If you’re having trouble getting grass to grow in a shady area of your yard, the best option may be a tall fescue – a cool-season grass, advises Mark Keaton, Baxter County extension staff chair with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service.

However, he cautions, tall fescue must receive at least three hours of sunlight.

“Ideally, fescue should be seeded in September so it has sufficient time to develop before the onset of cold weather,” he said. “A second choice would be seeding fescue in March.”

The drawbacks of spring planting are potentially wet conditions, cool temperatures, early spring weeds and poor summer survival, the agent said. If you plant in the spring, the grass usually doesn’t have enough time to develop a healthy root system before it has to deal with the summer heat.

Many varieties of turf-type tall fescue are available. The turf-type tall fescue may be purchased as a blend of two or three varieties, or you may purchase a single variety. Some of the higher-rated varieties in trials at University of Arkansas were Rebel, Rebel II, Rebel Exeda, Millennium, 2nd Millennium, Bonanza, Guardian, Shenandoah, Apache, Avenger, Barvado, Cayenne, Cochise III, Durana, Dynasty, Finelawn Elite, Firebird, Greenkeeper, Inferno, Jaguar, Justice, Masterpiece, Plantation, Red Coat, Rembrandt, Scorpio, Solara, Turbo and Watchdog.

“New varieties of tall fescue come out every year, however, there’s not that much difference between varieties,” Keaton says. “Also, many people plant Kentucky-31 (KY-31), a pasture variety, tall fescue.

“The turf-type fescue makes a nicer looking lawn than the KY-31 tall fescue does,” Keaton says. “The turf-type fescue has about an eighth-inch-wide blade where KY-31 tall fescue is about a quarter-inch wide. Also, KY-31 will clump more when it thins out.”

Because tall fescue is a cool-season grass, it needs to be watered during the summer. Prior to seeding, lightly till the soil. Remove as much debris and as many weeds as possible. Seed at the rate of eight to 10 pounds per 1,000 square feet for establishment.

At first glance, tall fescue seeding rates may seem high, Keaton says, but it’s a mistake to skimp on the amount used because an unsatisfactory stand will result.

Keep the area moist until the seeds germinate, which should occur in five to 10 days, he advises. During planting, if a current soil test isn’t available, apply a complete fertilizer such as 13-13-13 at a rate of eight pounds per 1,000 square feet.

Tall fescue lawns should be mowed at a height of 3 to 3.5 inches during the summer. Fescue lawns should be overseeded every fall to keep the stand thick, and especially after a hot, dry summer. Use four to five pounds per 1,000 square feet when overseeding.

For information on seeding and caring for tall fescue lawns, contact your county extension agent or visit http://www.uaex.edu and select Home and Gardens, then Lawns.

The Cooperative Extension Service is part of the U of A Division of Agriculture.