If you live in a cool-season area, keeping a beautiful bright green lawn can be a challenge. Especially if you have trees.
What if I told you there is a way to have vibrant green grass with minimal maintenance?
Tall fescue grass is basically the Swiss army knife of cool-season grasses. Not only can it handle a variety of temperatures, soil conditions, and extreme weather, it only requires a small bit of maintenance. So choose from the best tall fescue grass seed varieties we have reviewed and establish or repair your lawn in no time!
The Best Tall Fescue Grass Seed
This medium-green color grass is the original tall fescue that made the jump from pastures to suburban lawns. It grows in dense bunches and can tolerate both hot and cold conditions.
Kentucky 31 is a budget-friendly variety that has stood the test of time. It produces a rich lawn with a coarse, green texture that can handle high traffic.
Scotts is a well-known brand in lawn care so it is no surprise that they would make our list. Their Turf Builder Rapid Grass Tall Fescue Mix is a unique proprietary blend of both tall fescue grass seed and fertilizer.
Scotts slow-release fertilizer will benefit your lawn by providing extended feeding, allowing your grass to grow up to 2 times faster. This grass seed will provide you with a lush, green lawn in a matter of weeks.
While this is not the cheapest grass seed on the market, it is definitely worth the money.
This grass seed mix from Johathan Green combines tall fescue grass seed with Kentucky bluegrass and ryegrass. The combination of the three seeds is the perfect trifecta for a lush green lawn that grows quickly and thrives in the shade.
Each of the three types of grass in the Black Beauty blend thrives in its own environment and the addition of ryegrass helps your lawn hold up to high traffic and general wear and tear.
Expect the seeds to germinate in 7-14 days and grow into a lush dark green lawn.
Pennington is another well-known brand when it comes to lawn care. Their Kentucky 31 is a staple when it comes to tall fescue grass seed.
Pennington Kentucky 31 is the original turf for your home lawn. It provides a durable lawn with thick grass that will stand up to hot summers and heavy rain. All at a budget-friendly price point. This grass is ideal for full sun to medium shaded areas and produces a medium green drought-resistant lawn that lasts.
This grass takes between 8-21 days to germinate
Should I use tall fescue grass seed in my lawn?
We often get asked if tall fescue grass makes a good lawn. To be honest, it really depends on what area you live in, as is the case with most grasses.
Tall fescue is typically used for home lawns in warmer climates and is a really good choice if your lawn has shaded areas. This grass is hardy enough to hold up when the temperature starts to climb and still grow well in shady spots.
The look and feel of the grass is similar to bluegrass, but tall fescue grows faster. It also functions better in higher traffic (think children and grandchildren) and can survive with less water than many of its counterparts since its roots can reach 2-3 feet deep.
The dwarf variety of tall fescue, often called turf-type tall fescue, is the more common of the two types. This variety is a cool-season bunch species and resembles bluegrass, but with slightly broader blades.
What You Need to Know About Grasses
When deciding what grass to plant, it is a good idea to take into consideration some basic plant science. Tall fescue is a cool-season grass.
The terms cool-season and warm-season don’t refer to the climate they thrive in but instead refer to the time of year the grass is in an active growth stage. Cool-season grass grows in fall and early spring while warm-season grass grows in late spring and summer.
Understanding the category of each grass type helps you narrow down your choices quickly but you also need to take into consideration the local climate, soil composition, and intended grass use.
Cool-Season vs. Warm-Season Grasses
It is important to understand what grasses pair well with your location based on the specific needs and tolerances of the grass variety.
Cool-season grasses are suitable for a wide range of uses. They work well for athletic fields, putting greens, and the average lawn. Basically, these grasses were made for areas that are highly trafficked.
They prefer a temperature between 65℉-75℉ and often include grasses such as fescues, bentgrasses, ryegrasses, and bluegrasses
On the other hand, warm-season grasses do better in areas that have an 85℉-95℉ range. These grasses, however, cannot tolerate the cold. Like the cool-season grasses, they can handle a lot of traffic but don’t usually do well in shady areas.
Then you have the transition zone. This area presents a challenge for many types of grass in that it is too warm for some grasses but gets too cold for others. This is where tall fescue swoops in to save the day. It is able to handle both cold northern winters and hot, dry southern summers.
Characteristics of Fescues
Like most of the grasses growing in lawns across the United States, tall fescue originated in Europe. It was introduced in the US in the early 1800s but was mostly used as pasture grass. In the mid-1900s a variety that would later be referred to as Kentucky 31 was discovered by Dr. E. N. Fergus, and the popular pasture grass made the leap into suburban neighborhoods.
In general, tall fescue is a cool-season grass with a high heat tolerance that is best suited for the transition zone between the northern and southern United States. It is heat, drought, and shade-tolerant as well as disease resistant. It grows by forming bunches and has some capacity for self-repair.
Don’t run out and buy any old fescue and just assume you’re going to have a perfect lawn.
