Tall fescue is a perennial cool-weather turf grass that stands out because of its growth habit. To differentiate it from other grasses, fescue leaves look like dark green wide blades that can survive through winter. The ribbed blades of fescue grass are very coarse to the touch, with shiny topsides. As the newest leaf blades emerge, they appear in a rolled-up form.
What Is Fescue Grass?
Fescue grass (Festuca spp.) is a cool-season perennial grass found in the Pacific Northwest and southern states. It is naturally found in damp pastures or wet meadowlands. There are over 300 species of grasses; the most popular and attractive types are "fine" and "tall."
Tall fescue is known for its fast, upright, clumping growth habit, sometimes called "bunchgrass." Although tall fescue grass possesses small rhizomes, fescue grass spreads by vertical shoots called "tillers" that grow from the base of the plant or by seed distribution rather than by creeping. When it dominates a mixed-grass lawn, it may appear as isolated, awkward-looking clumps rather than in a uniform mat like other grasses.
Tall fescue is a tough grass that is a good choice for play areas, though it may require reseeding when bare spots occur. The 2 to 3-foot-deep root system provides superior heat and drought tolerance. The cultivars used for fescue grass seed are usually dwarf varieties.
|Common Name||Tall fescue grass|
|Botanical Name||Festuca arundinacea|
|Plant Type||Perennial, grass|
|Mature Size||4-12 in. high, 2-4 in. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full, partial|
|Soil Type||Loamy, sandy, clay, silt|
|Soil pH||Acidic, neutral|
|Hardiness Zones||3-8 (USDA)|
Tall Fescue Grass at a Glance
- Easy to care for; doesn't require wintering
- Can handle foot traffic
- It does not require dethatching
- Cold tolerant; browns in high heat
- Overseed it to maintain a healthy lawn
Types of Fescue Grass
Many tall fescues were developed for use as pasture fodder for grazing animals. The varieties created for turf lawn use are mostly dwarf varieties of F. arundinacea. Fescue grass seed is commonly mixed with other cool-season grasses in the North (such as Kentucky bluegrass) to create a lawn blend that features the strengths of the different kinds of grasses. For example, Kentucky bluegrass holds up well to foot traffic, while fescue has greater shade tolerance.
- 'Black Beauty': Blend of tall fescues noted for having good disease resistance
- 'Dense Shade Mix': Blend of fescues noted for good performance in shady locations and fast growth
- Kentucky 31 tall fescue: Coarse; tolerates higher traffic areas; shade tolerant; drought tolerant
- Creeping red fescue: Deep green; fine blades; shade tolerant
- Hard fescue: Highly fertile; does not require as much mowing; commonly used on golf courses
- Chewings fescue: Grows upright; fine, thin blades; drought resistant
- Sheep fescue: Improves soil conditions to prevent erosion
Tall Fescue Grass Care
Tall fescue grass is a cool-season grass with increased heat tolerance. The best time to plant it is during peak growth periods in the fall and spring. Because this grass tends to bunch, it can benefit from periodic overseeding to keep the density but avoid a clumpy appearance.
This type of grass is drought-tolerant and does not require a lot of fertilization. The roots develop a very deep system, reaching between 2 and 3 feet. Because of this, tall fescue survives well without regular watering and is a good eco-friendly choice where water is scarce.
Tall fescue doesn't have a very long lifespan, but it can be used as an indoor container plant for visual interest if it gets ample sunlight.
Wait until a new lawn is well established, with blades 4 inches or more in length, before mowing for the first time. If the lawn is entirely tall fescue rather than a mixture, it is often recommended to keep your mower set at its maximum blade height. Bag the first cut of spring to discourage the spread of snow mold or other fungal diseases.
Tall fescue grass can grow in full sun to partial shade. These grasses are shade tolerant and grow well in areas where it's too hot for cool grasses but too cold in the winter for warm-season grasses.
