Now is the time of year to complete one of the easiest and most economical habitat improvements available on many properties- killing cool season perennial grasses. The most common of these is tall fescue, which has been widely planted for pasture and cattle forage. While it does have some value for those uses, most properties in the southeast have openings dominated by fescue that are not being used for production. This blog will share how and why you should spray those areas.
Reasons to Control Fescue
Fescue typically takes over openings, and mowing makes the problem worse. Additionally, fescue is a very low quality deer forage that is almost never eaten by deer. Why then do most hunting properties in the mid-south have areas that are dominated by fescue? Even if these patches are small, releasing natives in these areas, through fescue control, would go a long way toward improving the cover and food value of the property for deer.
Despite the way that fescue dominates an opening, it is fairly easy to control. Native species also respond incredibly well after being allotted room to grow. In most areas, you can expect beneficial plants such as ragweed and partridge pea to begin growing the spring following treatment. These plants significantly raise the forage value of these areas for deer, and the only cost of treatment was cheap herbicide and fuel. Best of all, the treatment cost will quickly be regained when the mower is parked next summer.
The easiest way to take care of fescue is to spray it with glyphosate (RoundUpⓇ) during the fall. Some may question the use of a broad-spectrum herbicide, particularly when some beneficial native plants are often scattered in areas where we want to perform fescue control. However, grass selective herbicides are not always effective on perennial grasses, and are more expensive than generic glyphosate. The key to making this application work is in proper timing. Fescue is highly susceptible to glyphosate sprayed in fall, as fescue is preparing to enter dormancy for winter. Additionally, spraying in fall allows us to avoid killing most beneficial natives, if we wait until they are dormant. Typically, this can be accomplished by waiting until the first frost has occurred.
After frost has occurred and the native plants are dormant, spraying a product that contains 41% glyphosate at 2 quarts to the acre is very effective at achieving fescue control. While it may be tempting to spot-spray fescue clumps, I would recommend broadcast spraying in most instances.
Be sure to calibrate your sprayer, as it is important to get enough herbicide on the fescue leaves to kill the entire plant. Additionally, if other vegetation is present it may be beneficial to mow areas that will be sprayed a few weeks before so that this other vegetation doesn’t block the herbicide from hitting the fescue.
Following the initial spraying, you may consider burning or disking the area after the fescue is completely dead. Doing so will remove or bury the thatch and promote quicker germination of beneficial plants, but is not necessary if you are short on time. Simply wiping out the fescue will do more to quickly improve an area for deer than nearly anything else you can do as a manager. If you own property and want to quickly improve an open area, get out and do some fescue control over the coming weeks!