Tall Fescue Grass: Planting and Caring For Your Lawn

What is Tall Fescue Grass?

Tall fescue’s capacity to thrive in various temperatures makes it a winner across the United States, even though fescue is a cool-season grass.

Once developed for grazing animals to eat, this versatile and one of the most common lawn grass choices for many homes in the transition zone and northern sections of the United States because of its ability to withstand heat, drought, and shadow.

There are even different tall fescue varieties to choose from. Tall Fescue is considered a bunch grass which means it grows quickly and is low maintenance.

Further, it requires less watering than many other grass kinds due to its deep root system and is shade tolerant, meaning it can grow in partially shady areas.

One note, don’t confuse tall fescue with fine fescue grass. Tall fescue grass is wider with broad, flat, and wider leaf blades.

Further, the blades are a darker green color, making it a great choice for a beautiful lawn.

In contrast, fine fescue grass is a general term for all fine and thin fescue grasses.

Fine fescues tend to have skinnier and thinner, sometimes needle-like, grass blades.

Overview

Region of adaptationCool Seasons North
Winter HardinessExcellent
Heat ToleranceGood – Able to withstand hot temperatures
Drought ToleranceDrought Resistant
Shade ToleranceGood – performs well with as little as  3 – 4 hours of sun.
Optimal Soil pH5.5 – 6.5
Maintenance RequirementsModerate to High
ColorDark green grass leaves emerge from hibernation in mid-spring and usually stay that way until late fall.
Leaf TextureLeaf-blades are medium in size (slightly wider than Kentucky Bluegrass); it grows dense, producing a coarse-textured
Mowing Height2.5 – 3.5
Wear ToleranceHas the highest heat, traffic, and drought tolerance of all the cool-season grasses.
Recuperative CapacityPoor
Establishment MethodSod or Seed
Growth RateIt proliferates and requires frequent mowing; it is called a ‘bunch type’ grass because of its clumping growth characteristics.
Growth HabitTall fescue lawns can sustain a lot of foot traffic wear and tear. It does, however, have its limits, and if the grass is under a lot of stress, it might take a long time for it to recover fully. Tall Fescue can grow into a tough and long-lasting lawn if adequately cared for.
Disease ToleranceDisease resistant.

How to Care for Tall Fescue Grass Lawn

Remember that the more south you live, the earlier your lawn begins to develop in the spring.

The weather varies from year to year, so keep an eye on your lawn as well as your calendar.

Consult your county extension agent if you’re unsure about the spring and fall frosts in your area.

Then, for a versatile, resilient lawn, use this tall fescue lawn care calendar.

Soil Testing

soil-testing-for-Tall-Fescue-lawn

June to August

You can test your soil yourself or send it to a laboratory for testing.

Soil testing determines its type, pH, and fertilizer requirements, allowing you to fertilize appropriately.

Tall fescue thrives and soils of a pH of 5.5 to 6.5.

Test results may suggest that you need to add lime to decrease acidity (increase pH) or phosphorus to increase acidity.

Mowing

mowing-for-Tall-Fescue-lawn

March to May

As soon as the spring growth begins, begin mowing your tall fescue grass.

Mow tall fescue as needed to keep it at the appropriate height of 2 to 3 inches.

To prevent the spread of snow mold or other fungal diseases, bag the first clippings of the season.

You will notice any damage by any brown patch on the lawn. This is also one of its peak growth periods; the other time is in the fall.

June to August

As summer heat and decreased rainfall arrives, up the mowing height of tall fescue to 3 to 4 inches tall.

At any given time, never remove more than one-third of the blade.

September to November

During this period, infrequent mowing is required. Reduce the mowing height of tall fescue to 2 to 3 inches tall when the temperature drops.

Continue until growth slows in the northern parts. Mow once more at the lower setting before winter arrives.

Continue mowing regularly in southern areas.

December to February

Southern Tall Fescue Lawns

During the winter months, keep your tall fescue grass in good shape. Keep mowing heights between 2 and 3 inches.

If necessary, supplement natural precipitation to ensure that your tall fescue grass receives at least 1 inch of water every week.

Northern Tall Fescue Lawns

This is the season for you to remove sticks, rocks, and other winter debris from your tall fescue lawn.

When the soil thaws, flush any areas where pet urine or de-icing salts have caused harm.

This aids in the preparation of bare regions for speedy lawn repairs. Consider aerating your lawn come spring as this will alleviate soil compaction.

