Seeding Tall Fescue Lawns

Home Grown  by Keith Reed
Last week’s column generated some questions about reseeding cool season lawns. Here is the process in greater detail.

Begin by having your soil tested if that has not been done in the last several years as major nutrient or pH adjustments are better done prior to reseeding. As far as soil preparation, heavy tillage is usually unnecessary, especially if important trees are close by. Given the environmental stress our trees have been dealing with, it is not advisable to damage the surface root system. Oftentimes, a vigorous raking will be adequate to loosen enough soil to provide a good seedbed. If raking is not effective, an aerator can be rented to accomplish the same task. Be advised that a lawn prepped with an aerator will generally cause seed to come up in clumps. This makes for a fine “drive by” lawn but it you may not be pleased with the up-close appearance.

Apply fertilizer and any other amendments that are suggested by the soil sample results at the time of seeding. Avoid any product that contains fertilizer and weed control as this will prevent the grass seed from germinating. A bare soil needs about seven to eight pounds of Tall Fescue seed per one thousand square feet for a good turf stand. You can adjust your seed rate down if you still have some turf grass remaining. Follow the seed application with another vigorous raking to lightly work the seed into the soil and then firm the area with a roller to increase the seed to soil contact. If a roller is not available, repeated trips across the area with a riding mower will work just fine. A good packing with flat soled shoes will even work for small areas.

Oklahoma researchers have determined that substituting about 10% of the tall fescue seed with Kentucky bluegrass can help improve the long term stand of the grass in some situations. If you can locate a blend of the two, or want to seed the two grasses separately (one of top of the other), it should be helpful. We don’t recommend a pure stand of Kentucky bluegrass in our area as the water use need and disease pressure is simply too high.

It is important to keep the area moist until the seed germinates, perhaps even once or twice a day depending on conditions. This time of year, that should occur in about seven to ten days. Once the seed has germinated, watering frequency can be decreased to allow the soil surface to dry out slightly between waterings. Watering should continue as needed to keep the new grass growing. Remember to keep an eye on the new grass throughout the winter as the need for a late fall or early winter irrigation is not out of the question.

One of the most common reasons for failure of turf grass in shady areas is the build-up of leaves over the winter. It is not critical to keep every leaf picked up, but it is important to at least mulch or move them around so that the turf can get some light and moisture.

Oklahoma State University offers some very good fact sheets for a more in-depth look at this process. You can access HLA-6418, 6419, and 6420 from the University website at You many also contact Keith Reed, the Horticulture Educator in the Payne County Cooperative Extension Office for some advice of specific cultivars of grass seed to use. He can be reached via email at, or by phone at 405-747-8320. You are also welcome to stop by the Extension office at 315 W. 6th, Suite 103 in Stillwater.

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