7 Common Tall Fescue Grass Problems and How to Fix Them

Tall fescue is a popular pick among homeowners in the northern United States. It’s a hardy, cool-season grass that manages to thrive in various conditions, so it’s a solid choice to create a beautiful lawn. However, tall fescue isn’t without its problems. It’s prone to all the same things as other grasses, from weed infestations to heat stress.

However, these issues don’t necessarily need to become crippling for your lawn, resulting in an unsightly mess. By addressing the problems early on and taking proper action, you can prevent them from spiraling out of control.

Common Tall Fescue Grass Problems

Known for its hardiness and ability to thrive in varying soil types, tall fescue isn’t overly prone to issues. However, like any other grass, it’s susceptible to occasional problems that may affect its growth and appearance. Here are 7 of the most common tall fescue grass problems:

1. Brown Patches

Brown spots or patches on your tall fescue grass can result from several factors, including drought, disease, and insect infestations. When caused by drought, the brown patches will dissipate after correcting your watering practices and ensuring the grass gets plenty of water.

If the problem results from a disease, fungicide applications may be necessary. The correct product depends on the root of the problem, as different situations may call for different fungicides. Lastly, insecticides will correct insect infestations, but ensure you choose the appropriate product based on the issue.

2. Yellowing Leaves

Generally, yellowing leaves on tall fescue lawns indicate a nutrient deficiency. Nitrogen is an essential nutrient your lawn needs to produce healthy, green leaves. So, if your lawn is yellowing, there’s a good chance it needs more nitrogen, which you can apply via a balanced fertilizer.

Alternatively, the issue can stem from disease, so if fertilizer doesn’t correct the problem, you’ll need to treat it for disease. The correct treatment will hinge on the type of disease you’re dealing with.

While removing the infected section can help, fungicides will be a necessary tool to tackle widespread problems. You can also use natural solutions if you prefer to steer clear of chemical lawn products, but you’ll need to do your research to determine the best option based on the problem.

3. Thinning Grass

A thin, patchy lawn can result from multiple issues, including poor soil quality, overgrazing, and disease. For example, if the soil doesn’t have the nutrients the grass needs to thrive and you’re not fertilizing it, there’s a good chance it will become thin and patchy. Correcting the issue comes down to isolating the deficiency, which you can do by testing the soil. Make the proper amendments, and with time, the grass should thicken. Overseeding may be necessary to accelerate the recovery time.

Although it isn’t common, especially in cities or suburbs, some folks graze their livestock on their lawns. If you do this too often or constantly keep the livestock on the grass, it may not have time to recover, resulting in thinning. To correct the issue, cycle your animals off the lawn to give it time to thicken and recover.

If the problem stems from diseases, you must treat the lawn with fungicides.

4. Fungal Infections

Unfortunately, fungal infections are a relatively common issue with turfgrass, including tall fescue. The infections can result in an array of problems, from thinning grass to brown or dead patches and yellowing leaves.

Correcting the problem usually falls to applying an effective fungicide, but in some cases, you might be able to catch the issue before it spreads and remove the diseased portion. Once you correct the problem, stay on top of regular lawn maintenance to prevent this occurrence in the future. This involves mowing to the correct height and watering deeply instead of frequently.

5. Weeds


With any lawn, weeds will happily take over if given a chance. Once they get a stronghold, they’ll battle with your grass for nutrients and water. Unfortunately, many weeds are hardy pests, easily winning the competition and eventually smothering your lawn.

This results in patchy spots across your lawn and scattered weeds disrupting the even, green expanse. You have a couple of options to correct the issue. Pre-emergent herbicides are one option, as they can help prevent weed growth. But if the weeds are already there, they can’t do much for you.

So, in these cases, you’ll need to employ a post-emergent herbicide. These herbicides are designed to tackle the weeds after they pop out of the earth, so they work well for existing weed problems. Of course, you can always remove them by hand, but this option isn’t always effective.

Once you get the weed problem under control, follow proper lawn care practices to keep them at bay, like mowing to the correct height and watering deeply and less frequently.

6. Insect Infestations

Insects can wreak havoc on your lawn, whether they’re armyworms, sod webworms, white grubs, or something else. They can do a considerable amount of damage in a relatively short period, drastically impacting the overall appearance of your fescue lawn.