These grasses are adaptable to many types of soil. The deep roots can find nutrients and moisture in almost any soil type.
Weekly watering of 1 to 1 3/4 inches of water is beneficial but not essential. When watering, the goal should be to wet the soil to a depth of 4 to 6 inches. The long roots make tall fescue grass quite drought-resistant. Only water when there's not adequate rainfall.
Temperature and Humidity
Tall fescue has good cold tolerance, though it can suffer from winter damage in the coldest areas of the northern U.S. and Canada. It can withstand hot temperatures provided it gets adequate water, but extreme heat combined with drought can kill this grass.
Tall fescue grass will do best if fed yearly at a rate of 3 to 4 pounds of nitrogen-based fertilizer per 1,000 square feet of lawn.
Cool season grasses such as tall fescue are best kept at 3 to 4 inches in length and should be mowed so that you are removing no more than one-third the total length of the grass blades. Keeping lawn grasses relatively long is the best way to block out weed growth.
How to Grow Tall Fescue From Seed
Tall fescue grows best from seed. Plant when the soil temperature hovers between 50 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit (or about 60 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit for daytime temperatures). Seed it in bare soil, if possible, to a depth of about 1/2 inch. Keep the soil damp while you wait for the seeds to germinate. Wait until blades are 4 inches or more in length before mowing for the first time.
Each blade of grass only lives for about 40 days; it's important to overseed tall fescue to ensure the best coverage possible. Make sure not to use pre-emergent herbicides for 90 days within seeding.
Common Pests and Plant Diseases
Dwarf varieties of fescue commonly used in turfgrass mixes are prone to a fungal disease called brown patch. The symptoms often appear in midsummer, and the only solution is to remove affected patches and reseed.
Common Problems with Tall Fescue Grass
One of the most common tall fescue grass problems is that it can dominate other grasses in a mixed-grass lawn. If you must eliminate tall fescue, at least two possible control methods exist. One is for those who do not mind using chemicals; the other is for those who want to stay organic. Also, as an alternative to tall fescue, you can instead opt for ryegrass, Kentucky bluegrass, or even blue fescue for a well-seeded lawn and uniform appearance.
Since tall fescue may already be around in the spring before your Kentucky bluegrass greens up, this is a good time to spray with a glyphosate-based herbicide. You'll then have to wait a month or more before you seed your lawn (read the label on the herbicide for exact instructions). If you reseed in the fall, remove thatch before you do it.
Alternatively, you can practice organic tall fescue control, removing it by digging it out. But be prepared for a workout because the roots of tall fescue grow thick and deep and do not come out easily. And if you leave little pieces of root behind, the plant can reappear.
What are the pros and cons of fescue grass?
A great thing about fescue is it can grow in challenging soils, like acidic, dry, or shady spots. It is easy to maintain and doesn't require much fertilizer. However, the disadvantages of fescue grass are it requires well-draining soil and can't tolerate heat or overly abundant foot traffic.
Is fescue grass hard to maintain?
Fescue grass is easy to keep, not requiring much care. Certain tricks to maintaining fescue grass are scheduled mowing, overseeding, aerating, fertilizing, and watering to keep the lawn looking good.
Does fescue come back every year?
Tall fescue is a perennial that comes back year after year.
Which is better, fescue or Bermuda grass?
Bermuda is a warm-season grass that tends to do better in higher-heat regions since it tolerates higher temperatures and drought conditions. It germinates at soil temperatures as low as 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Fescue is a cool-season grass that can withstand cooler temperatures, sprouting at temperatures as low as 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
Tall Fescue.Texas Cooperative Extension.
Proper Mowing Practices for Your Lawn. University of Missouri Integrated Pest Management.
Smith, Damon L., Walker, Nathan R. Fungicide Management of Brown Patch of Tall Turf-type Fescue in the Residential Landscape in Oklahoma. Plant Health Progress, 2013, doi:10.1094/PHP-2013-1022-01-RS