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Tall Fescue: The Complete Guide

When choosing the right type of sod, you must first consider where you live and the climate you will be growing your grass. It is important to learn about different grass varieties so you can choose the right sod for your yard’s needs. NG Turf’s Sod School has published an assortment of articles on grass varieties such as Choosing the Best Sod Variety, Bermudagrass Guide, and Zoysia Grass: The Ultimate Guide.  In this article, we will focus solely on tall fescue.

close up for tall fescue grass

Tall Fescue Characteristics

Tall Fescue

Tall fescue is known for its ability to adapt to a wide array of climates and conditions. It tolerates heat, drought, and shade exceptionally well compared to other cool-season varieties. Turf type tall fescue lawns are desired for their low mowing, watering, and fertilization requirements.

Cool Season Grass

Tall fescue is a cool-season grass, meaning it grows best in the spring and fall when temperatures are cooler. As a cool-season grass, tall fescue is common in northern lawns. However, it also has value in the transition zone where cool season and warm-season grasses both reach their limits. 

Deciding on a grass type in the transition zone can be a challenge. In the transition zone, summers are too hot and humid for most cool season grasses and winters are too cold for most warm-season grasses.

grass zone map

While there is no one grass type that will perform well in all conditions, tall fescue offers greater heat tolerance than most cool-season grasses, and greater cold tolerance than most warm-season grass options, making it a top lawn contender in the transition zone.    

Shade Tolerance


Tall fescue demonstrates good shade tolerance in the southern regions. With proper management, tall fescue can survive in highly shaded areas that warm-season grasses cannot tolerate. 

Green All Year

 
Tall fescue lawns maintain their rich green color even in winter, unlike warm-season varieties if properly irrigated.

 
 
 

Soil Preference


Tall fescue adapts well to a wide range of soil types and conditions, but performs best in well drained clay soils. 


Drought Tolerance


Tall fescue grows best in moist environments, but is drought tolerant and will survive during dry periods in a dormant state.


Growth Habits

Tall fescue has an extensive root system that can reach up to 3 feet deep, much deeper than other cool season grasses. These deep roots contributes to its superior heat and drought tolerance

Fescue has bunch type growth habits, which means it grows in clumps and spreads primarily through vertical shoots called “tillers”. This type of growth makes tall fescue easy to control and keep out of flower beds. However, tall fescue’s growth habits limit its ability to repair itself when damage occurs. 

tall fescue circle

Pro and Cons of Tall Fescue Lawns

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Benefits

  • Year round green color
  • Exceptional shade performance
  • Tolerates full sun to dense shade

Things to Consider

  • Limited recovery rate
  • High mowing height
 

Where can tall fescue be used?

Due to the mowing height requirements of tall fescue its use is limited to lawns, parks, golf course roughs, and other areas that can be mowed at a height of 1.5 inches or more.  The recommended mowing height of tall fescue is between 2-3″ and 0.5″ higher in hot weather. Tall fescue should not be mowed lower than 1.5 inches in the summer months. 

tall fescue front lawn

While tall fescue’s wear tolerance is considered good for cool season grasses, it does not compare to the wear tolerance of Bermudagrass. Therefore, it has limited use on golf courses and athletic fields in the South. 

Tall Fescue Maintenance

Before you begin following the lawn maintenance schedule, be sure to obtain a soil test. Soil testing will provide important information including soil pH, potassium and phosphorous levels, as well as the necessary amendments that need to be made for your desired grass type to thrive. 

soil testing bags from local extension office

Soil testing can done through your local county Cooperative Extension Service office.  To learn more about how to perform a soil tests visit Soil Testing Your Lawn.

Tall fescue prefers a soil with a pH from 5.5 to 7 (acidic to neutral), but will tolerate a range of soil pH. 

Maintenance Includes:

Watering

Water 1″ per week, including rainfall. Weekly watering is beneficial, but not essential. The goal of watering should be to wet the soil to a depth of 4-6 inches. 

Sod installed in the fall or winter months must not be allowed to dry. 

A dark, blueish gray color, wilted or curled leaves, or foot-printing (grass that does not “bounce-back” after being walked on) are all indications that water is needed. 

foot printing on tall fescue lawn
Foot-printing is a sign of moisture stress and can be spotted when grass does not "bounce-back" after being walked on. *Photo credit: Purdue University

Mowing

Tall fescue grows quickly and requires frequent mowing in spring and fall, but does not tolerate a close cut. Recommended mowing height for tall fescue is anywhere between 2″-4″. Mowing height should be raised by 0.5″ in hot weather.

Follow general mowing recommendations, keeping mower blades sharp and removing no more than  1/3 of the total height with one mowing. 

Fertilizing

Tall fescue generally requires 2-4lbs of nitrogen/1000 ft sq/year. Follow fertilizer recommendations on soil test report. The best months to fertilize tall fescue are early spring (late February – early April) and fall (October -November). Do not fertilize tall fescue from June- August. 

Insect/Disease Control

Tall fescue has very few disease issues but is subject to brown patch disease under warm, wet conditions. The most common pest issues for tall fescue are white grubs and armyworms. 

Weed Control

  • Spring Pre-emergent: 
    Apply pre-emergent herbicides to control crabgrass, goosegrass, and other summer weed  from sprouting. 

  •  Broadleaf Post-emergent:
    Spot spray to kill broadleaf plants such as chickweed, wild violet, dandelion, and wild onion.

  • Post-Emergent Grasses/Sedges: 
    A grassy weed pos-emergent kills grassy weeds such as crabgrass and dallisgrass. Do not apply to drought-stressed tall fescue.

  • Winter Pre-emergent: 
    Winter pre-emergent prevents chickweed and other winter weed seeds from sprouting.

Aeration

Use a core aerator during the active growth season on compacted areas to improve rooting, water infiltration, and soil aeration as needed.  Time aeration during peak growth periods helps tall fescue to recover faster. The best months to aerate tall fescue are March, April, or October.

Tall Fescue Maintenance Schedule:

Tall fescue grass has its peak growth period during the cool fall and spring seasons. Keep in mind, the farther south you live, the earlier your spring lawn growth will begin. Seasonal weather also varies from year to year, so use this maintenance schedule as a general guide and keep close watch of your lawn. 

Tall Fescue Lawn Maintenance Calendar

Rebel Supreme Tall Fescue

Does tall fescue sould like the grass type for you? NG Turf grows and harvests Rebel Supreme tall fescue all year long. 

Rebel Supreme Fescue, maintains its lush green color year round. Offering improved heat and drought resistance compared to most Tall Fescues, Rebel Supreme performs well in full sun, but also tolerates dense shade. It features a dark green color and medium blade. NG Turf grows and harvests Rebel Supreme tall fescue all year long. 

Interested in learning more about
other sod varieties NG Turf has to offer?

 Visit our varieties page to view a side-by-side comparison of all the sod varieties NG Turf has to offer. 

Questions?

If you have specific questions concerning sod varieties or sod maintenance, don’t hesitate to contact one of NG Turf’s Certified Turfgrass Professionals at 770.832.8608 or info@NGTurf.com.

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