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Fescue Grass - Overview


Tall Fescue is a cool season grass. Unlike the warm season grasses such as bermuda, zoysia and centipede, fescue remains green during the winter. Although growing best in environments that receive regular rainfall, tall fescue has fairly good drought tolerance if not mowed too low during the warm season (no less than 4 inches in height).

Tall fescue is adapted to a wide range of soils, but does best in clay soils high in organic matter. Tall fescue is well adapted to the "transition zone" of the United States where summers are too hot and humid for most other cool season grasses and winters too cold for warm season grasses. In the South, tall fescue is best adapted to those states in the transition zone - Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia and northern parts of North Carolina, Georgia and Texas.

The fescues (Festuca spp.) compose a large genus of about 100 species of grasses. Kentucky 31 is a deep rooted, cool season perennial grass best grwon for pastures. The plant produces vigorous growth in the spring and fall and its extensive root system helps it withstand drought conditions when maintained above 6 inches in height.

Tall fescue performs best in the South with some afternoon shade, however will remain healthy in appearance during summer under irrigated conditions. Although its wear tolerance is considered good for cool season grasses, it is not nearly as wear tolerant as bermudagrass.

The improved 'turf-type' tall fescues are finding widespread acceptance as lawn grasses in the transition zone, and, in the southern region perform well in sun or moderately shaded conditions. With proper management tall fescue can survive in densely shaded sites that warm season grasses cannot tolerate. Also, the improved turf-type fescues retain better color during the winter months and provide a year-round green lawn.


Kentucky-31 is the oldest of tall fescues in use today and is best used as a pasture grass maintained at 6 inches or higher. It forms broad clumps of wide-bladed, dark green leaves. Many will blend Ky-31 with the turf-type fescues for a residential lawn.

Titan II is one fo the newer varieties of turf-type fescues more suitable for residential lawns. Titan is a hybrid of 27 different types of fescues and therefore adapts well to many different situations. This new turf-type tall fescue is finer textured and produces a denser turf than older pasture-type varieties such as Ky-31.

RTF Advantage Fescue is the newest generation of fescue. This unique variety is self-repairing as it spread from underground rhizomes. For more information SEE: RTF Advantage Fescue

A well prepared seedbed is essential for establishing tall fescue. For instructions to prepare a lawn bed for seeding SEE: Seeding a Lawn

The site must be well-drained so attention should be given to final grading of the site. Bermudagrass and some annual grasses are particularly troublesome in tall fescue turf. Steps should be taken prior to planting to eliminate these undesirable grasses. Herbicides containing glyphosphate, such as Roundup or Killzall, can be used to eliminate bermudagrass prior to planting tall fescue.

Early fall is the optimum time to establish tall fescue from either seed or sod. Spring plantings of tall fescue may be successful, but the risk of losing immature plants to summer heat and drought stress is greater.

Fescue should be mowed at a height no less than 3 1/2 inches during the warm season for best performance and drought tolerance. Keep your mower blades sharp for neat appearance of turf. During the peak growing season mow one time a week, making sure not to remove more than 1/3 height of grass foliage.

Although tall fescue tolerates low fertility, it responds to fertilization, particularly nitrogen. SEE: Maintaining A Fescue Lawn

Proper watering is very important to the survival of tall fescue. Do not apply supplemental irrigation until the grass shows signs of needing water (wilting or rolling leaves). Then, apply enough water to wet the soil to a depth of 3 to 4 inches. If runoff occurs before the soil is moistened to a sufficient depth, turn the sprinkler off and allow the water to percolate into the soil. Then turn the sprinkler back on at a later time. Repeat this cycle until the soil is sufficiently moistened. Tall fescue requires frequent watering during summer months, which is one of the disadvantages to growing tall fescue in the southern region.

Tall fescue is fairly tolerant to most turfgrass diseases. However, brown patch can become a problem during rainy warm months. Once the disease is properly identified, treat the lawn with a fungicide.

Many tall fescue lawns become thin after hot, dry summer conditions. To prevent this from occurring, it's usually necessary to overseed fescue lawns in the fall. Mow the lawn at a height of 1 inches before broadcasting seed. Rake the lawn to remove grass clippings and other debris. Aerate with a core aerator. Apply starter fertilizer and seed at 2 to 3 lbs. per 1,000 sq. ft. These steps are usually adequate to rejuvenate the lawn. After seeding, keep the soil moist for 2 to 3 weeks.

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