When insects take over, you’ll need to enlist the help of insecticides. Be sure to choose an option that is designed to eliminate the pests in question and carefully follow the instructions on the product label.

7. Heat Stress

When spring gives way to summer and scorching temperatures, take over, your tall fescue lawn might begin to show signs of distress, like brown patches and thinning grass. This is typical under higher temperatures, as most cool-season grasses prefer the mild temperatures of northern U.S. regions.

When the temperatures consistently climb into the high 80s and 90s (or higher), there’s a good chance your lawn won’t like it. To combat the heat, you can water your lawn deeply and preferably in the morning, as this will reduce evaporation. If it becomes too hot, though, the grass may go dormant, as it’s a cool season grass.

Tips To Fix Common Tall Fescue Grass Problems

While the solutions above can correct specific issues, there may be times when you’re unsure of the best fix. In these cases, it’s best to evaluate your lawn care strategy as a whole, examining it for potential weak points that might be affecting the health of your lawn. Here are a few essential tips to fix common tall fescue grass problems:

Proper Watering Techniques

Improper watering techniques are among the most common culprits behind a struggling lawn. If you water too much or too little, your lawn may begin to exhibit signs of distress. So, following the correct watering techniques is essential to ensure your grass has what it needs but nothing more.

Water your lawn deeply and infrequently instead of shallowly and often, as this will encourage deep root growth and better drought tolerance. Opt for early morning waterings instead of mid-day or evening waterings, as this will reduce the chances of evaporation and prevent disease.

If your area experiences rain, adjust your watering practices to match. Use a rain gauge to measure the amount of rainfall your area receives and adapt accordingly. Generally, tall fescue requires about 1 inch of water per week, including rainfall. Drought may call for more water, but 1 inch is usually sufficient.

Fertilization and Soil Amendments

Without plenty of nutrients, your grass will struggle to grow. Tall fescue needs regular fertilization and soil amendments to remain healthy and continue flourishing. To ensure your grass gets what it needs, take soil samples once a year to determine what it needs.

If there are areas where it falls short, make amendments using proper fertilizers. Opt for slow-release fertilizers in the fall and spring, and consider adding organic matter, like manure or compost, to improve soil structure.

However, it’s important not to over-fertilize your lawn, as this can open the door to new problems, like excessive growth and thatch buildup.

Aeration and Overseeding

Your tall fescue lawn needs plenty of air to thrive, so ensure your lawn remains aerated. Over time and under heavy traffic, the soil can become compacted, resulting in a suffering lawn.

To correct the problem, use a machine or manual tool to aerate your lawn in the fall or spring. The process creates small holes in the soil, allowing oxygen to reach the grass roots and promoting healthy growth.

Overseeding can help correct patchy spots, so overseed your lawn with a high-quality tall fescue seed mixture to promote thick, healthy growth. Use a spreader to ensure even coverage, and follow proper seeding procedures to ensure the new seedlings thrive.

Fungicides and Other Treatments

When fungus becomes an issue, treat your lawn as soon as possible to prevent the spread. Use a fungicide to treat the problem, following the instructions on the packaging carefully. However, consult your local lawn care professionals for assistance if the issue spirals out of control. In some cases, nematode control or soil sterilization may be necessary.

Weed Control Strategies

Keep weeds at bay by removing them and spot-treating them as they pop up. Pull the weeds by hand if they’re in small patches, or opt for an herbicide to tackle larger patches. Pre-emergent herbicides can be an excellent option, but ensure you apply them within the correct time frame to promote efficacy.

Insect Control Measures

Tackle insect problems before they have time to become an infestation. Use insecticides to treat your lawn, ensuring you apply the product correctly to promote effectiveness. If the situation gets out of hand, contact your local lawn care professionals for assistance.

Heat Stress Management

When temperatures become too high, heat stress is nearly inevitable. Tall fescue is a cool-season grass, so it prefers milder temperatures of cool climates and often shows signs of distress under sweltering temperatures.

Help your lawn weather the heat by practicing specific watering techniques, including watering deeply and infrequently. Avoid mowing too frequently or chopping it too short, as this can further stress your lawn. In some cases, the grass may go dormant entirely, as the heat may become too much.

However, once the temperatures dip down again as summer ebbs into fall, the grass should become active again.

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