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All You Need to Know About Kentucky 31 Tall Fescue

Kentucky 31 Tall Fescue Grass

Tall fescue is an important turf grass in the United States today, but that wasn't always the case. Kentucky 31, known in the seed industry as KY-31 or K-31, helped tall fescue grasses transition from livestock pastures to lush, durable, manicured lawns. Lawn owners value its easy establishment, drought resistance and improved heat tolerance as well. If you're in the market for an economical, low-maintenance grass — with a bit of history thrown in — Kentucky 31 tall fescue may be for you.

  • Cool-season grass suitable for northern and transition zones.
  • Improved heat tolerance over many tall fescue varieties.
  • Tolerant of drought, shade and traffic.
  • High disease resistance.
  • Bunch-forming growth habit.
  • Low-maintenance and economical.

KENTUCKY 31 TALL FESCUE HISTORY

Tall fescue grasses came to the U.S. from Europe in the 1800s. Durable and adaptable, these grasses gained wide use as "forage" or pasture grasses for grazing livestock. In 1931, a University of Kentucky professor heard about a remarkable tall fescue growing nearby. Upon seeing it, he recognized qualities that improved upon common forage grasses, including green color during cold weather and stability on erosion-prone slopes.

Seed was taken from those long-established Kentucky fields and research ensued. In 1942, the grass was introduced into the agricultural seed market as Kentucky 31 tall fescue, named for the state and year in which it was discovered.1 It quickly gained favor for use in agriculture, conservation and erosion control.

As Kentucky 31's popularity grew through the 1950s, its excellent disease resistance and resilience attracted attention. Among those keen on the grass' potential was Brooks Pennington, Jr., who was in the process of shifting Pennington Seed's focus from agricultural seed products to seeds for lawns and turf.

In the late 1960s, Pennington introduced a proprietary seed treatment that helped seed establish faster and stay healthier. Known as Penkote, the process enabled Pennington to offer Kentucky 31, still known as a forage grass, as a viable alternative to the more demanding turf grasses of the time. The move put low-maintenance, easy-care, disease-resistant lawns within the average homeowner's reach. In the process, Kentucky 31 became the original tall fescue lawn grass and an integral part of Pennington Seed history, leading the way for the modern turf-type tall fescue lawn grasses that followed.

Today Kentucky 31 tall fescue seed is produced in major U.S. grass-growing regions from Missouri to Oregon, as evidenced on the seed tag you'll find attached to all grass seed products. Economical, easy-to-establish Pennington Kentucky 31 Tall Fescue Grass Seed remains a leading choice for low-maintenance lawns that can withstand heat, drought and wear.

Kentucky 31 grass seed being harvested by Missouri seed farmers.

Kentucky 31 is a cool-season grass, meaning its most vigorous growth happens during cooler temperatures of fall and spring. Like other tall fescue varieties, KY-31 is best adapted to regions with moderate summers and cool winters. It is particularly well-suited to the south-central U.S. and the challenging turf-growing regions known as the transition zone. Where weather runs too hot for many cool-season grasses and too cold for most warm-season grasses, Kentucky 31 tall fescue shines.

Tall fescues generally have greater heat tolerance than other cool-season grasses, but KY-31 offers better heat and drought tolerance than many tall fescue varieties. Its cold tolerance, which is greater than that of perennial ryegrass, also provides an advantage over warm-season transition zone grasses.

In the years since K-31 moved into the lawn and turf marketplace, many new tall fescue lawn grasses have been developed. Research and breeding programs such as NexGen Turf Research and the Rutgers University program that developed the original turf-type tall fescue that led to Pennington The Rebels Brand have led the way. Compared to these more modern turf-type and dwarf tall fescue varieties, KY-31 has a lighter green color, coarser texture and wider blades.

As with other tall fescue varieties, Kentucky 31 germinates much more quickly than Kentucky bluegrass. Its relatively deep roots in comparison to other common cool-season lawn grasses fortify its heat and drought tolerance.1 Though less tolerant of shade than fine fescues, KY-31 is more shade-tolerant than Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass or common warm-season grasses, such as sun-loving Bermudagrass.

Like all tall fescue grasses, KY-31 is a bunch-forming grass that naturally grows in clumps. Creeping grass types spread by horizontal above-ground stems known as "stolons," or below-ground stems called "rhizomes." But Kentucky 31 spreads through vertical shoots known as "tillers," which grow from the plant's base. As a result, KY-31 rarely ventures outside its boundaries the way more aggressive spreading grasses often do.

As with all tall fescue grasses, KY-31 grows most vigorously during the cool seasons of fall and spring. By timing your major lawn care tasks to complement these peak times, you can maximize the benefits to your KY-31 lawn. Seasonal weather patterns can be unpredictable, especially in transition regions, so let your grass help guide your lawn care timing.

The farther north you live, the later spring comes to KY-31 lawns and the earlier fall arrives, so keep that timing in mind. If you're unsure when to expect spring and fall frosts in your local area, contact your county extension agent. Then follow this lawn care calendar for a durable, versatile KY-31 lawn.

MARCH THROUGH MAY

Mowing

Start mowing your Kentucky 31 lawn as soon as spring growth begins. Maintain KY-31 at tall fescue's recommended mowing height of 2 to 3 inches. Collect and remove the first clippings of the season to protect against the spread of winter-related lawn disease.

