By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
Tall fescue is a cool season turf grass. It is the most common lawn grass in California and useful from the Pacific Northwest to the southern states. It originated in Europe and is now found in North America, Europe and North Africa. Tall fescue in lawns forms a nice dense grass that cannot be mowed below 1.5 inches (3.8 cm.). The grass is a perennial bunch grass which establishes quickly and is low maintenance in appropriate locations. If you are in a temperate to warm region, learn how to grow tall fescue as an easy turf grass alternative.
What is Tall Fescue?
Grass that adapts well to clay soil is a rarity. Tall fescue grass is one such sod grass, and it also has low mowing and fertilization needs. It does, however, need frequent deep watering in summer. It works as a lawn in either sunny or partially shady areas.
Tall fescue in lawns stays green in winter unlike the warm season turf varieties. The plant is available in numerous cultivars, many of which resemble fine fescue but have wider leaf blades. Tall fescue maintenance is a dream for the lazy gardener because it needs infrequent mowing and has low nutrient needs.
Tall fescue is a turf grass with remarkable drought and heat stress tolerance. It is a coarse textured, dark green grass with rolled leaves. It spreads by seed primarily and does most of its growth in spring and fall. The grass has deep widely set roots. In spring the plant produces a short panicle 3 to 4 inches (7.6 to 10 cm.) long with lance-like spikelets. Tall fescue grass is a bunch grass and established lawns may eventually have die out in some areas, requiring spring reseeding.
How to Grow Tall Fescue
Tall fescue establishes best on soil with good drainage and high fertility where pH is 5.5 to 6.5. Work the area well and add in a starter fertilizer to the top few inches (7.6 cm.) of soil. The rate of sowing is 6 to 8 pounds (2.7 kg.) per 1,000 square feet (92.9 m^²).
Cover the area with a fine layer of sand or soil. Seed needs to be pressed into soil. Keep evenly moist for 14 to 21 days, at which point you should see your first seedlings. The plants can now get used to less frequent watering.
Mow the grass when it is 3 inches (7.6 cm.) high. Turf grass that is kept less than 3 inches (7.6 cm.) is thicker and more attractive.
Tall Fescue Maintenance
Established tall fescue lawns are low maintenance and need infrequent mowing and watering, except in very hot summers. Keep the lawn at 2 inches (5 cm.) tall and allow the plants to dry out in between deep watering.
Few diseases bother the grass but some rusts and fungus may become a problem, especially in new lawns. White grubs, armyworm, and cutworm are the biggest insect pests of tall fescue. White grubs are particularly a problem and should be controlled.
Older lawns may develop empty patches and it may become necessary to sow seed again in fall to rejuvenate a patchy sod.
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Mow to 2 1 ⁄2 to 3 1 ⁄2 inches. Mow often enough so that no more than one-third of the grass height is cut this may be every 5 to 7 days in late spring. Leave grass clippings on the lawn where they decompose quickly and can provide up to 25 percent of the lawn’s fertilizer needs. If prolonged rain or other factors prevent mowing and clippings are too plentiful to leave on the lawn, collect them and use them as mulch. DO NOT bag them for trash collection grass clippings do not belong in landfills.
DO NOT fertilize tall fescue after March 15.
Tall fescue needs 1 to 1 1 ⁄4 inches of water every week, ideally NOT all at once. A dark bluish-gray color and wilted, folded, or curled leaves indicate that it is time to water. Water until the soil is wet to a depth of 4 to 6 inches. Use a screwdriver or similar implement to check. Sandy soils require more frequent watering (about 1 ⁄2 inch of water every third day). Because clay soils accept water slowly, irrigate just until runoff occurs, wait until the water has been absorbed, and begin watering again. Continue until the desired depth or amount is applied. Proper irrigation may prevent or reduce problems later in the summer. Watering between 2 and 8 a.m. decreases the incidence of certain diseases.
Apply preemergence herbicides to control crabgrass, goosegrass, and foxtail. Apply by the time dogwoods are in bloom. (See Pest Control Recommendations for Turfgrass Managers, AG-408).
Check for and control white grubs in April and May. (See White Grub Control in Turf, AG-366).
Delay aeration until fall.
