In The Garden: Plan Ahead for Fall Seeding

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Plan Ahead

for Fall Seeding:

Fall seeding Imay be the most important news for your fescue lawn, although it may still be summer. But now is the time to make plans for fall aerating and seeding lawns in Middle Tennessee. Seeding is the single most important thing you can do to grow a healthy lawn, and it is completely organic! 

What Type of Grass Should You Use? 

Achieving a great lawn in Middle Tennessee is a tricky, sometimes elusive, goal. We live on the border of several grass zones. Tall Fescue and Kentucky Blue Grass are cool season grasses that struggle in our Tennessee heat and humidity, while Bermuda and Zoysia love the heat but will only stay green and attractive about 6 months of the year since they go dormant in cold weather. Kentucky Blue Grass does not work well in Middle Tennessee because it is very susceptible to diseases, and is not tough enough to withstand regular weed prevention treatments. Because Bermuda and Zoysia turn brown much of the year, most lawn enthusiasts in our area choose Fescue grass.

Why Is Growing a  Great Lawn Complicated?

Growing a great Fescue lawn can be challenging. Chris Howell, spray division manager for Turf Managers LLC says, “Fescue is a tall grass variety that is never allowed to self-seed since we mow it continually. So, in essence, we neuter it. A clump of Fescue will mature to about the size of a saucer, but it will never spread. Also, Fescue suffers from our hot summers, so even with irrigation, some of it will die. A homeowner will never have more Fescue in their lawn than they have right now, and it will continue to decline, unless they introduce seed into their lawn.”

Timing Is Also Important

“You have to wait 6-8 weeks after some weed control products are applied, before you can seed, or the seed won’t germinate,” says Howell. “So you must think ahead. Irrigated lawns can be seeded in late August/early September if the weather isn’t too hot and dry. Non-irrigated lawns are best seeded in October, once cooler temperatures and rainy patterns occur.”

The Solution: Fall Aeration and Seeding

What Is So Important About Aeration?

Plant roots need water, nutrients, and air to flourish. Hard, compacted soils deter root growth, dry out faster, and have little air. Aeration is the act of “poking holes” or “pulling plugs” in the soil to add air and water pockets, making the soil fluffier and not as concrete-hard as some of our compacted clay soils can become. It also helps “plant” the seed, so it is less likely to wash away, and the baby grass can develop a deeper root system faster.

Soils can become compacted for several reasons:  the use of poor topsoil around new-build homes, by driving heavy construction equipment on it, by heavy foot or pet traffic on a specific area, by standing water or flooding, or in the case of older homes, by years of mowing and settling. To correct this, the best aerating method is to use a “plug” aerator and go over the lawn several times, overlapping from different directions.  The yard may be full of muddy soil plugs, so don’t do this right before entertaining on the lawn!  It isn’t attractive, but it is one of the best things you can do for your fescue lawn, and fresh baby grass will begin to grow in 2-3 weeks.

Fall Seeding:

“Fescue seeding should be done in combination with a starter fertilizer, and only in the fall,” says Howell. ”Seed that is planted in the spring will come up and look great until about June, when the heat of summer hits it, and then it will start to die.” Even with regular watering, spring planted seed does not have the mature root system it needs to live through our hot, dry summers. Some will survive, but not all of it. Spring seeding also interferes with lawn treatments, since you cannot apply weed control or pre-emergent treatments that are too harsh for the tender new grass. If you are absolutely desperate and must seed in the spring, know that you will lose some, and you will have weeds and summer crab grass too.

Regular fertilization and weed control programs are important and will help you have a great lawn, but only seeding actually gives you more grass. A thick healthy lawn also deters weed growth, helps hold in moisture, and provides beauty and value to your home. Fall aeration and seeding is the single most important and most organic thing you can do to achieve this.  u  —By Ann Jackson

Editor’s Note: Ann Jackson is director of sales, marketing, and creative interpretation for Turf Managers, LLC. in Nashville. An avid gardener, Ann is also a certified lawn and horticultural professional through the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, and provides design services for commercial and residential landscapes and flower beds. E-mail your questions to her at

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