite Silver Member
    from SC
    Messages: 2,273

    You could try Rebel III fescue, but without a consistant watering practice--no fescue will grow. Why don't you replace it with zoysia or St. Augustine? I would work out a good watering program before attempting anything. It's hot, hot, hot, down there.
  5. OP

    erinspice LawnSite Member
    Messages: 9

    Only because I only had fescue in the shady parts of my yard right now, and I dont' know any better than to pick the same stuff I've got! :) Would those be good for shade in my climate?
  6. ScuzziOne

    ScuzziOne LawnSite Member
    Messages: 4

    @ erinspice

    Just came across your post. I'm also in the Huntsville Alabama area and have spent the last 5 or 6 years refining my Fescue lawn cultivation techniques. I too have had some shady bare clay spots and after a few years of trial and error, I'm finally making some progress. Though I'm certainly no expert on lawncare, I'm an avid Fescue lawn entusiast. As I do not have an in-ground sprinkler system and I don't care to spend a lot of time moving a sprinkler around, my observations may be fitting and possibly beneficial to your situation.

    First, let me say that I'm partial to a full Fescue yard. Just don't much care for the mixed look of bermuda and fescue. Also prefer the year-round green of a Fescue lawn. Only downside I see is that you generally can't grow it as thick and dense as you can with bermuda... but then again, bermuda would appear to be a high maintenance grass to me... Anyway, on to what I've figured out.

    First and foremost, soil conditioning and a good seed selection are the keys to success on your bare clay spots. Believe me, I've got a back yard full of trees and you're simply not gonna do well without some good soil conditioning. Bringing in topsoil is a good start; however, I would suggest that you also work in 4 to 6 inches of a good soil conditioner along with your topsoil and clay. Soil conditioner can be expensive, so I've been doing this a little bit at a time each Fall seeding season, selecting portions of my yard that need it most each Fall. Once I've tilled in my load or two of conditioner each fall, I treat the rest of the yard to a good aeration with a plug aerator prior to seeding the whole thing.

    I currently get my soil conditioner from C.T. Garvin Feed and Seed on Holmes Avenue in Huntsville. For a fee, they'll deliver a truck-load to your home. Alternatively, you can go get smaller loads from their store using your own vehicle. Personally, I prefer having it delivered as I can get a much larger load delivered than I can carry in my own truck and it's much less effort on my part! Typically, prices run from $18 to $20 per scoop (which is approximately a cubic yard) and they can delivery a truck-load of up to about 18 scoops or so. Delivery fees will vary with how far away they have to go to deliver and increasing gas costs haven't helped either. Basically, I try to get as big a load as I can each time to minimize my delivery costs per quantity of soil conditioner I buy.

    Anyhow, once you get your soil conditioner, you will need to till in 4 to 6 inches of it as best you can. I try to till to about a total depth of 8 to 10 inches to thoroughly mix in the conditioner with the existing soil. This soil conditioner will help reduce soil compaction and assist with moisture retention through the addition of finely ground mulch, pot ash, small pebbles, silt, and sand. Depending on your location, it can also improve water drainage to help keep your grass from drowning in the occasional hard rains we have here. In past years, I've lost as much grass here due to water pooling and not draining well during heavy rains as I have to the heat of the late summer months. Anyway, on to seeding.

    I only recommend seeding Fescue in the Fall. Don't bother with seeding in the spring as any Fescue planted in spring likely won't make it through the summer heat. Ground that you are overseeding must also be prepared in some manner such as the aeration I do or through "slicing" of the existing turf to get the seed down into the thatch layer of the yard. Just sprinkling the seed on top of an existing yard will likely yield dismal results. At the time of seeding, I apply a lite fertilizing with fertilizer such as the Scotts "Starter" fertilizer. Once the seed and fertilizer are down, the next couple weeks are probably the most critical time for watering. Lite, frequent watering is best... you just need to keep the newly planted seeds moist as they germinate.

    Timing of your seeding is also critical. Each year seems to be a little bit different based on prevailing weather. You basically want to get your seed down 5 or 6 weeks before the leaves begin to fall significantly. This also tends to coincide with the onset of our Fall rainy season, which is a good thing. For our area, this typically means you'll be seeding some time from mid-September to mid-October. Seed too early and you have heat stress to deal with. Seed too late and you have heavy smothering leaf coverage and excessive cold to deal with. Time it just right, and you'll have an awesome yard next year.

    As I said before, seed selection is also important though and you need to do your homework on this part. I've been experimenting with different blends and Fescue Cultivars over the last few years trying to get smarter about what Fescue blends do best here. Not sure I have it quite nailed down yet, but you need to locate good seed suited to this area. A good source of information is the National Turfgrass Evaluation Project (NTEP) which performs long-term Tall Fescue grass testing and reports it's resulting Fescue cultivar rankings. Again, since this testing is performed in different parts of the country, you have to try to sift through this information for testing performed on locations near here. For starters, I would recommend going to C.T. Garvin's Feed and Seed and getting some "Huntsville Enviro Blend Shady" Tall Fescue blend packaged by Pennington Seed's Alabama Division located in Cullman Alabama. This should get you a good base shade blend for our area. I'd then follow application of this up with application of a highly NTEP ranked Tall Fescue Cultivar such as "Falcon IV," which can also be purchased at C.T. Garvin's Feed and Seed. Would stay away from highly commercial brands such as Scotts for seed as I feel that these are not always the best cultivar blends for our area. Regardless of where you get your seed, take a look at the packaging to see what Tall Fescue Cultivars you are buying. It's the particular cultivars that matter and you should be able to find a listing of the cultivars contained in each package and to what percentage they make up the composition of the package. Unfortunately, you have to be an informed consumer when it comes to purchasing Fescue seed. :)