It is generally not necessary to remove thatch.
How to Care For Fescue Grass Maintaining Fescue Grass Lawns & Sport Fields
Seedland.com - Quality Seeds
Maintenance requirements for fescue grass are quite low compared to the other cool season grasses used for lawns. Fescue grass requires less mowing, watering and less fertilizer, making fescue grass an environmentally friendly grass. This also means less work for you!
Fescue grass requires maintenance according to the species variety that is used and the conditions under which the grass is grown. Visit Seedland.com for the newest fescue varieties and specific details on their maintenance.
The following information is generalized, please follow the growing instructions for your particular fescue grass cultivar and the area where you live.
Watering Fescue Grass
Watering or irrigating fescue grass should be done infrequently in the cooler areas of adaptation. These locales usually have more air moisture and damper nights than the warmer climates and fescues are a more drought tolerant cool season grass.
Fescue grass is drought tolerant which means that in extreme cases of water deprivation the grass can go into dormancy and return when sufficient watering is available. This does not mean that the grass can exist without water.
Fescue grass likes water if and when available but will develop diseases when receiving more water than what is actually needed, this is especially true of the more humid regions. A preventative program of fungicide treatment may be required to reduce or prevent disease issues. Fescue grass grown in the regions of the lower temperate zone (USA transition area) will need to be watered when the weather is drier than usual due to the higher rate of evaporation.
Maintaining Turf Type Tall Fescue Lawns & Turf
When properly managed, tall fescue can provide a green lawn all year round. Tall fescue should be overseeded as needed in the fall or spring for thicker sod formation and to repair thinning areas. Heat stress, insect damage, diseases, or other factors play a role in the lawn becoming thinner over the course of the year.
Tall fescue usually requires overseeding in the spring or fall. Overseeding also allows the homeowner to add newer, better varieties at this time that may help toward curing or abating disease and other problems.
Newer varieties of turf-type tall fescue (and the other fescues) are always being developed giving you the opportunity to overseed with these newer varieties which have added genetic adaptation strength, thus improving the existing grass stand. Different varieties of the same species can be mixed and often a blend of varieties prescribed for your area will improve the lawn or turf performance.
How to Overseed Tall Fescue Grass
To overseed tall fescue, mow the existing lawn as close as the variety allows, rake to remove all excess debris, aerate, and apply a fertilizer for starting new seed beds and seed at the rate of 4-5 LB (this depends upon the thinning of the lawn) per 1000 Sq. Ft. For precise planting you may wish to rent a slit seeding machine.
Water to keep the lawn moist for 2-3 weeks until the seedlings are established.
Fertilizing Tall Fescue Grass
Tall fescue does well without fertilization on moderate fertility soils but grows best when additional fertilizer is added. The best application is 2 1/2 to 3 pounds of nitrogen per 1000 square feet a YEAR in divided increments. Fall is the best time to add the highest division of the nitrogen and summer is the least best time to fertilize a cool season grass like fescue. Do not encourage growth at the hottest time of the year to cut down on disease and insect infestation, especially in the southern part of the transitional area. Do not fertilize during the summer months.
Mowing Tall Fescue For Lawns
In areas of it's adaptation, Tall fescue grass for lawns should be mown at a height of 3" to 3.5" leaving the grass clippings on the lawn. Mowing at this height will give the lawn an even textured finish. For athletic fields, mow to a height of 2 to 3 inches.
Mowing maintenance requirements for warmer areasinclude not mowing under 1-Ѕ inches to keep the sod from drying out from the heat and losing too much moisture. Mowing too low will also cause tall fescue grass to thin out. Look for pest damage at the time of mowing. This is also an excellent time to inspect the lawn while mowing to notice changes in color, health and density.
For a more comprehensive Tall Fescue Maintenance Calendar visit
Maintaining Creeping Red Fescue Grass
Creeping Red fescue grass seed can be used to plant a standalone lawn in sun or shade, although this fescue variety prefers shade. Creeping Red Fescue also performs well when mixed with other cool season grasses such as bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, tall fescue or other fine fescues.
