Fertilizing Fescue Grass: Best Practices

By: Ken Wilson

Homeowners love fescue lawns because of their shade tolerance. There are more than 300 species of fescue worldwide, and this species of turf is drought and cold-tolerant. This cool season lawn doesn’t require as much fertilizer as other grasses, but great care is needed when fertilizing it. So, what are the best practices for fertilizing fescue grass?

The best fertilizer to use for fescue grass is a slow-release nitrogen-based fertilizer. This type of feed is made up of three parts: nitrogen, one part potassium, and one part phosphorus. Unlike other grasses, fescue should be fertilized during spring, winter, and fall.

Fescue sees most of its growth during spring and fall. This is the best time to plant, mow, and take care of this lawn. When fertilized thoroughly, the nutrients remain in the soil and continue to feed it, resulting in less fertilizing throughout the year. While fescue is a water-wise grass, it does require more feeding than other grasses.

What is the Best Fertilizer for Fescue Grass?

The perfect fertilizer for this variety of grass is a slow-releasing, nitrogen-based feed. The nitrogen content should be high and make up at least 40-50% of the product. This should be a ratio of 3-1-1 (3 parts nitrogen, 1 part potassium, and 1 part phosphorus). The slow-release nitrogen will feed the lawn slowly for three months, giving it all it needs to grow.

Without this slow-releasing formula, the fescue loses its color, turns brown, and can become patchy. The 3-1-1 puts consistent nutrients into the soil, which means the roots are fed, and the grass is green and healthy.

When Should You Fertilize Fescue Lawn?

This is a cool-season grass and should be fertilized in the fall. Avoid fertilizing in the summer; this is when the roots are dormant and won’t be able to absorb the nutrients from the compost. Feeding your turf in summer also increases the chance of chemical burns.

Spreading compost in spring and winter is also acceptable, keeping in mind that you don’t want to compost too early. If you feed the turf too early, it stimulates growth before the roots are ready.

To fertilize in the fall, look for a product containing a minimal amount of phosphorus but more potassium. Ratios of 12-0-12 or 12-4-14 work well as long as it’s a slow-release nitrogen formula. This can be spread at 1.5 pounds per 1000 square feet.

In spring, you can use a complete fertilizer like a 12-4-8, which should be spread 4-6 weeks after your lawn’s winter feed.

When fertilizing in winter, you’ll need to wait for the soil temperature to warm up to 50 degrees Fahrenheit. The roots are inactive in cold temperatures, so adding compost before this won’t stimulate growth.

During the winter, you’ll want to use an 18-0-4 fertilizer combined with a pre-emergent to control weeds. This should be applied at 1 pound per 1000 square feet. Many homeowners just compost in the spring and fall, which is often sufficient, but it’s also acceptable to compost in the winter if the lawn needs a boost.

Is the Soil pH Important when Fertilizing Fescue Grass?

Most lawns thrive at a pH of 6.0 to 7.0; when the soil is at this pH, the grass will have all it needs to grow. However, if the soil is more acidic or alkaline, homeowners will need balancing agents to correct this.

Unlike other grasses, fescue can grow in very acidic (4.5) to very alkaline (9.0) environments but grows best in a 5.5 to 7.5 environment.

Doing a soil test will help you determine the pH level of your soil. Once you’ve identified this, you can add products to the ground to correct or balance the acidity.

An excellent method of balancing the acidity in the soil is by adding lime. Lime has many nutrients like calcium and magnesium and regulates other minerals like zinc, phosphorus, and copper when added to the ground.

Before adding lime to your fescue, aerate your turf so the lime can mix with the soil. Then, use a spreader to distribute the lime over your grass. This will neutralize the ground and help your lawn flourish.

Should You Water Fescue After Applying Fertilizer?

This type of turf does not require regular watering, but as a general guide, you should always water fertilizer into the turf after applying it. This ensures that it washes down into the soil and the lawn does not get burned by the feed.

It’s best to wait at least 24 hours before watering your turf after you apply the feed. Waiting gives the product time to become active and nourish the grass. If it’s a liquid-based product, you can wait more than 24 hours for it to water, but granular products work best.

Tips on Fertilizing Fescue

Fescue grass requires the most upkeep out of all the grasses. This includes mowing, weeding, and fertilizing. To keep your turf green, you’ll need to keep it long, mow only when necessary, and use an irrigation system to water it. If your turf needs repair, schedule seeding, aeration, and feeding. If you stick to this schedule, you’ll have a beautiful lawn all year round.

Here are a few more tips on how to feed your fescue lawn correctly:

  • Fescue can remain green throughout the year if fertilized correctly
  • Always choose slow-release nitrogen feed
  • Go easy on the weed killers; you don’t want to damage your grass
  • Always test the pH of your ground before applying fertilizer
  • Apply 50 pounds of lime per 1000 square feet
  • Only use lime when the pH of the soil drops
  • Choose granular over liquid fertilizer
  • Use a spreader when feeding your lawn
  • Check the weather before fertilizing, and avoid days with heavy rain
  • Water lightly a few days before feeding your grass

Final Thoughts

Fescue is a desirable turf that many homeowners want to keep green all year round. One of the best ways to do this is by fertilizing it. Choosing a slow-release nitrogen-based feed is the key to keeping this grass looking its best while not having to fertilize as much throughout the year.

About the author 

Ken Wilson

Long time career in the home services industry from remodeling to patio construction. Currently residing to in SWFL and active contributor to multiple home & garden publications.