If you live in Southern California, not just any grass will do. The perfect SoCal lawn must tolerate heat and drought for much of the year. It should also stand up to salty air (for coastal properties) and chilly temperatures during the winter months (for those in mountainous regions).
It’s hard to imagine a single grass variety that can handle all of these factors and more. But Marathon grass does just that.
If you’ve yet to hear of Marathon grass, don’t be surprised. It is a trademarked fescue blend that was developed to meet the needs of Southern California and climates like it. If your interest is piqued by this superstar turf grass, however, you’ll want to keep reading as we dive deeper into its benefits and care.
- Marathon Grass Overview
- Planting Marathon Grass
- How To Care For Marathon Grass
- Weed Control For Marathon Grass
- Marathon Lawn Care Through The Year
- Marathon Grass Problems
Marathon Grass Overview
Marathon grass is a curated blend of two tall fescues — Baja and Hubbard 87. While other companies have developed their own versions of this fescue blend, they are not identical to authentic Marathon grass.
There are several Marathon grass products available today. The original Marathon blend is the most durable and fastest-growing. Meanwhile, Marathon II and Marathon III are dwarf varieties that tolerate heat and drought better while offering more manicured appearances.
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Planting Marathon Grass
There are several ways to establish Marathon grass on your property. Sod tends to be the most popular option when planting Marathon grass. If the cost of sod is prohibitive, however, standard grass seed is also an option.
Soil pH For Marathon Grass
A neutral soil pH of 7.0 is ideal. However, like other tall fescues, Marathon grass tolerates a wide pH range. Marathon grass will be successful as long as the native soil pH is between 5.0 and 8.5.
Marathon Grass Seed
All types of Marathon grass are available as seeds. This is the most affordable way to install a Marathon grass lawn from scratch. Seeds can also be used to easily repair bare patches of soil or overseed a sparse lawn.
Marathon grass started from seed will take several weeks to sprout and become established. If you’re looking for a fast, low-maintenance option, sod may be better suited to your goals.
How And When To Plant Marathon Grass
The recommended application rate of Marathon seed over bare soil is about 10 to 12 pounds per 1,000 square feet. With proper care, you can expect the seeds to germinate within 14 days.
All cool-season grasses — including Marathon grass — should be planted in spring or fall for the best results. A great way to learn when you should sow Marathon grass seed in your area is by researching local recommendations for the planting of fescue.
By planting Marathon grass seed in the spring or fall, you give the grass time to grow before the harsh conditions of summer or winter. Cool-season grasses also do the majority of their growing at these times.
If you miss the opportunity to seed in the fall, you also have the option to plant Marathon grass in winter via dormant seeding. Dormant seeding can be done when the soil temperature is below 50°F.
Marathon Grass Sod
In most cases, sod is the preferred method for growing and planting Marathon grass. Sod transfers much of the time and labor needed to start a lawn from the homeowner to the distributor. While more expensive, it also produces more consistent results.
If you opt for authentic Marathon sod, there are two options available. In addition to regular sod, Southland Sod Farms also offers a product called Marathon Lite. This is hydroponically-grown sod that can be installed in larger sections than traditional sod.
Sod Early Care
Although sod produces faster results than grass seed, there’s still maintenance to be done. Adequate moisture is a must for new sod. I typically recommend watering sod within 30 minutes of installation. Continue watering daily so that the sod is consistently moist but never soggy.
Since you’ll want to keep foot traffic off of the grass early on, it’s a good idea to set up a sprinkler system prior to installation. I also recommend setting up a temporary fence to keep children, pets, and passersby off of the delicate surface.
Mow Marathon sod for the first time a week after installation. Before mowing, gently tug at the sod to ensure it has taken root.
The best way to describe grass plugs is as miniature pieces of sod. Rather than being installed side-by-side, plugs are spaced several inches apart. The grass then fills in the empty spaces over time.
I typically think of plugs as a midpoint between grass seed and traditional sod. They offer some of the benefits of sod without the extreme cost (though they are still quite a bit costlier than seed). However, you will need to allow time for the grass to spread before you have a full lawn.
With all of that said, Marathon grass is not a variety I’d recommend choosing for plugs. Tall fescues are bunching grasses, so they don’t spread as vigorously as other popular turf grasses.
Overseeding Marathon Grass
Overseeding is simply applying grass seed over existing grass. This is most often done when the grass has thinned out with age or environmental stress. Overseeding can also be used to boost the overall health of a lawn by introducing a new type of grass to the mix.
Overseeding can technically be done anytime you would normally plant Marathon grass. For the best results, however, seeding in fall is best. I recommend preparing the area by removing any built-up thatch and mowing the current grass as short as possible.
Best Grass To Mix With Marathon
I often recommend mixing different turf grasses to create a healthier, more balanced lawn. But I think this practice is a mistake when using a high-quality blend like Marathon grass.
