In the United States, fescue grasses are now among the most common types of grass. The genus Festuca, which contains more than 300 different species, has established itself as a resilient and adaptable grass variety that does very well across the full range of American seasons. Also, fantastic research is being carried out to produce new cultivars of fescue grass with better drought, heat, and disease tolerance.
In fact, such cultivars of fescue grass are now available that can even survive insect attacks, reducing the need for insecticides. Also, fescues require little attention and maintenance. So, they will look fantastic even with just a bit of effort. Your lawn may remain green all year long if you plant fescues or incorporate them correctly into your landscaping.
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Fescues are recognized as cool-season grasses and are frequently used as shade turfs. However, thanks to modern research, many fescue cultivars are available now for moderately hot climates and locations as well. Still, the farther south you go, the less ideal it becomes. And, in hot southern areas like the Southeast or Southwestern United States, fescue is not the greatest choice for lawns.
Nevertheless, with the advantages of shade tolerance, low maintenance requirements, and the capacity to thrive farther south than any of its cool-season counterparts, fescue grasses are definitely one of the best choices around. So, if fescue grass sounds like something you want on your lawn, please keep reading this article. We will tell you everything there is to know about the fescue grass and its types.
Fescue Grass | A Historical Perspective
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Fescue grasses can be traced back to Europe, and it wasn’t until the early 1800s that they were brought to the United States. In Europe, fescues were primarily used as forage grass in agricultural settings and pastures. Later in England, several fescue varieties were adopted to develop ornamental turf grasses.
After being used as a pasture grass for more than a century, fescue grasses began to gain popularity as lawn grass in the United States during the middle of the 1900s. Since then, scientists have developed and produced over 300 types of fescue, each of which has its unique set of qualities and benefits.
In addition to being more resistant to environmental elements such as heat, cold, and drought, many contemporary varieties also feature dark green tints and slender blades, which are ideal for lawn and turf settings.
Fescue Grass | Pros & Cons
Before we discuss the varieties of fescue grass, its characteristics, the best time to plant fescue grass, and how you can take care of a fescue lawn, it is essential to go through the pros and cons of having a fescue lawn. It will help you determine if you should plant fescue grass in your yard or not. So, let’s get started!
Benefits/Pros Of Fescue Grass
Fescue Grass Stays Green Longer
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Fescue grass can be found growing across a vast swath of the United States. It is arguably the most important grass variety in the transition zone that runs through the middle of the country. Fescue grass is used extensively in grass mixtures in both the warmer states of the south and the colder states of the north.
In regions with milder winters and springs, fescues keep their dark green color throughout the year. While in warmer areas, they take on a lighter shade of green which is still far better than some other cool-season grasses.
Fescue Grass Has Fantastic Shade Tolerance
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One of the reasons you’ll find fescue included in almost all grass seed mixes is that certain types of fescue do incredibly well in shady conditions. It has an unusually high tolerance for shade. On the other hand, the majority of cool-season grasses, such as Kentucky Bluegrass, cannot survive without direct sunlight.
It is a characteristic that is shared by all fescue grasses and is an important distinction between fescue and bluegrass. However, remember that fescue comes in a wide variety of cultivars, some of which are better suited to thrive in partial shade than others.
Fescue Grass Has Fantastic Heat & Drought Tolerance
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Fescue grasses develop extremely extensive and robust root systems, contributing to their exceptional resistance to the effects of heat and drought. Because of their extensive root systems, which in some cases can extend as deep as two to three feet, fescues have access to water and other nutrients that most other grass types do not.
Thus, fescues can continue collecting nutrients and water even during the driest seasons, allowing them to maintain their green color for a significant portion of the year.
Fescue Grass Is Incredibly Eco-friendly
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Since fescue grass has a robust, deep, and extensive root system, it can collect more nutrients than many other grass types and even some plants. That means you will have to water and fertilize your fescue lawn way WAY less.
Because of this distinctive quality, fescue grasses make excellent candidates for use in ecologically responsible seed blends. Also, you will save a lot on lawn maintenance as fescue grass lawns require little water and fertilizer.
Fescue Grass Doesn’t Really Care About Insects
Because these grasses have demonstrated a high level of resistance to insects, less pesticides are needed to sustain them as compared to other turf grass varieties. This makes fescues even more eco-friendly and less costly to maintain.
Among fescue grasses, fine fescue seems particularly resistant to the problems caused by pest insects. This could be partially attributable to its close relationship with endophytes which are fungi that deter insects from attacking the plants.
Note: You can learn more about endophytes and their benefits for grass here.
Disadvantages/Cons Of Fescue Grass
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Despite its durability, fescue grass does have a significant weak point. Under damp conditions, it becomes quite vulnerable to fungal diseases. So, good drainage is essential if you plan to grow fescue grass on your lawn.