There is actually a wide variability within the different fescue grasses. While they share some of the same structural characteristics and some tolerance for heat, that’s pretty much where the similarities end.
Tall Fescue vs. Fine Fescue
The most common type of fescue is tall fescue (festuca arundinacea). This type of grass is a bunch-forming, wide-bladed grass native to Europe. As we mentioned earlier, it was brought to the United States as pasture grass and is still used for that purpose today. The cultivar known as Kentucky 31 was discovered from this type of grass and was used in home lawns.
Fine fescue is a term used to describe several species of fescue that have a long thin leaf blade that is unsuitable for pasture or grazing. These grasses, however, do quite well as lawn grasses, especially in cool, shady areas. A few varieties include creeping red, chewings, and hard fescue.
Tall Fescue vs. Turf-Type Tall Fescue
As turf science became more popular and Kentucky 31 was planted in lawn after lawn, it soon became clear that some improvements could be made to this popular variety. The lawn grasses that were developed as a result are often referred to as turf-type tall fescues. These turf-type grasses were specifically grown for lawns instead of pastures.
Varieties of Tall Fescue
Kentucky 31 is the variety that was discovered in 1931 and later made Dr. Fergus famous. This variety is still largely available decades later, largely due to the fact that it is still inexpensive, and widely used as a pasture grass. Its low price point makes it popular to municipal buyers too and it is often used in road medians, along the side of the interstates, and even in many lawns.
While KY-31 is great for a homeowner looking to save some money, other varieties have been developed that are better suited for a home lawn.
Turf-type tall fescue is ideal for the home lawn and there are hundreds available on the market. So much so that it is often hard to decide which is the best tall fescue grass to plant. Let’s look at a few growing conditions.
Tall fescue varieties best suited for shade include Rowdy, Titanium 2LS, 4th Millennium SRP. Traverse 2 SRP, Valkyrie LS, GTP, and Screamer LS.
These varieties all perform well in shade but also do well in full sun. Each of them requires at least 4 hours of sunlight per day.
Tall fescue doesn’t offer the same traffic tolerance as bluegrass or rye, but Bullseye, Hotrod, and 4th Millennium SRP all come close and would work well in a lawn that has high traffic from rowdy children or less than polite neighbors.
Tall fescues for warmer areas include Traverse 2 SRP, 4th Millennium SRP, Titanium 2LS, Rebounder, Raptor III, and Amity. AS we mentioned before these are cool-season grasses and shouldn’t be planted in full sun, but these still stand up pretty well.
If your lawn suffers from a lack of irrigation, there are a few varieties that can still pull through. We all know that a regularly watered lawn is the only true way to avoid dormancy but with larger lawns, regular watering is not always realistic. In this case, we suggest you go with Fayette, Firewall, 4th Millennium SRP, Rebounder, Raptor III, or Regenerate.
Steps for planting your tall fescue seed
Planting and Maintenance of Tall Fescue
As with all cool-season grasses, tall fescue does the majority of its growing during the cool fall and spring seasons. The best time to plant tall fescue is during this peak growing period. Remember, the further south you live, the earlier lawn growth begins.
Keep in mind, since tall fescue has a deep root system rather than spreading by rhizomes, it requires frequent overseeding. Just as with regular planting, fall is the best time to overseed tall fescue grasses.
As with any other cool-season grass, it is best to keep tall fescue…well, on the taller side. A height of 3 to 3.5 inches is best and during the hottest part of the summer keep it about an inch taller, between 4 and 4.5 inches. Cutting it any lower could permanently damage your lawn.
Regular mowing is of the utmost importance. Infrequent mowing will remove too much of the grass blade at once, stressing the grass and making it more susceptible to pests and disease.
While tall fescue can handle both heat and drought, you will still want to water the grass regularly during its active growing season. If regular watering is not an option, choose a cultivar with greater drought tolerance.
The number one way of preventing weeds is to have a thick and healthy lawn. Unfortunately, even with the healthiest of lawns, some weeds will still persist. Applying a pre-emergent in the fall and late winter is highly recommended. We suggest a product like Quali-pro Prodiamine Pre-emergent Herbicide.
If you want to both fertilize and weed your lawn at the same time, we suggest using a good weed and feed instead.
Managing disease and insects
Luckily, tall fescue is a hearty grass that is able to resist a number of diseases that affect other cool-season varieties. Its only downfall is brown patch.
Brown patch is a particularly nasty fungal disease that can do major damage to fescue during the warmer months. As the temperature, and especially humidity rises, you should begin monthly applications of a preventative fungicide such as Scotts DiseaseEX.
Tall fescue will generally thrive whether you fertilize your lawn or not, but if you want the greenest grass in your neighborhood, a late-season application will be beneficial. You should fertilize in late spring and late fall. NEVER fertilize tall fescue during the summer! The hot and humid temperatures combined with high levels of nitrogen will stress your lawn.
Fertilize and prevent weeds at the same time by using a quality weed and feed product.
Tall Fescue Lawn Care Calendar
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