Marathon grass was carefully developed to meet the needs of a specific climate. The tall fescues that make up this grass blend were chosen because they offset the other’s weaknesses. If Marathon alone isn’t adequate for your lawn, then a different type of grass altogether might be the best option.
Alternatively, Marathon grass seed could improve an existing cool-season lawn. Tall fescue is frequently planted over Kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass for improved heat tolerance.
How To Care For Marathon Grass
Since Marathon grass was developed with a very specific climate in mind, it is a fairly low-maintenance turf option when grown in the right areas. There are just a few things you’ll need to keep in mind when planting and caring for this grass in your own lawn:
Hours Of Sunlight
Tall fescue generally requires a minimum of 3 to 4 hours of sunlight per day to thrive. It is one of the most shade-tolerant cool-season grasses available but cannot survive total shade.
For Marathon grass specifically, the recommendation is 50% filtered light or 50% daylight hours. So you can confidently plant Marathon grass in a location that is constantly half-shaded or that is shaded for only half of the day.
Note that Marathon III grass prefers full sunlight.
How Does Marathon Grass Spread
Many types of grass produce a thick blanket of turf by sending out offshoots that sprout additional plants. This is why, when left unattended, the average lawn will spread into garden beds and other areas with bare soil.
Tall fescues, like those that make up Marathon grass, have bunching growth habits. Instead of spreading via horizontal rhizomes or stolons, fescues spread by producing new upright stems. The end result is many stems coming from a single crown.
No matter how well you care for tall fescue, it will not produce offshoots. However, Marathon grass will naturally spread via seed if allowed to put out seedheads.
Encourage Thicker Marathon Growth
Marathon grass is known for its density. But it can still struggle to fill out when stressed or planted in low-quality soil.
One thing to keep in mind is that Marathon grass will not rapidly spread like most other turf varieties. If you’re dissatisfied with the density of your Marathon lawn, overseeding is the most effective solution.
Aerate The Soil
Though Marathon grass is well-suited to all soil types, it often struggles in compacted soil. In addition to amending clay soils before planting, routine aeration can make a big difference in the health of your lawn.
Core aeration is my preferred method. This type of aeration removes small tubes of soil, making room for water, oxygen, and other crucial particles to penetrate the soil. For the best results, aerate in the fall.
Thatch is a layer of dead grass material that builds up on the soil’s surface. While a thin layer of thatch offers beneficial insulation to shallow roots, too thick of a layer can block water, oxygen, and nutrients from entering the soil.
Because Marathon grass does not produce horizontal stems, thatch build-up is rarely a problem. Instead of including dethatching or scarifying as part of your annual lawn care schedule, I recommend only performing it on an as-needed basis.
Water established Marathon grass 2 or 3 times per week to maintain adequate moisture. Tall fescues need 1 to 2 inches of water per week to survive. When irrigating, keep in mind that Marathon produces very deep roots.
Marathon grass is fairly drought-tolerant but may still go dormant in the peak of summer. Watering intermittently during dormancy will keep your lawn alive and encourage rapid recovery when conditions improve.
Fertilizing Marathon Grass
There are several lawn fertilizers specifically marketed for use on Marathon grass. Whether or not you choose to use these formulas is up to you. However, I fully believe you can get comparable results by using a preferred fertilizer with a similar nutrient profile.
High nitrogen fertilizer is best for year-round feeding of mature Marathon grass. Specifically, a slow-release formula is ideal.
Before planting seed or installing sod, use a balanced starter fertilizer with a nutrient ratio similar to or the same as a 12-12-12 fertilizer. This fertilizer can also be applied as needed to mature grass if phosphorus and potassium stores get depleted.
Original Marathon grass boasts the fastest growth rate. It should also be maintained approximately ½ inch taller than its successors.
Marathon II and III were developed with slower growth in mind. This, combined with their tolerance of a relatively short mowing height, makes them ideal for creating a clean, manicured lawn.
Weed Control For Marathon Grass
Marathon is vulnerable to broadleaf and grassy weeds just like any other type of turf. Sticking to a consistent control regimen is the best way to minimize weed activity without damaging your lawn.
Herbicides are strong chemicals and should be treated as such. Also, many popular herbicides will kill Marathon grass. Carefully read the label of any weed control product you intend to use on your lawn.
Fall Pre Emergent
Pre-emergent herbicides prevent weed seeds from germinating. In my opinion, a pre-emergent herbicide is one of the best investments you can make in a healthy lawn.
Such herbicides can be applied in spring and fall. If you can only choose one, then I recommend applying a pre-emergent herbicide in the fall to prevent new weeds the following spring.
Summer Post Emergent Herbicide
A post-emergent herbicide is what we typically think of as a weed killer. These products are designed to kill already-growing weeds in the lawn.