It may also be worthwhile to consider a fungicide treatment, but being vigilant about monitoring for potential issues in your lawn is more important. Fescue’s other significant drawback is simply aesthetic—it has a rough texture that everyone might not like.
While the grass is beautiful to look at, it may not be the best to roll around on due to the bristly texture of the grass blades.
Types Of Fescue Grass
There are numerous distinct species of fescue grass. All fescue species are cool-season lawn grasses that are extremely drought resistant due to their deep and expansive root systems. Some fescue grass varieties, such as tall fescue, are used alone.
In contrast, others are combined with different lawn grasses to compensate for fescue flaws such as a poor aesthetic appeal or to take advantage of its excellent shade tolerance.
Now, I will introduce you to some of the most common varieties of fescue grass used on lawns. I will highlight their distinctive qualities and discuss where they grow the best.
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Tall fescue requires annual overseeding as it cannot reseed itself.
Tall fescue has a dark green color and is characterized by a more delicate texture than other fescue grass types. Tall fescue is not very picky about the soil type in which it grows and does quite well in many soil types with a pH of 5.5 to 7.5. Generally, however, tall fescue grass grows best in heavy soils rich in organic matter.
Moreover, it does well in the transition zone between southern and northern regions of the country as it has a better cold tolerance than most warm-season grasses and better heat tolerance than most cool-season grasses.
In addition to having an admirable heat and cold tolerance, tall fescue can also tolerate shade, drought, and pest attacks very well. Tall fescue grows swiftly and spreads freely on the surface of the ground.
It grows aggressively in spring and fall and thrives best in the northern lawns. Another benefit of having tall fescue grass is that it does not produce much thatch. So, you won’t have to spend much time and money on maintaining your lawn.
Tall fescue is a bunch forming grass and does not form stolons or rhizomes. Instead, it grows and spreads via tillers. Tillers are vertically oriented shoots that extend from the plant’s main body and its root system
It makes it ideal for lawns with nearby flower or vegetable beds since it will not encroach on them like some other lawn grasses. In addition, tall fescue grass is perfect for athletic fields or school lawns since it is tolerant of high foot traffic.
Also, tall fescue requires very little water and fertilizer, thanks to its extensive root system. However, it is not all that great. If you have a tall fescue lawn, you will have to reseed it every year since tall fescue cannot reseed itself.
Turf Type Tall Fescue
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Turf-type tall fescue is a coarser variety of tall fescue. As compared to other tall fescue varieties, it is thinner. It is, however, not as thin as fine fescues. Turf-type tall fescue has a deep green color and is most commonly used as a pasture grass. Like other tall fescue grasses, turf-type tall fescue is a bunch-type grass. It is becoming increasingly popular in athletic fields and school laws due to its exceptional tolerance to high foot traffic.
Turf-type tall fescue stays green for about eight to nine months of the year and has comparable drought, heat, and shade tolerance to other fescue grasses. It grows best during spring and fall, and the ideal time to seed, sod, overseed and aerate your turf-type tall fescue lawn is between August and October.
The ideal mowing height for turf-type tall fescue is between three to four inches. Like other fescue grasses, it has a deep and robust root system that is very good at collecting water and nutrients. That is why turf-type tall fescue needs less water and fertilizer than most cool-season lawn grasses.
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As their name suggests, fine fescues are a type of fescues with exceptionally thin and delicate grass blades. Creeping Red Fescue and Chewing’s Fescue, which we will discuss after this, are both types of fine fescue grass.
Like other fescues, fine fescue is a bunch forming grass with medium- to blue-colored grass blades. In addition, fine fescues have excellent shade tolerance, which is why they are frequently found in many seed mixes.
Moreover, due to their low maintenance needs and ability to grow even under adverse conditions, fine fescues have become a trendy choice for home lawns and other turf areas. Not only are fine fescues incredibly hardy and able to grow in many soil types.
Fine fescues are also very eco-friendly. It is because, like other fescues grasses, they require very little fertilizer and water, giving them a massive advantage over other cool-season lawn grasses.
Not only can fine fescuses grow in various soil types, but they are also very tolerant to acidic soils. They can grow well in acidic soils with a pH range of 5.0 to 6.5. Moreover, fine fescues can tolerate being cut short and are not bothered by insects.
However, fine fescues are not all that great. As compared to other fescues, fine fescues have a lower heat tolerance. As a result, they become dormant in hot weather. However, once the cool-season reruns, fine fescues will regain their color and glory.
Another thing to remember is that because fine fescue has delicate and thin grass blades, it is not very resistant to heavy foot traffic. Therefore, though it is excellent for typical home lawns, it should not be used on athletic fields or lawns with high foot traffic.
