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UGA fescues bred for central, north Georgia lawns

By Sharon Omahen
University of Georgia

If you live above Georgia's gnat line and you're looking for a low-maintenance grass for your lawn, University of Georgia turf breeders recommend two tall fescues bred just for you.

Tall fescues like Southeast and Tenacity can do well with very little maintenance, said Bob Carrow, a UGA agronomist who worked on the team that developed the varieties. But they can also be great in higher-maintenance lawns where you want a denser, greener turf.

Survives water bans

"Southeast tall fescue performs very, very well if you use the same inputs used for other turf-type tall fescues on the market," he said. "The real benefit of Southeast shows when drought hits and the water restrictions begin or if a homeowner doesn't want to apply as much fertilizer and irrigation as other turf-type fescues require."

A cool-season turfgrass, Southeast tall fescue retains its green color year-round. Both of the new UGA releases, Southeast and Tenacity, have better root systems and are bred especially to grow in central and north Georgia's red clay soils.

"In our breeding program, Ronny Duncan (retired UGA turf breeder) and I set out to improve tall fescue so it could survive during Georgia summers," Carrow said. "Tall fescue has been grown in north Georgia for years, but it looked bad in the summer. It just couldn't persist and would require reseeding in most years."

Southeast's biggest selling point, Carrow said, is its drought resistance and its ability to survive high temperatures. It was released in 1999 and is now available at Home Depot stores as Scott's "Drought Survivor."

Teancity's a little greener

Tenacity tall fescue was released last year. It will be available in limited supplies this fall through Delta Landscape Supply in Norcross, which also carries Southeast.

Tenacity is similar to Southeast. It has the same drought and temperature tolerance with slightly improved color and density.

Paul Raymer, the current UGA turfgrass breeder, hopes to continue to release tall fescue cultivars with improved traits specifically suited to the challenging environments of the Southeast.

Plant in the fall

UGA experts say fall is the best time to plant tall fescue varieties like Southeast or Tenacity. "The best times to plant tall fescue are from September to the first of October or late February through March," Carrow said.

If your lawn is sown in tall fescue, Carrow says you can overseed with Southeast or Tenacity. If another turf species is there, you may need to remove it before seeding with tall fescue. The exception would be for a centipede lawn where tall fescue can be interseeded.

"If you like a low-maintenance lawn, Southeast and Tenacity can both be mowed at 2 inches instead of the traditional 3 inches," Carrow said. "This way you don't have to mow as often and it's easy to care for."

Who wouldn't like a grass that will provide good cover and persistence with very little maintenance?

(Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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