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How to Tell if You Have Tall Fescue or Crabgrass in Your Lawn

Recently I had a client express frustration about his inability to kill the crabgrass weeds in his lawn.

It turns out that what he had was tall fescue rather than crabgrass.  Tall fescue is a spreading cool season grass that often appears in lawns.  It has a courser texture than bluegrass, and will sometimes “green up” in the spring earlier than the rest of the lawn.

How to Remove Tall Fescue

crabgrass vs. tall fescue closeup

Crabgrass (left) has smooth leaves that often have small hairs. Fescue (right) has ridges on the leaves.

So here’s the thing about trying to remove it:  Selective weed killers that target weeds such as crabgrass will not kill tall fescue.

The only way to remove the tall fescue is to treat it with a non-selective herbicide such as Roundup.  This type of weed killer will also kill the lawn that is directly around it.  Which means you will need to spot-seed that area, or if you have a lot of fescue you may need to remove the entire lawn and start over with seed or sod.

Should You Remove it at All?

In my lawn, I have clumps of tall fescue but I don’t like to use many chemicals on my lawn.  I just leave the clumps in place- they are hardly noticeable once the lawn greens up.

Tall Fescue in Lawn

Tall fescue emerging in a bluegrass lawn that is still dormant in early spring.

Fescues are actually pretty highly recommended as lawn grasses-  according to the Colorado State University Extension Office a fescue lawn can require up to 50% less water than a bluegrass lawn.  In fact, one of the popular sod blends we often specify for the front range is a “90/10 Fescue Bluegrass” blend.  That is, 90% fescue and 10% bluegrass.

So before deciding to use a bunch of chemicals on the fescue in your lawn, or doing a major lawn renovation – consider leaving it in place.  The fescue can be hardly visible at all from a distance, and may end up saving you money in the long term on watering.

This is the official blog of Outdoor Design Group, Colorado Landscape Architects.  For more information about our business and our services, click here.

 

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Spring Clean-Up: The Most Important Landscape Maintenance Tasks for Spring

photo of spring landscapeThis post arrives a little late, as the birds have been chirping away outside already for the last couple of weeks.  “Spring Clean-Up” includes the spring landscape maintenance tasks that are vital for a healthy and attractive landscape, especially for Xeriscape.  This article is intended to give a simple, easy to follow guide covering the most important spring landscape maintenance tasks.

If  you read my Fall landscape maintenance tips, you know that I am not a proponent of keeping the landscape perfectly tidy over the winter.  Now that spring is here, among other things you will need to clean your beds of those leftover leaves, and cut back your perennials and grasses.

Key Dates

  • Early May:  Time to start up that irrigation system.  Resist the temptation to start your sprinklers before May 1st.  In Colorado, we generally get plenty of moisture in March and April so lawns do not generally need supplemental water yet, and it will go to waste.  Many shrubs and perennials are only just beginning to emerge.

Trees and Shrubs

  • Remove winter tree wrap from any trees.  Now would also be a good time to remove tree stakes that were put in place last season.
  • Don’t prune trees and shrubs in the spring.  They are budding out and are susceptible to more stress and damage at this time.  I find that it can also be difficult to tell whether a branch is dead or alive without physically checking each one, since the leaves have not yet emerged.  Wait until late summer or fall to remove any dead branches and to do any other pruning.
  • Before you start your irrigation system remember to check soil moisture, and give trees and shrubs extra water if needed.  In typical years you will not need to water in the spring, but if the weather has been dry or warm you should keep an eye on soil moisture.