Watering Creeping Red Fescue Grass
Creeping red fescue grass is predominately grown in the shadier areas and needs water only when the ground in very dry. Apply water when grass starts to wilt. Over watering red fescue can lead fungal diseases that are prevalent in hot, humid climates. Water only infrequently.
Fertilization Of Creeping Red Fescue Grass
Red fescue requires little fertility so fertilize only when the grass needs the added benefit. Apply nitrogen fertilizer at the rate of 1/2 lb per 1000 Sq. Ft. in early fall to creeping red that is not in the shade. Do not fertilize during the hottest times of the year. Over fertilization will actually keep red fescue from competing with any companion grass that it has been added to because the other grass variety will take over.
Mowing Creeping Red Fescue Grass
The mowing height of red fescue is lower than some of the other fescue grasses and can be kept at the height of 2 "- 2.5" inches depending upon which grass the red fescue has been added to if any.
For more information on particular Creeping Red Fescue grass varieties, including improved varieties, please visit our online store Seedland.com.
Maintaining Hard Fescue Grass
Hard Fescue is the indeed the one of the hardiest of the fescue grass species. More disease resistant, shade and drought tolerant, this fescue grass is also one the more heat tolerant of the fine fescue grass species. Newer turf type fescue grass varieties have a very good turf quality with improved disease resistance and a good looking medium dark green color. For more on turf type hard fescue, visit our store Seedland.com.
Watering Hard Fescue
Since it is more drought tolerant this fescue may need less water but when watering is needed it should be done deeply during the cooler months with a more frequent lighter watering during the dry summer months.
Mowing Hard Fescue Grass
Hard fescue can be grown alone or preferably in mixes with bluegrass or ryes. When seeded with blue grass or ryegrass mow from 1 to 1 1/2 inches. When grown in a pure stand mow at 1.5-2 Ѕ inches in cooler climates. In warmer climates mow at 3".
Fertilizing Hard Fescue Grass
Fertilize hard fescue the low end to retain growth and can be applied at the rate of ј to Ѕ lb. Per 1000 sq. ft. per growing month. Not during the heat of the summer. Fertilize for cool season grasses.
Maintaining Chewing Fescue Grass
Chewings fescue is best adapted to cooler areas in the northern United States and Canada, the coastal regions of the Northeast and Pacific Northwest, and elsewhere where summers are cool. It is well adapted to the sandy, acidic, often infertile soils that are found in these regions.
Chewings is a great choice to use when overseeding shady lawns and performs well as a standalone lawn grass or when uses in grass seed blends. For more on Chewing fescue grass varieties please see our store Seedland.com.
Watering Chewing Fescue Grass
Water chewings fescue grass deeply but infrequently during the cooler months. During the summer months of the year, water chewings fescue lightly but more frequently.
Fertilizing Chewing Fescue Grass
Chewings fescue performs best in soils with a pH of 5.5 to 8.0. Fertilize chewings fescue yearly at the rate of 2-3 lbs of nitrogen per 1000 Sq. Ft.
Mowing Chewing Fescue Grass
Chewings fescue grass may be mown lower than the other fescue grass varieties. The recommended mowing height for chewings fescue is 1" - 2". Chewings fescue that is grown in shady areas should be mown to a recommended height of 3" - 4". Chewings may be left un-mown for naturalized areas or areas that are hard to mow such as slopes.
Grass Deficiency Symptoms - Soil Nutrients Needed
Nitrogen - Older leaves turn yellow green and little new growth is noticed.
Potassium - Leaf tips and edges looked burned.
Phosphorus - Foliage will change from dark green to reddish in hue.
Magnesium - Foliage will appear yellowish green with red tinted edges.
Calcium - New leaves will be small and grass will be rust colored.
Sulfur - Fully-grown leaves turn yellow.
Iron - The new grass will turn yellow.
Manganese - The new grass turns yellow.
Zinc - Grass leaves will appear shriveling, narrow bladed and smaller than usual.
Boron - Yellowed grassing and immature growth.
Molybdenum - Fully grown and mature grass appears gray-green.
The secret to partly eliminating any one of these problems from occurring is of course in the first step with a soil sample and improving the soil at that time of seedbed preparation. Feeding the lawn on a regular maintenance schedule as prescribed by the product information will probably result in not having any of these problems crop up in your lawn.
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