In addition, fine fescue is susceptible to thatch buildup, unlike other fescue grasses. In humid environments, fungal infestations also pose a significant threat to fine fescue.
Creeping Red Fescue
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Creeping Red Fescue is a type of fine fescue grass that is usually a part of many grass seed mixes because of its exceptional shade tolerance. Although creeping red fescue can function well, if planted alone in your yard, it is usually not advised to plant creeping red fescue alone over your entire lawn.
Creeping red fescue spreads via rhizomes, allowing it to spread laterally and quickly, covering a large area in very little time. Moreover, it can thrive well in infertile soils and is widely used to fill barren patches for landscaping purposes.
Creeping red fescue grows best in spring and fall, and although creeping red fescue, like other fescues, does not need much water, its vivid, emerald green color is more noticeable when it is well irrigated.
Compared to other fine fescues, creeping red fescue is more resistant to wear despite having similarly thin and fine grass blades. Creeping red fescue comes in a few distinct varieties. However, they all have similar characteristics.
For instance, they are all characterized by the dark color, thinner blades, and slower spread.
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Chewings Fescue is an aggressive type of fine fescue grass that spreads via underground stems called rhizomes. Unlike other varieties of fine fescue grass, Chewings Fescue has a propensity to spread well and overtake entire lawns.
It can thrive in various soil types and is well-adept in the rocky, sandy, and acidic soils of the northeast and the northwest United States. Also, Chewings fescue grows well in the shade and under poor conditions, making it a desirable lawn choice.
Chewings fescue grows erect while also keeping a thin blade, giving it the appearance of tall fescue grass. However, it is, in fact, a variety of fine fescues. It is mainly used in seed blends; however, it is rarely the predominant grass in any grass seed blend.
It is liked for its ability to grow in places where other grasses struggle and retreat. That is why it is widely used in low fertility soils or barren lands such as roughs on golf courses. However, in areas where other grasses grow, Chewings fescue retreats if present.
It can be occasionally mowed low and has a higher tolerance for shade and drought than other fine fescue types. However, keep in mind that like many varieties of fine fescue, Chewings fescue does not do well under high foot traffic.
Hard fescue is recognized for its excellent resistance to wear and tear and its vivid dark green color. It can thrive well on low-fertility soils, in intense shades, and under freezing temperatures. Moreover, hard fescue has a high resistance to pests, drought, and foot traffic. Its hardiness can be partially attributed to the presence of endophytes.
You can learn more about endophytes here.
Nonetheless, it is an excellent choice for areas that are not regularly maintained or mowed. For instance, it thrives in areas of median strips or parks between roads and buildings. Hard fescue has very fine blades that grow in clusters.
Since it does not require much upkeep, it can go long periods without being mowed. However, hard fescue is not the right choice if you want a lawn with tall grass. It is because it cannot be trimmed close to the ground.
Also, it has less heat tolerance than other cultivars of fescue grass.
Fescue Grass Blends
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Fescues are frequently mixed with perennial ryegrass and Kentucky bluegrass. These grasses have a similar shade of green, but none of them are as hardy as the fescue grass. If you live in the north or the transition zone, it is very likely that you will find fescue grass mixed with perennial ryegrass or Kentucky bluegrass in a seed mix.
Nonetheless, both of these grasses are cool-season varieties that do not thrive in hotter and southern areas of the country. But, they are frequently used in seed mixtures that are shade tolerant and eco-friendly. Often seed companies mix various Fescue grass species to create a seed blend.
This enables the sellers to enhance the qualities of the seed mix. So, it is not uncommon to see Chewings fescue, Hard fescue, and Creeping Red fescue mixed in a seed blend with other grasses. Also, the ratio of the various Fescue grasses in a seed blend can be adjusted to suit varying landscape circumstances.
You can also apply the information provided in this article as a reference to choose and create a fescue grass seed blend that will grow best in your yard. For instance, in sunny or sandy soils, you can use a higher ratio of Hard Fescue and Chewings Fescue in your seed blend. It is because these grasses are tougher and more robust.
On the other hand, if you want a seed blend for shady spots, you can use a seed blend made of Tall fescue and Hard fescue. Moreover, research and development on fescue grass are continually being done.
Researchers are constantly developing new and enhanced cultivars of fescue grass. Some of the recently introduced fescue cultivars include Blue Fescue and Sheep Fescue.
These grass variants are usually used in places that are not mowed, and they create the appearance of a vast, open meadow.
The Best Time of Year to Plant Fescue Grass
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Since it is a cool-season grass, tall fescue grows best in colder soil and air temperatures of late summer to early fall and again in early spring. You can work with natural advantages instead of against them by scheduling tall fescue planting in these times.