Weed Prevention and Fertilization

Prevent crabgrass and feed your established KY-31 lawn in early spring. Apply Pennington UltraGreen Crabgrass Preventer Plus Fertilizer III 30-0-4 any time before soil temperatures reach 55 degrees Fahrenheit — that's when crabgrass seeds start germinating. For newly seeded or overseeded areas, wait at least 60 days after seeding before you treat.

Seeding and Overseeding

Seed new areas or overseed thin KY-31 lawns to help maintain a uniform, dense look. KY-31 germinates best when soil temperatures are between 50°F and 65°F. Most local garden retailers carry affordable soil thermometers to ensure your timing is right.

Bare Spot Repair

Repair lawn damage in KY-31 lawns with Pennington One Step Complete Tall Fescue. Under proper growing conditions, this all-in-one product repairs bare spots in two weeks or less.

Weed Control and Fertilization

Feed your established KY-31 lawn and control emerged broadleaf weeds in late spring. Wait until weed and grass enter active growth, then apply Pennington UltraGreen Weed & Feed 30-0-4. Make sure to follow label instructions, as excess fertilization in spring can stress grass and make it more susceptible to disease as weather warms and humidity increases.

Avoid treating newly seeded areas until they've been mowed at least three times. Wait at least three weeks before overseeding treated areas.

Watering

Supplement natural rainfall with irrigation as needed so your KY-31 lawn gets 1 inch of water per week. Deep, thorough watering encourages deep root growth.

JUNE THROUGH AUGUST

Mowing

Increase your mowing height to 3 to 4 inches to help KY-31 resist the stress of summer heat and drought. Mow often enough so you never remove more than one-third of the blade in a single mowing.

Fertilization

Feed your KY-31 lawn with Pennington UltraGreen Lawn Fertilizer 30-0-4. The added iron helps keep your lawn looking healthy and green.

Watering

KY-31's deep root growth helps protect against heat and drought stress, but wise watering practices build on that strength. KY-31 lawns require less water than Kentucky bluegrass, but more water than warm-season grasses such as Zoysia grass. Water to ensure your established lawn gets 1 to 1 1/2 inches of weekly water under normal summer conditions.

Pest Control

Destructive pests, including grubs, chinch bugs and billbugs, can damage KY-31 above and below ground. Protect your lawn for up to three months with Sevin Lawn Insect Killer Granules.

Soil Testing

Simple soil testing confirms your soil pH and reveals if your lawn needs lime or other soil amendments to restore pH balance and nutrient availability. Versatile KY-31 adapts to a broad range of soil types. It does best when soil pH stays between 5.5 and 7.5.

SEPTEMBER THROUGH NOVEMBER

Mowing

As cooler temperatures arrive, gradually return to KY-31's normal mowing height of 2 to 3 inches. Continue mowing until growth stops in northern areas. In southern regions, continue mowing KY-31 as conditions allow to maintain a uniform — not clumpy — look.

Weed Control and Fertilization

Prepare your established KY-31 lawn for winter and control active broadleaf weeds with Pennington UltraGreen Winterizer Plus Weed & Feed Fertilizer 22-0-14. Apply this weed and feed fertilizer six to eight weeks before your typical first fall frost. If you're seeding or overseeding your lawn, feed with Pennington UltraGreen Lawn Fertilizer 30-0-4 and spot-treat lawn weeds instead.

Seeding and Overseeding

KY-13 lawns benefit from regular overseeding every one to three years.2 Plant Pennington Kentucky 31 Grass Seed about 45 days before your typical first fall frost date so it can get established before winter cold arrives.

Watering

Reduce supplemental watering in northern lawns so that KY-31 tall fescue gets 1 inch of water every 10 to 14 days. Continue watering southern transition lawns as needed so KY-31 receives at least 1 inch of water per week.

Aeration and Dethatching

Because of KY-31's bunch-forming growth, it rarely needs dethatching. For KY-31 lawns with compacted soil, fall aeration helps grass recover more quickly.

Leaf Management

Rake or mulch fallen tree leaves to encourage healthy grass and reduce the risk of lawn disease.

DECEMBER THROUGH FEBRUARY

Southern Kentucky 31 Lawns

Continue maintaining your KY-31 tall fescue lawn at normal mowing heights through the winter months as conditions allow. To keep KY-31 looking its winter best, ensure your lawn gets 1 inch of weekly water from natural precipitation and irrigation combined.

Northern Kentucky 31 Lawns

Keep your KY-31 tall fescue lawn free of winter debris. Maintain mowers and turf tools so they're ready for use. Flush areas damaged by de-icing salts or pet urine as spring thaws begin.

Though many new varieties of tall fescue lawn grass have hit the market since Kentucky 31 opened the door, this proven performer continues to provide lawn owners with resilient, economical, attractive lawns. Pennington is dedicated to producing the finest grass seed possible and providing you with premium lawn and garden products, helpful resources and — in Kentucky 31 tall fescue — a piece of lawn care history as well.

Always read product labels thoroughly and follow instructions.

Pennington and One Step Complete are registered trademarks of Pennington Seed, Inc.

UltraGreen is a registered trademark of Central Garden & Pet Company.

Sevin is a registered trademark of Tessenderlo Kerley, Inc.

Sources:

1. Lacefield, G.D., and Evans, J.K., "Tall Fescue in Kentucky," University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension, November 1984.

2. Patton, A. and Boyd J., "Choosing a Grass for Arkansas Lawns," University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension.

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