Fescue is a hardy perennial that requires almost no maintenance, grows anywhere, is insect and drought resistant and stays green throughout the winter. At first glance, it sounds like the near-perfect plant but it is double trouble for both wild and domestic animals.
Learn why fescue is not a friend of wildlife and how you can go about eradicating it below.
Fescue contains an alkaloid toxin trapped between the cells in the plant seeds which means the plant is toxic to many species of wildlife resulting in growth and reproductive problems. Because the plant is contaminated with the fungus, most animals won’t eat it except as a last resort and since the plant isn’t eaten, it out competes other grasses and forbs, taking over larger open areas, food plots and pastures.
And on top of that, its lack of vertical structure offers almost no protective cover to ground nesting birds. The sod-forming turf grass has thick, matted growth and is extremely limiting to the movements of small wildlife, like quail and rabbits. The thick stem and root structure creates nearly pure fields of fescue, driving wildlife to more user-friendly areas.
In order to sustain wildlife, fescue must be removed and here’s how to do it.
Before you take action to rid your property of fescue and other nonnative grasses, get experts to evaluate your land. State and wildlife agencies have private lands biologists who are knowledgeable and can provide site surveys and recommendations on where to start killing the nonnative grasses. Other state and federal agencies like the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and your state’s forestry commission are additional sources of help and expertise.
Fescue removal should be done in the spring or fall when the plants are actively growing; think April to early May or mid-September to mid-October when it is 8 to 12 inches tall.
Mow, graze or burn the lands that are being converted back to native grasses and forbs. When rapid green-ups happen and the plants are at least 6 inches tall, begin spraying with the experts’ chemical of choice to kill fescue, plateau herbicide mixed with a surfactant.
If there is still green fescue after two weeks, respray the green spots. The process may need to be repeated before the fescue and other invasive, nonnutritional plants are killed completely.
After the fescue is killed, you can decide to do an additional follow-up planting with plants beneficial to wildlife, like ragweed, foxtail and annual lespedezas, or you can allow natural regeneration to do the job of replanting. If you choose to go that route, do not disc because disking allows fescue seed in the soil to germinate and produce new plants.
The conversion isn’t an easy process, but seeing more, healthier wildlife, will be worth the trouble.