Weed Prevention and Fertilizer

weed-prevention-and-fertilizer-for-Tall-Fescue

March to May

In the early spring, prevent crabgrass and feed your established tall fescue lawn.

Wait at least 60 days after seeding or overseeding with fescue grass seed before treating newly planted or overseeded areas.

June to August

Fertilize your tall fescue lawn with a fertilizer that is 30 percent nitrogen.

Tall fescue makes excellent use of nutrients.

September to November

Treat broadleaf weeds and get your tall fescue lawn ready for the winter.

Six to eight weeks before your expected first fall frost, use balanced nitrogen and potash fertilizer.

If you’re sowing or overseeding thin, tall fescue, wait until spring to use weed and feed treatments.

Seeding and Overseeding

seeding-for-tall-fescue-grass

March to May

Tall fescue lawns benefit from a spring sowing and overseeding to keep them dense and avoid clumping.

Plant your tall fescue when soil temperatures are between 50°F and 65°F for maximum germination.

To assist you in getting the timing perfect, most lawn and garden retailers sell affordable soil thermometers.

September to November

Northern and southern tall fescue lawns should be seeded or overseeded in the early fall.

This aids the establishment of tall fescue before the arrival of winter.

Bare Spot Repair

March to May

Reseed and fertilize bare spots and cover with a quality compost – coconut coir mix.

Weed Control and Fertilizer

March to May

It’s time for broadleaf control and a late spring feed. Don’t apply to newly seeded areas until after the third mow.

After application, wait a further three weeks before overseeding.

Irrigation

March to May

Water your established lawn to a depth of roughly 1 inch every week, including rain.

The thick and deep roots of tall fescue make effective utilization of soil moisture.

Irrigation that is deep and comprehensive encourages deeper root growth.

June to August

Water as needed to ensure that your established grass receives 1 to 1 1/4 inches per week.

Tall fescue lawns require more water than warm-season grasses like Bermudagrass and Zoysia grass to keep green during the hot summer months in transition zones.

September to November

In northern lawns, reduce supplemental irrigation such that tall fescue lawns receive at least 1 inch of water every 10 to 14 days.

Continue to provide at least 1 inch of water per week to southern tall fescue lawns.

Dethatching

Tall Fescue Grass: Planting and Caring For Your Lawn | UrbanOrganicYield.com

September to November

In northern lawns, reduce supplemental irrigation such that tall fescue lawns receive at least 1 inch of water every 10 to 14 days.

Continue to provide at least 1 inch of water per week to southern tall fescue lawns.

Leaf Management

September to November

Reduce the danger of winter lawn disease by raking or mulching fallen leaves.

Pest Control

Apply Insect Killer Granules to insect pests like grubs when they’re still young and near to the soil surface before they cause significant grass damage.

Is tall fescue good for a lawn?

Tall fescue, when grown in its optimal growth zones, offers homeowners exceptional alternatives for boosting the resilience and longevity of their lawns. If you live in a warm climate and have certain lawn goals, this flexible grass may be a good option for you.

Is tall fescue high maintenance?

Tall fescue is the cool-season grass with the greatest heat, traffic, and drought tolerance among the cool-season grasses. It thrives in moist soils and somewhat shady locations, and it is often employed in situations where low-maintenance grass is needed.

Is tall fescue Grass invasive?

Tall fescue grass is particularly invasive in coastal scrub and grassland on the North and Central Coasts, where it has become established. It is a long-lived and aggressive plant. Aside from the fact that the allelopathic substances produced by tall fescue boost the plant’s competitive ability and persistency, the plant has the potential to become weedy or invasive in specific places or ecosystems and to replace beneficial plants.

Conclusion

Tall fescue is a deep-rooted, sod-forming grass that thrives in cool climates.

Because it preserves its quality and improves in palatability in the fall, it is ideal for use as a stockpile fodder.

It thrives in low-pH soils, such as those found in strip mine reclamation.

It can withstand more animal and machinery traffic and poor management than other cool-season grasses.

Other types of grass to consider

If you are looking for other varieties of grass to grow in your yard, check out our other related posts:

References

  • Patton, A. Tall Fescue. Turf Management and Science, Purdue University, Department of Horticulture & Landscape Architecture.
  • Department of Plant Sciences. Tall fescue. The University of Wyoming Extension, Department of Plant Sciences.
  • Hall, M. (2016). Tall Fescue. Pennsylvania State University Extension, College of Agricultural Sciences.

About/Mentions: Tall Fescue, Lawn, Gardening, Sod

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