Tall Fescue: All you need to know

Tall fescue is a cool season grass that was introduced in the US and Canada in the 1800s. This grass type grows in bunches and forms a tight sod and grows well in humid and temperate regions.

Tell fescue is popular due to its heat, shade, and disease tolerance (compared with other cool-season grasses). The long roots of the grass help with better drought resistance. It can grow and thrive in wide-ranging climates.

Tall fescue requires less watering than Kentucky bluegrass (about 1 inch per week) and can handle foot and pet traffic well.

Every lawn is different

This page gives you quick facts about this grass type. Each lawn is unique and every turf requires a custom solution based on soil, temperature, weather, traffic, pets, and lawn use.

Please consider contacting a professional landscaping company to help you make the right choice.

How to identify Tall fescue grass

Tall fescue grass plant

The leaves are green with a glossy back surface. The leaves are rolled in the bud.

Tall fescue always grows in a bunch and the stems are hollow with a stem base.

Tall fescue bunching as a patch
Photo by Erin Hill, MSU.

If you look closely at the leaves, it has clear veins that go along the length of the leaves.

Tall fescue leaves kbg
Source: Perdue Uni
video by college of agricultural, consumer & environmental sciences on identifying tall fescue

Tall fescue varieties

Tall fescue varietyBenefit
Falcon IVBetter heat and disease resistance
Renegade DTMore dense, dwarf, dark green
HoundogBetter drought, and heat resistance. Handles foot traffic well
BonfireSemi-dwarf, good for use in sun or partial shade
RebelThick, deep and dense roots
Kentucky 31 (aka KY 31)Drought tolerance and persistence.
Kentucky 32 tall fescueEndophyte-free, suitable for forage and animals (horses)

Some other varieties include Agressor, Bullseye, Fat Cat, Foxhound, Tomcat, Olympic and Alta tall fescues.

Quick Facts about tall fescue

Other namesBunchgrass, Reed fescue, Randall, Evergreen
TypeCool season grass
Cold toleranceHigh
Heat toleranceModerate
Mowing height2 to 3 inches
Grows up to70 inches tall
USDA zones3 to 8
Native or non-nativeNon-native
LifespanPerennial (Year-round)
Thatch formationLow thatch formation
Scientific nameFestuca arundinacea Schreb
Foot traffic tolerantYes
Dog traffic tolerantYes
Germination from seed2 weeks
Can be grown bySeeding, sodding
Soil requirementsSlightly acidic
Water requirementsHigh
Shade toleranceModerate (better than Kentucky Bluegrass)
Drought toleranceModerate
Growth monthsSpring and fall
Bunch type roots tall fescue
Bunch-type growth formation of tall fescue. Source: MSU

Soil requirements

Tall fescue grows best in moist soils with organic matter.

It is resilient and can grow in pH 4.7 – 9.5. It thrives in 5.5 to 7.5 pH.

If your soil pH is low, do a lime treatment. If it is high then use sulfur.

This grass does best in clayey soil. This is because the grass has a long root system which allows it to suck water and nutrients from the soil that can hold more water and nutrients in it.

If your soil is too high-clay, spread some topsoil with compost and organic matter.

Know your soil

You can generalize your soil conditions based on visual tests and from your general location expertise. Even then, your soil might differ significantly from your neighbor due to multiple factors.

Consider sending your soil for tests or getting a test kit delivered to your home to know what you need to do to prepare the soil for your grass.

Aim for soil tests every 3-4 afters after the initial test to identify deficiencies and problems.

Planting Tall Fescue

If you are planting for the first time, the best season to plant this grass is spring. You can also plant in the fall if needed.

Seeding is the best way to plant it as turf because it germinates easily and doesn’t require high maintenance when it’s growing for the first time.

Planting tall fescue with seed
Planting tall fescue with seeding. Source

Seed in at the depth of 0.5 inches in the soil. You will need 6-7 pounds per 1000 square feet. Seed only when the soil is dry and water 5 inches after seeding (not all at once). It is important that you do not allow the soil to be dry after you’ve seeded the grass

When planting this grass for the first time, till the soil deep to about 4-5 inches deep.

Water requirements

Tall fescue requires less frequency of watering thanks to its deep root system. You do not need to water your lawn daily.

Tall fescue seed germination

You should be good at watering only once or twice a week.

When do I water my lawn?

Do not water your tall fescue until you you see signs of wilting or rolling leaves.

The only thing to remember here is that this cool season grass requires frequent watering – not that you have to water every day, but you need water to percolate well to the soil. So if your water runs off when during grass irrigation, you need to wait for the water to seep into the soil and such a soil that it can hold enough water during summer.

Mowing requirements

It is best to mow tall fescue with a 2 to 3 inches height. If you mow lower, your grass may get dominated by other weeds and grass types.

You need sharp blades to mow and do not mow when the grass is wet.

During summers, you need to keep at least 3 inches in height to keep it resistant to heat. Also, mow only once a week.

During spring, it is advisable to do mowing twice per week and keep the height from 2 inches to 2.5 inches.

Mowing height also depends on the variety that you are planting. Creeping red fescue can handle 2 inches but Kentucky-32 should be mowed to 3 inches.

Remember that this grass grows through its crown which is delicate and important for grass to grow, so do not mow too low that you scalp your grass.