Although broadleaf weeds are at their most active during the summer months, applying post-emergent herbicides to a Marathon lawn at this time could be detrimental.
This is because Marathon grass is not growing at its maximum rate during the hot and dry months of summer, and so the use of herbicides could subject your lawn to even more undesirable stresses.
Weed And Feed For Marathon Grass
Weed and feed is a type of fertilizer that also contains herbicide. Depending on the exact product, the herbicide may target pre- or post-emergent weeds. Many formulas control both.
Weed and feed is a great way to streamline your lawn’s maintenance needs. Before applying any of these products, however, be sure that all of the ingredients are safe for Marathon grass.
Marathon Lawn Care Through The Year
Even in mild climates like Central and Southern California, lawn care changes throughout the year. Accommodating your Marathon lawn and soil’s needs as the season changes will ensure optimal growth and health throughout its lifetime.
Since Marathon grass is so specialized, it’s not always easy to find information on things like maintenance. If you’re ever unable to find the answer to a specific question, I suggest falling back on the advice given for tall fescue. My preferred source for such information is Clemson University.
Spring is one of the most active times of year for Marathon grass, so be sure to take advantage of it. This is the perfect time to repair any damage from winter and prepare for the rest of the year.
Spring is an ideal time to apply pre-emergent herbicides before local weed seeds germinate. Wait to apply post-emergent herbicides until weeds are actively growing.
Begin fertilizing when the grass exits winter dormancy and shows signs of new growth. A high-nitrogen fertilizer is best for encouraging growth throughout the cooler spring months.
Slowly raise your mowing height throughout spring until you reach the recommended height for summer. Original Marathon grass should go from 2 to 2 ½ inches on average. Marathon II and III will increase from 1 ½ to 2 inches on average.
Water as needed to prevent drought stress. Unless daytime temperatures are unseasonably high, 1 inch of water per week on average will suffice.
Despite Marathon’s popularity in warmer climates, it’s still a cool-season grass. Summer is not the peak growing season for Marathon grass. Instead, maintenance should focus on supporting the grass through drought, intense heat, and other environmental stressors.
Avoid using herbicides at this time unless absolutely necessary. Many herbicides will place undue stress on Marathon grass during the summer.
Continue feeding through early summer as directed by the fertilizer manufacturer. Do not fertilize during the hottest summer months — typical July and August — when the grass is drought- and heat-stressed. Be sure to provide adequate moisture when fertilizing.
Maintain your lawn at 2 ½ inches (2 inches for Marathon II and III) throughout the summer. Marathon grass will usually require weekly mowing during active growth.
Increase weekly irrigation by up to 2 inches to account for rising summer temperatures. If your lawn goes dormant at any point, continue watering so that it doesn’t dry out. Water deeply to encourage root development.
Monitor for insect activity and treat as needed with the recommended pesticide. Always identify the offending insect species before selecting and applying pesticides. Avoid applying these chemicals to your lawn when it is otherwise stressed from heat or drought.
As in spring, fall is when Marathon grass is it’s most active. The cooling temperatures will trigger new growth and your lawn will need access to plenty of nutrients to recover from the stress of summer.
In late fall, your focus should shift to preparing the grass for overwintering. Taper back irrigation, fertilizing, and mowing as your lawn’s growth slows once again.
Kill autumn broadleaf weeds with an herbicide spray as needed. You can also re-apply a pre-emergent herbicide to control weed seeds through winter and early spring.
Apply nitrogen-rich fertilizer in early fall to help repair damage from heat and drought. Late fall applications should contain less nitrogen and higher amounts of phosphorus and/or potassium to support winterization.
Maintain the summer mowing height as long as the grass is actively growing. When growth slows, lower the height by approximately ½ inch to prepare for winter.
As daytime temperatures drop, reduce watering to just over 1 inch per week.
While Marathon grass tends to stay green year-round, winter is still a time of slow or nonexistent growth. Minimal maintenance is required to keep this grass looking its best throughout the season.
Maintain your Marathon grass at 1 ½ or 2 inches tall depending on its type. If your lawn goes fully dormant for winter, mowing past late fall won’t be necessary.
Winter weeds can take over when Marathon grass is fully or partially dormant. Stay on top of them by applying broadleaf herbicides as needed.
Marathon Grass Problems
Marathon grass first gained popularity because its issues are relatively few and far between. Many common issues are the result of planting Marathon grass in a climate where it doesn’t belong. You could say that one of the biggest problems with this turf grass is that it is specialized to a very specific area’s needs.
Marathon grass boasts good disease resistance but can still fall victim to common lawn pests like grubs and leafhoppers. Its moderate-to-good drought tolerance also pales in comparison to warm-season grasses like Bermuda and St. Augustine.