Tall fescue is a dark green, cool-season grass that is a top choice for high-density lawn coverage. This hearty species will recreate that golf course turf appeal at home: looking great while able to be enjoyed with family, friends, and pets in the cooler months of the year.
A Cool-Season Grass
Tall fescue is originally from cool, temperate areas of Eurasia, and in North America, it’s best suited to the northern and transitional zones. It grows between early spring up to early summer, then goes dormant until early fall. It revives again until early winter when it goes dormant before freezing temperatures arrive. Preferring a cool atmosphere, tall fescue has good shade tolerance.
Is Tall Fescue Heat Tolerant?
Although none of the cool-season grasses can tolerate the hot temperatures of middle to late summer in the same way that warm-season grass can, tall fescue can stand a little more warmth and dryness. This is because the roots of tall fescue grow deeper than other cool-season grass.
What Difference Does Root Length Make?
The length of tall fescue’s roots allows it to have a higher drought tolerance than other types of cool-season grass. This doesn’t mean the grass blades won’t be damaged by more intense sun than the species is used to, but the water storage in its long roots and the ability to tap into moisture deep in the soil support some resilience to warmth and dryness.
Tall fescue’s roots reach two to three feet deep, much deeper than other cool-season grasses. For comparison, Kentucky Bluegrass, another popular cool-season type, has a root depth of 2 to 6 inches. To ensure good establishment of tall fescue in your yard, you can take steps before planting to prepare the soil to encourage deep root growth.
Soil For Deep Roots
Well-draining soils are best for species, like tall fescue, whose roots grow to several feet in length. Grasses that thrive in dry conditions need to reach deep into the ground for water since moisture will evaporate from the surface-level topsoil from its exposure to air, wind, and sunlight.
Grass with long roots won’t do well in compacted soil. Soil with some sand is excellent for tall fescue since the sand will help water drain deep into the ground. Roots will grow to follow the water as deep as they can.
Watering Tall Fescue
Since tall fescue’s roots like well-draining soil, this grass needs watering more frequently but with less water at a time. Grasses with shorter root systems need water to remain closer to the surface, so saturating the soil with a lot of water will keep them well-hydrated. For deep-reaching roots, soil that’s holding too much water can drown them.
Planting Cool-Season Seeds
Tall Fescue seeds germinate in early spring and fall when the temperatures are around 65 degrees Fahrenheit on average. Tall fescue does not grow in hot weather and won’t germinate in the summer heat.
A tall fescue lawn will grow a little faster than average since seeds germinate in about 2 weeks, compared to an average of 3 for most grasses. Since the roots will grow deep, it’s a good idea to prepare the soil by tilling it before planting, so it’s well-aerated with lots of space for roots to reach into.
You can also take this opportunity to mix in additives to the soil for an ideal growing environment. Adding compost, fertilizer, and sand to the topsoil will provide nutrients to the seeds and sprouting grass while encouraging good drainage that the roots of tall fescue like.
Root Growth In Tall Fescue
When planting new grass seeds, using a starter fertilizer that adds phosphorus and potassium to the soil will support strong root growth for the new lawn. In addition to the roots growing deep, they also spread horizontally to reproduce with rhizomes or underground stems.
This lateral extension makes them great at filling up space for a dense lawn. However, this can make the grass challenging to contain to certain areas, but their spread can be blocked using physical barriers like deflectors or edging that reach six to twelve inches down.
Tall Fescue Appearance
Tall fescue is known as a bunch-type grass, and it grows in clusters or clumps. Some types have thick blades, but tall fescue with a finer leaf texture is becoming increasingly available. The hearty texture of the grass helps it get through the cold winters of the Midwest and Northeast, and it gets its deep green color from high chlorophyll production for energy to store for periods of dormancy.
At What Temperature Does Tall Fescue Go Dormant?
At the end of the cool season, tall fescue goes dormant twice a year: when average temperatures reach below 50 degrees and when they reach above 75.
Mowing Tall Fescue
This grass naturally grows up to a foot in height, but your mowing schedule should keep it around 3 inches. While summer grass likes to be kept on the shorter side, closer to 2 inches, cool-season grasses should be kept closer to 3 inches.
This is so the grass blades can cast a shadow on the base of nearby blades and protect them, and the roots, from drying out or being scorched.
Tall Fescue Grass Problems
Despite its robust characteristics, tall fescue can be susceptible to certain stressors:
Drought – Like all grasses, a lack of water can wear the grass out, fading its normally vibrant appearance. Even though it can go longer with less water than other cool-season grasses, tall fescue needs light watering on a regular basis.
Saturated soils – Too much water at a time, however, can also damage your tall fescue lawn. Since it has deep roots, the soil needs to drain well, so the grass doesn’t drown. Well-draining soil is vital for the health of the grass.
Pests and diseases – insects, fungus, and weeds can affect the health of your grass. Keeping the lawn mowed regularly, the soils moist but well-drained, and your grass well-fertilized will help it stay in strong, healthy condition.