Mowing height tall fescue
Mow your grass just right (Zoysia for reference)

If you are mowing regularly, you do not need to collect grass clippings. But if you’re doing it infrequently (and not maintaining the 1/3 rule of mowing) then you need to collect the clippings to avoid thatch buildup.

Fertilizer requirements

It is best to fertilize tall fescue with 3 pounds of nitrogen per 1000 square feet in a year.

It can do well with just 2 applications per year if you have clayey soil. If your soil is more sand than clay, then you’d need 3 fertilizer applications in a year.

If you’re applying a slow-release nitrogen:

Apply 3 pounds per 1000 square feet in September only.

If you’re using water-soluble nitrogen:

Apply 1 pound per 1000 square feet in September and November. And apply 0.5 pounds in Feb and March.

Mixing with other grasses

Tall fescue is generally mixed with perennial ryegrass, orchardgrass,

Diseases, Weeds and Pest problems


The most common diseases that plague tall fescue is the cause of the fungus. Crown rust, Stem rust, brown patch (east US), fusarium patch, and net blotch.

Crown rust (caused by Puccinia coronata) occurs during moist and warm periods which is generally in July.

Fusarium blight causes problems in a newly planted lawn, while brown patch commonly occurs on older lawns as the grass does not last much longer compared to other winter grasses.

Tall fescue brown patch
brown patch on tttf

Insects and pests

The most common threats include cutworms, white grubs, Masked chafers, Japanese beetles, and June beetles (Junebugs).

When do I treat for White Grubs?

When you see more than 3 white grubs in a square foot (tested randomly at 3 places), when you need to treat white grubs. Apply carbaryl or Triclorfon to treat.


Most weed threats include broadleaf weeds such as dandelion, plantain, and crabgrass.

To prevent weeds in your lawn, you must always keep your tall fescue as dense as possible and within recommended heights of 2-3 inches.


Is Tall fescue good for the environment?

Tuf-type Tall fescue with endophyte (E+) is disease-resistant but is harmful and nonsustainable for the environment. 80% os this type of grass in the United States are endophytic and is harmful to livestock.

Which zone is tall fescue best suited for?

Tall fescue is best suited for the transition zone. This is because warm-season grasses such as Bermuda and Zoysia don’t handle cold well.

Is Kentucky 31 the same as Kentucky bluegrass?

No, Kentucky 31 or KY-31 is a persistent and drought-tolerant variety of Tall fescue grass while Kentucky bluegrass also a cool-season grass has different varieties but none of them are called Kentucky 31.

Maintenance Calendar with activities for KBG


Maintain a recommended height of 2-3 inches.


Water 1 inch per week ideally not all at once. Do regular watering with 0.33 inches 3 times in a week.


Overseed to make your tall fescue look dense.

Weed control

Apply a crabgrass weed control (pre-emergent such as Dimension). If you’ve just seeded or overseeded, skip the pre-emergent.


Mow to 2-3 inches.


Water 1 inch per week. This includes rainfall so adjust accordingly.

Pest control

Treat with insecticide.


Mow to maintain the height of 2-3 inches.


You will need only 0.5 inches of water per week.


As tall fescue becomes weaker during summers, it is necessary to overseed it in fall. Apply fertilizer, rake clippings and mow low when you are overseeding your tall fescue grass.


Apply nitrogen in fall to encourage thicker and more resilient stands that have a jump-start for spring growth.


Mow only if needed to 3-4 inches.

Winter flush

Check for de-icing salt damage and flush with water.

Latest research into Kentucky bluegrass

Studies indicate that the presence of tall fescue and the fescue endophyte diminishes biological diversity on the level of soil organisms, insects, plants, birds, and mammals.
Out of Two disease-resistant varieties of Tall fescue – Raptor performs better in decreasing brown patch severity than the Kindom cultivar of turf-type tall fescue.
Fall nitrogen (application) can encourage tillering in tall fescue plants, leading to thicker and more resilient stands that have a jump-start for spring growth.


  • Hannaway, D., Fransen, S., Cropper, J., Teel, M., Chaney, M., Griggs, T., Halse, R., Hart, J., Cheeke, P., Hansen, D., Klinger, R., & Lane, W. (1999). Tall Fescue. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/David-Hannaway/publication/45793997_Tall_fescue_Festuca_arundinacea_Schreb/links/00b7d5311e9fbd435e000000/Tall-fescue-Festuca-arundinacea-Schreb.pdf
  • Tall Fescue. (n.d.). https://dlf.com/seeds/sport-landscape/species-and-varieties/tall-fescue?PageSize=36&RequestType=UpdateList
  • Tall Fescue. (n.d.). https://aggie-hort.tamu.edu/plantanswers/turf/publications/tallfesc.html
  • Erin Hill and Kevin Frank, Michigan State University Department of Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences. (2023, May 23). Pain in the grass: Tall fescue. Plant & Pest Diagnostics. https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/pain-in-the-grass-tall-fescue
  • Best mowing Practices for fescue grass lawns. (n.d.). https://www.outsidepride.com/seed/grass-seed/fescue-grass-seed/mowing-fescue-grass/
  • Cowan, J. R. (1956). Tall Fescue. Advances in Agronomy, 283–320. doi:10.1016/s0065-2113(08)60692-6
  • USDA NRCS National Plant Data Center, & Darbyshire, S. J., J. (1989). Plant Guide. https://plants.usda.gov/DocumentLibrary/plantguide/pdf/pg_loar10.pdf

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