Fescue anyone? That’s what they probably have said to each other at St. Andrews before offering up the challenge of a round of golf.
Worldwide, there are many applicable uses for the six types of fine fescues, largely based on species and any special selection pressure performed by breeders. For turf managers in the desert southwest, where might the fine fescues have a fit?
Overseeding fine fescues has been tried before - In the golden oldie days of yesteryear, common bermudagrass was overseeded with ‘Linn’ perennial ryegrass. Linn was, and still is, the common type of perennial ryegrass, sold on the open market as a commodity, like K31 tall fescue or Gulf annual ryegrass. ‘Linn’ is a coarse-textured ryegrass, with fat stems and leaves, and a light- to- medium- green color. Historically, superintendents overseeded bermudagrass with high seed rates of ‘Linn’ to increase density in an effort to maintain a 3/8’ - 1/2” mowing heights for a few months before the onset of colder temperatures. Since ‘Linn’ could not be used for overseeding bermudagrass greens, creeping fescues were tried. The success was nominal at best, since creeping red fescue is rhizomatous and is slow to mature at mowing heights necessary for fairways. Moving forward, agronomists switched to chewing fescue, which is a bunch grass, similar to ryegrass. As such, chewing fescue matures much faster compared to creeping red fescues. Thus, chewings types initially were met with some success for overseeding fairways and tees. Furthermore, both creepers and chewings tend to die sooner than the perennial ryegrasses, which may be advantageous for spring transition.
Improved perennial ryegrasses - Along cames the first improved perennial ryegrasses: ‘Manhattan’, and ‘Pennfine’ (35 years ago). These grasses changed overseeding dramatically. Today’s ryegrasses have changed overseeding and golf management even more, partially due to the fact that perennial ryegrasses are sold on a world wide market as a perennial turf, and due to breeding efforts to select the highest turf quality. Although the improved ryegrass plants offer much improved turf quality, their heat tolerance far surpasses their predecessors and makes for a difficult transition.
Perennial Ryegrass versus Chewing Fescue - About 15 years ago, trials were conducted at the University of Arizona to evaluate chewings fescues and 1:1 seed mixtures with perennial ryegrass for overseeding 328 Tifgreen bermudagrass greens. In the fall, the straight ryegrass provided the quickest cover, with the chewings being slowest, and the mixture proved to be in between. In the late spring, all chewings fescues died early, the mixture was next to fade, and the ryegrass transitioned out last (no herbicides or mechanical cultivating were employed). There was one chewings fescue that germinated rapidly and established almost as quickly as the ryegrass. However, without funding, the University has not been able to evaluate mixtures or their individual components for overseeding performance on greens or fairways.
Should you consider fine fescues for overseeding fairways - If your golf course has a history of rapid blight disease, consider adding a fine fescue to the overseeding mix. Although the developmental pace of the fescues is slower than the ryegrass, the fescues should offer enhanced winter growth, salinity and rapid blight tolerance, and transition better than perennial ryegrass. A few key considerations when adding fine fescue to the seed mix are offered:
- When overseeding fairways, determining a seeding rate with the fine fescues is very important. You want a condition where there is enough ryegrass to germinate quickly, and yet not crowd out the slower germinating fescue. At the other end, you need enough ryegrass to offer good turf density when the fescue dies in the spring.
- The secret is to 1), to have the right ratio of ryegrass:fescue, and 2), the right seed density (number of seeds per square foot). These are two separate items. There are about 230,000 seeds in a pound of perennial ryegrass, and about 435,000 seeds in a pound of chewings fescue. So, an 80:20 mixture of ryegrass to chewings fescue is about 60% rye seed and 40% chewings seed by weight.
- Fine fescue seed is somewhat smaller than perennial ryegrass, and germinates more slowly.
- In the late spring, the fine fescues y7fade away quicker than the ryegrass.
- Although it may be difficult to quantify, an overseeding mixture containing fine fescues should offer some savings during transition, when compared to the costs of pure ryegrass. You may be able to reduce the rate of the transition herbicide, or eliminate this application.
- Keep in mind that slender creeping red fescues will offer improved rapid blight tolerance when compared to the chewings fescues, and the chewings show better tolerance than the ryegrasses or bluegrasses. ‘Dawson’ slender creeping red has shown good field resistance to rapid blight, but it is really too slow for overseeding use.
- In field and lab trials conducted in the mid 2000’s, the following slender creeping red fescues exhibited the best rapid blight tolerance: ‘Dawson’, ‘SRX555’ (also known as Shoreline) and ‘SR5210’.
- The chewings fescue ‘SR5100’ was moderate in its response to rapid blight. Tiller infection rates in the lab were greater than that of the slender creeping red fescues, and were more highly infested in field trials.
- In 2010, fescue seed prices are lower than they have been in the past, albeit more costly than perennial ryegrasses.
- Consider using a seed mix that contains chewings and slender creeping red fescues on a percentage basis, such as 15%, 15% and 70% ryegrass, by weight. Also, try the fine fescues on several fairways, tees, driving range, to become more familiar with how they perform, before buying enough to overseed the entire fairways.
Best of luck this overseeding season and don’t hesitate to contact Dr. Kopec at the University of Arizona firstname.lastname@example.org or Brian Whitlark with the USGA email@example.com for further information on this topic.