This allows the tall fescue seeds to set off to a strong start, well before the seasonal stresses of either winter or summer set in.
Fall Planting Of Tall Fescue
The ideal time to plant fescue grass is between late summer and early. There are a number of benefits to planting fescue grass seed in fall that no other season offers. For instance, air temperatures drop, but the soil still retains a little summer warmth.
It will help the tall fescue seed germinate quickly and entirely and establish itself stably with the help of cool nights, moderate days, and warm soil. However, depending on where you live, the ideal time to plant fescue grass will vary slightly.
For instance, mid-August could offer the best growing conditions for lawns in the Upper Midwest. And September is often the ideal month to plant fescue grass seeds in transition zone states like Arkansas and North Carolina.
Spring Planting Of Tall Fescue
The second best time to plant tall fescue seeds is in spring, as the soil and air temperatures rise after winter. Time spring planting to correspond with soil temperatures of 60 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, just like you would in the autumn.
Although tall fescue can be planted in the spring, there are certain difficulties. Tall fescue has less time to establish itself after spring seeding before the summer heat arrives. As a result, tall fescue planted in spring often has greater difficulty than seeds planted in fall.
Moreover, heavy rains, melting snow, or ice can prevent germination in spring and give weeds an advantage. Additionally, cool, excessively damp soil encourages the growth of fungi that can affect seed germination, seedling growth, and existing lawns.
How To Care For Fescue Grass?
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Once established, fescue grass needs very little water.
Low maintenance needs are one of the most significant advantages of having fescue grass on your lawn. Fescue lawns look nicer with less upkeep than many other forms of lawn grass. In addition, due to their extraordinary tolerance to heat and lawn disease, fescue grass can even thrive under non-ideal conditions.
Moreover, fescues do not need a lot of water when planted. The water demand becomes even less when the grass becomes somewhat established. To promote the development of a deep root system, you should water your fescue lawn infrequently but deeply.
For best results, you should apply fertilizer to your fescue lawn early in the spring and water at least one inch every week, preferably at once. Fescue grasses usually do best when mowed at the height of about three to four inches. However, some fescue grass varieties can tolerate mowing as low as 1 ½ an inch.
When creating new fescue lawns, use four to five pounds of grass seed per 1,000 square feet. However, if you are overseeding your fescue lawn, only two pounds of seeds are needed per 1,000 square feet.
Conclusion | Fescue Grass
The tough and hardy nature of fescues allows them to thrive in many climate zones of the United States. In addition, fescue pairs well with many other varieties of grass. It can even survive in less than ideal conditions where most other grasses fail. That is why fescue is often a part of many seed mixes.
In my opinion, using Fescue grass on your lawn will improve its appearance, regardless of whether you are establishing a new lawn or overseeding an existing lawn. Fescue is an excellent choice for most lawns and turf places located in the transitional zone and the northern regions of the United States.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Where does fescue grass grow best?
Tall fescue grass does best in cold and shaded areas. In fact, it is regarded as one of the best grass for poor and shady soils. Tall fescue can be found in low-lying pastures throughout the United States, from the Pacific Northwest to the southern states.
What is the difference between fine fescue and tall fescue?
Ideal soil type and appearance are the main differences between fine and tall fescue. For example, where fine fescue has thin blades, tall fescue has wide blades. Similarly, where tall fescue can tolerate acidic soils, fine fescue can thrive in a much broader temperature range.
What happens to fescue in summer?
Since fescue is a cool-season grass, it thrives in the colder months of spring and fall and struggles in the heat of summer. Fescue may remain green all year long under the right conditions, but it will go dormant and become brown under extreme heat and dryness.
Is fescue good for a lawn?
In areas where fescue grass thrives best, it offers the homeowners an exceptional choice for boosting the resilience and longevity of their lawns. Fescue might be a fantastic option for you, depending on where you live and what you hope to accomplish with your lawn.
Is it ok to mix Bermuda and fescue?
Bermuda and fescue grass can be combined if you don’t mind your lawn having somewhat of a varied appearance.
How long does fescue take to germinate?
In most cases, it takes anywhere from 14 to 21 days for fescue seeds to germinate and show symptoms of growth. Temperature, the amount of oxygen in your soil, and the frequency with which you water all have a role in determining how long it will actually take.
Sources for Further Reading
Selecting, Establishing & Maintaining the Fescues – University of Tennessee Agriculture Extension
Low Input Turf Using Fine Fescues – University of Minnesota Extension Service
Tall Fescue: A Low-Maintenance Alternative to Kentucky Bluegrass – Iowa State University Extension & Outreach
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