    Cultivars I would recommend for this area and that I intend to try to locate myself next year include: DaVinci (Tall Fescue, Lebanon Turf), Padre (Tall Fescue, LESCO), Finelawn Elite (Tall Fescue, Proseeds Marketing), and Falcon IV (Tall Fescue, Proseeds Marketing). I'm betting that we'll be able to get the Padre at the Lesco Service Center over on Leeman Ferry Road and I'm pretty sure the Falcon IV will be available again at C.T. Garvins. Cultivars in this years Enviro-Shade blend included Rebel 2000 (Tall Fescue), Rebel III (Tall Fescue), and Lustrous (Creeping Red Fescue).

    Now, mowing is another issue. I've tried various heights and methods, but I believe the best method is to mulch-mow year-round with a high height setting of something in the range of 3.25 to 3.5 inches. Bagging can produce a beautiful lawn, but it robs your yard of the much needed nutrients in the grass clippings, fails to enhance your soil conditions, reduces moisture retention, and requires more frequent fertilizing. The big plus for bagging is the reduction of fungal threats and ailments... also seemed to have less weeds when bagging (possibly due to denser growth?), but I've figured out that, in the long-run, the trade-off simply isn't worth it as you rob your yard of the beneficial thatch layer.

    Again, avoid cutting your yard excessively low. This is particularly important in the hottest periods of the summer where keeping the grass tall is essential to weathering the heat and drought conditions. For this reason alone, I intend to move to using a broadcast fertilizer spreader next year so that I never have to cut my yard below 3" again as I've been having to do in order to use my current drop spreader. Which brings up fertilizing... another important factor.

    Basically, do your heavy fertilizing in late fall and early spring to get a good root system growing. Possibly follow up with a light fertilizing in April, but I wouldn't fertilize at all after that as you progress through the hot summer months. Fertilizing in the hot months simply stresses your Fescue lawn and increases the need for watering to keep your lawn from "burning up." Don't bother fertilizing again until your overseeding in the Fall.

    Anyway, that's about it in a nutshell. As I've said before, I'm continually evolving and re-thinking my lawn-care strategy as time goes on, but this is the point I'm to at the moment and I've been pretty happy with it over the last couple of years. Have to say that it was hard going from bagging to mulch-mowing due to the less "kempt" appearance of the yard with clippings on it, but I think this has been instrumental in helping repair the clay-bare portions of my yard by working the clippings back into the yard. Anyway, hope this helps!

  7. ScuzziOne

    ScuzziOne LawnSite Member
    Messages: 4

    For folks in North Alabama, I just wanted to give a "heads up" update to my prior post for advice on procuring seed in our area. I'm my opinion, CT Garvin's is no longer the place to go for good lawn fescue seed.

    Ownership of CT Garvin's changed hands about 8 or 9 years ago and, I'm sorry to say, the new ownership just doesn't seem to have a clue about fescue. The first Fall season under new ownership they had not even ordered their fescue seed before I came looking to make my yearly purchase in early October. I had previously purchased my Falcon IV there like clockwork every year for 8 or 9 years in a row when the Garvins owned the place, so I tried to stick with them while the new ownership got their act together; however, I'm sorry to say I just don't think they ever will.

    This year I actually witnessed CT Garvin's stocking palettes of "CT Garvin's" branded 50 lb Fescue bags without a seed tag on the bags. At first, I thought it was just a case of the tag having been ripped off of the first bag I looked at; however, on checking the other bags on the palettes, it is clear that none of them had tags! Now, CT Garvin's had always carried "house branded" blends; however they had always previously been professionally bagged and properly tagged. Not so this year... looks like they've moved to a fly-by-night approach of selling bags of fescue seed without any seed source information. Maybe I'm wrong, but I always thought that seed tags were legally required???

    Anyway, after years of picking through the Pennington/Rebel seed CT Garvin's does carry, looking for any variety close to decent, paying premium seed prices for what I consider to be sub-par seed, and being told that they just can't get Falcon seed in anymore... I'm finally moving on. Given the situation at CT Garvin's, I've long been searching for a nearby alternative source. John Deere landscapes used to be a hit or miss source as their "durable blend" of higher-end seed usually featured Falcon IV; however, they've been purchased by a group called Site One, or something like that, and they just rarely ever get the durable blend anymore. Fortunately, I've finally found another nearby source for Falcon seed.

    So, this year, I found a place called "53 Farm & Hardware" out on Hwy 53 in Ardmore, AL... and they had the Falcons blend featuring Falcon IV, Falcon V, and Falcon III... not that I'm a big fan of Falcon III, but that's just the way it unfortunately goes with blends. Anyway, I'm thrilled to finally be able to get Falcon IV back on my lawn and I'm hoping the Falcon V also lives up to the hype associated with it as well. According to the folks at the counter, 53 Farm & Hardware apparently carries the Falcons blend every year, so here's hoping this place will be a reliable source for Falcon seed for years to come!

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