Tall Fescue Grass Plant Profile

Picture of tall fescue grass. This coarse plant is often considered a grassy weed.
David Beaulieu

Tall fescue grass stands out from other grasses because of the blades and its growing style. The grass has wide blades that are dark green, a color the blades maintain even in winter. The top side of the blades is shiny and the blades are very coarse to the touch. As the newest leaf blades emerge, they appear in the rolled-up form. Tall fescue is known for its clumping growth habit, which is why you will also hear people refer to it as a "bunching-type grass." Although tall fescue grass possesses small rhizomes, it does not spread much by creeping the way the more popular turf grasses do. Instead, this type of grass spreads mainly by seed. The grass will grow in isolated, awkward-looking clumps. Since tall fescue grass does not grow like a uniform turf lawn, tall fescue sticks out like a sore thumb in a lawn composed of mixed-grass types.

Botanical Name Festuca arundinacea
Common Name Tall Fescue Grass
Plant Type Perennial
Mature Size 4 to 12 inches high
Sun Exposure Sun or shade
Soil Type Can grow in most soils; prefers well-draining clay soil
Soil pH 5.5 to 7
Bloom Time Peak growth in fall and spring
Flower Color None
Hardiness Zones 3 through 8
Native Areas Throughout Europe
Blades of grass, red fescue or creeping red fescue grass (Festuca rubra), Freiamt, Black Forest, Baden-Wuerttemberg, Germany
Helmut Meyer zur Capellen / Getty Images

How to Grow Tall Fescue Grass

Tall fescue grass is a cool-season grass. 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 two and three feet. Because of this, they don't have regular watering needs and are considered an eco-friendly type of grass.

Light

Tall fescue grass can grow in sun to 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.

Soil

These grasses are adaptable to many types of soil. They grow best in clay soil but can thrive in most types. The deep roots find nutrients and moisture in the soil.

Water

Tall fescue grass is quite drought resistant. Weekly watering of 1 to 1 3/4 inches of water is beneficial. The goal should be to wet the soil to four to six inches deep.

Temperature and Humidity

Tall fescue has good cold tolerance. It will suffer from winter damage in the coldest areas of the northern U.S. and Canada. It can withstand hot temperatures but will need adequate watering. Hot and dry weather (without additional watering) can kill the grass.

Fertilizer

Tall fescue grass will do best if additional fertilizer is added. Use 2.5 to 3 pounds of nitrogen-based fertilizer per 1,000 square feet a year.

Varieties of Tall Fescue Grass

The seed of fine fescue grass is commonly mixed with that of other cool-season grasses in the North (such as Kentucky bluegrass) to arrive at an ideal blend for lawns. The idea behind such mixes is to draw upon the different strengths of the different kinds of grasses. By doing this, their weaknesses are offset. For example, Kentucky bluegrass holds up well to foot traffic, but the fine fescue has greater shade tolerance. Varieties of fine fescue grass include:

  • Chewings fescue (Festuca rubra var. commutata)
  • Creeping red fescue (Festuca rubra var. rubra): uses rhizomes to spread
  • Hard fescue (Festuca longifolia)

Pruning and Grass Control

If you have tall fescue grass growing and you want to prune or eliminate it, there are at least two possible control methods. One is for those who do not mind using chemicals, the other is for those who want to stay organic.

Warning

Chemical control involves using a glyphosate product such as Roundup. But remember, Roundup is a non-selective herbicide. This means that it will not discriminate between the grass you wish to keep, such as perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne), and the grass you wish to remove. Unless you are prepared to kill the good with the bad, this method calls for careful planning.

Since tall fescue may already be around in the spring before your Kentucky bluegrass greens up, this is a good time to spray with Roundup. Either way, have grass seed ready so that you can reseed and prevent weeds from seizing an opportunity to colonize an empty space in your lawn.

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.

You can also take preventive action in your efforts at tall fescue control, and you can keep these efforts as organic as you wish. All of the usual maxims of lawn weed control apply just as much here as they do to the common lawn weeds.

Lawn Care

The most basic principle to follow is that by feeding and otherwise maintaining grass properly, your lawn can become so robust that the seeds of unwanted plants simply never get a chance to sprout in it. The process of establishing such a lawn begins at the very start. Do not rush into starting a new lawn, or you might pay dearly for your haste in the future. Take the time to prepare the soil properly. The process continues through the way you maintain your lawn subsequently. Many homeowners realize the importance of watering and fertilizing, but they give little thought to detail in lawn mowing. The fact is, however, that the way in which you cut your grass plays a major role in its long-term health.