Perennials and Ornamental Grasses

  • Cut back perennials and grasses so that they will regenerate bigger and better than before.  For perennials, cut them back to about 2″ above the ground.   For woody perennials,such as Russian Sage, some of the old growth will often begin to leaf out and you can leave more of the existing plant to re-grow.

    cut-back-sage-in-spring

    Woody perennials like Russian Sage may not completely die back

  • When cutting back ornamental grasses, a rule of thumb that I like to use is to cut them back to 1/5th (or 20%) of their maximum height.  Feather Reed Grass, for example, grows to a height of 4-5′, so you would cut them back to 10-12″ height.
  • You can begin to “divide and conquer”!  Divide up fall-blooming perennials and grasses and transplant them throughout the landscape-  This gives them time to grow this season, so that in the late summer you will have new plants to enjoy.
  • Remove excess mulch and leaf scraps from around the bases of plants, along with any extra mulch that was placed around plants to protect them over the winter.  Spring is the wettest time of the year, and the mulch is needed the least at this time.  Leaving excess organic material around the bases of plants in spring can cause root rot, mold, and insect damage.

Lawns

    • I like to rake the lawn areas once really well in the spring to clean up any leftover sticks, pine needles, etc.  In the summer I use a self-mulching lawnmower that mulches and re-deposits the clippings in place rather than bagging them.  However the first time I mow in the spring I like to attach the bagger to suck up any new clippings and other debris left over from the winter.
cut-back-grasses-in-spring

Cut grasses back to 1/5th of their full height

  • Consider aerating your lawn.  Aeration allows greater movement of water, fertilizer, and air which stimulates healthy turf.  Aerating also increases the speed of decomposition of the grass clippings and enhances deep root growth.  Compacted soil especially benefits from core aerating.  Be sure to mark the locations of sprinkler heads with flags prior to aerating so that they will not get damaged.
  • You may want to fertilize your lawn in the spring to give it a boost.  Don’t over do it though, because fertilizer can wash off of your lawn and the runoff can be harmful to water supplies and wildlife.
  • Remove dandelions and other weeds before they go to seed and spread throughout your yard, or your neighbors yard.
  • Assess the size and configuration of your lawn, and how much water you used this year to keep it green (or, brown?).   Consult with a landscape architect about how you canredesign your landscape to make it more attractive, sustainable, and functional.

Planting Beds

  • Weed control in bed areas is very important in the spring.  You will want to get a leg up on the weeds now, while the soil is soft and easy to work with and the weeds are small.  If weeds are allowed to “run wild” throughout the spring you will have a maintenance headache later in the summer.  Weed control can be a fast and easy task if it is done correctly from the start of the year through the end.

Irrigation

  • Pressurize your irrigation system and check for and leaks and for proper spray distribution.  Adjust the angle and throw of sprinkler heads.  Check irrigation equipment for clogged nozzles and sprinkler heads for damage.  Realign heads if necessary.   Examine any drip irrigation to make sure there are no leaks or other issues, and plan to make regular check-ups on your irrigation system throughout the season.

Spring Weather Considerations

  • Watch for those freak spring snowstorms!  Trees and shrubs that are flowering and/or leafing out will catch the heavy wet spring snow on their branches, often causing serious damage due to limbs breaking off.

Other

  • Check any metal edging to make sure that it is has not heaved over the winter.  If it has heaved, you should repair it.  Edging keeps the sod from creeping into landscape beds areas, which can be a maintenance nightmare if it gets out of hand.   Metal edging can also be a safety hazard to pets and children.  If you have a plastic protective cap on your edging, inspect it and replace it if necessary.
  • If you follow all of the above recommendations you will end up with a lot of organic material and cuttings as a result of your spring cleanup.  If you have the space for it, consider composting this material.  Or, rather than throwing the material away to go in the landfill, check to see if there is a local recycling center that will take the material to compost it.

Spring cleanup is a time honored tradition among gardeners, as an excuse to get outside after the long winter months and to freshen up the landscape as it springs to life.  With Xeriscape, spring maintenance is even more important.   Since Xeriscape requires less regular maintenance through the summer, it is critical to get the summer started off right so that your Xeriscape will require very little maintenance throughout the year.

Regardless of the landscape style that you are maintaining, if you start off on the right foot in the spring you will be well on your way a beautiful landscape to enjoy throughout the coming year.

This is the official blog of Outdoor Design Group, Colorado Landscape Architects.  For more information about our business and our services, click here.


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