Turf Type Tall Fescue vs Kentucky Bluegrass

The type of grass you choose can make the difference between a lush, green lawn and a shabby, brown one. With so many varieties of grass to choose from, how can you know which grass is the right one for your yard?

We’re going to look at two of the most popular grass varieties: tall fescue grass and Kentucky bluegrass.

What is the difference between Kentucky bluegrass and tall fescue?

There are several notable differences between tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass. Before you make your choice, it is important to understand how these two grass varieties are similar and how they differ.

Tall fescue grass

Tall fescue is a cool-weather grass, though recent varieties are more heat-resistant. It grows the best in northern and transition zones.

The transition zone runs across the middle of North America. This is where the northern and southern regions meet.

Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:LawnGrassMap.jpg

Tall fescue grass grows in bunches. Self-repair isn’t its strong suit, so it needs to be treated more gently than other grass varieties. Since it is a cool-weather grass, tall fescue does fairly well in the shade. Tall Fescue mostly grows during the spring and fall when the weather is cool.

Many people like tall fescue because it is easy to plant and establishes deep roots. The root system can extend 2-3 feet underground!

This helps the grass withstand drought and some heat during the summer. Because of its deep roots, tall fescue doesn’t need a lot of water to stay healthy.

Tall fescue grass is originally from Europe, but it gained popularity in America during the 1800s when lawns became fashionable. It was primarily used as pasture grass until the 1900s, when Pennington Seed developed the Kentucky 31 (K31) variety of tall fescue.

Kentucky bluegrass

Kentucky bluegrass is a cool-weather grass that does best in the north. Its ability to withstand cold weather makes it a favorite of northern homeowners. Some varieties do better with heat and drought than others. Kentucky bluegrass enjoys sunshine and doesn’t always thrive in the shade.

Contrary to what it may seem, Kentucky bluegrass did not originate in Kentucky. It started in Europe and Northern Asia before it made its way to the United States. Sometimes called KBG, Kentucky bluegrass once was primarily pasture grass in states like Kentucky.

Now it is popular across the country.

Kentucky bluegrass holds up well to foot traffic and is self-repairing. KBG is often used as a part of a seed mix for athletic fields.

Kentucky bluegrass has a shallow root system throughout the soil’s surface. Shallow roots make Kentucky bluegrass struggle during heat and drought. Still, some homeowners in hot, dry climates are able to keep it going with a lot of irrigation!

Which is better, Kentucky bluegrass or fescue?

It all depends on your environment, the soil in your area, and your lawn use. If you are in a warm, dry area, tall fescue is more heat resistant due to its deep root system.

Tall fescue is less resistant to lots of foot traffic. There is a reason Kentucky bluegrass is used for athletic fields!

It can recover quickly from foot traffic. This is because KBG grass forms an intertwined turf of stems and roots on the surface of the soil. It will quickly heal itself from damage.

Tall fescue grows in clumps. If a clump is damaged, it may not recover.

Fescue does well in the shade or sun, while Kentucky bluegrass grows best in full sun. Kentucky bluegrass will have higher irrigation needs due to its shallow root system. If you have a little extra time to care for and water KBG, it will grow lush and beautiful!

Tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass also have different needs when it comes to fertilizer. Tall fescue needs about 1 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet of grass. It doesn’t need to be watered very often, so then also requires less mowing.

Kentucky bluegrass needs 3 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet of grass. All that nitrogen, plus the additional irrigation requirements, equals more frequent mowing!

What texture do fall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass have?

Does tall fescue have a finer texture than Kentucky bluegrass? Though the grasses may look similar from a distance, they have different shapes and textures.

Follow this guide for grass identification!

Tall fescue has flat leaves. They are smooth and shiny on one side and have ridges on the other. The cylindrical grass stems are about 3-4 inches tall. On the top of the stems is a panicle, or spikelet, that can grow up to 12 inches.

Kentucky bluegrass blades are usually described as boat-shaped. They are long, fine, and angular with a tapered tip. It also has a panicle that contains grass seeds.

Can I mix tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass?

Tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass can make for a great partnership! Tall fescue tends to grow in clumps, which may be unsightly. Kentucky bluegrass helps fill in the bare patches.

KBG will also help keep your yard looking great with its ability to self-heal from foot traffic. Neither grass type will choke out the other.

A tall fescue Kentucky bluegrass blend will need less water than a yard full of KBG. It will also be more shade resistant, require less fertilizer, and fewer sessions with the mower.

Formulating a seed blend

Sounds like a match made in heaven, right? Here are the things to look for in a Kentucky bluegrass tall fescue blend.

  • A 10% Kentucky bluegrass to 90% tall fescue seed ratio is perfect for most transitional or northern yards.
  • Avoid K31 if blending KBG and tall fescue. It tends to clump more.
  • Look for a variety that is advertised as disease resistant.

If you already have tall fescue grass, you can overseed with Kentucky bluegrass or a Kentucky bluegrass tall fescue grass seed blend.

When to plant your seed blend

Cool-weather grasses, like tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass, grow more in the fall and spring. It is best to plant new grass in the fall, 45-60 days before the first frost. Your grass will have a chance to establish roots before the frost but still get the colder weather benefits.

How to care for your grass blend

A Kentucky bluegrass and tall fescue blend have a higher ratio of tall fescue grass. To care for your grass blend, cater more towards the tall fescue.

  • Don’t over-fertilize, especially in the spring. Remember, tall fescue needs less nitrogen to thrive, so don’t overdo it!
  • Water moderately in the morning. Avoid fungus and rot by allowing the grass to dry out during the day. Avoid watering at night. If tall fescue is wet overnight as the temperature goes down, it will be more likely to develop brown patches.
  • Because Kentucky bluegrass grows shallow roots, your yard may require regular aeration to stay healthy.

Do Kentucky bluegrass and tall fescue turn brown in the winter?

Whether you choose tall fescue or bluegrass, they are both cool-weather grasses. They will both turn brown and go dormant in the winter. This doesn’t mean your grass is dead! It will turn green again when the weather turns warm in the spring.

Winter dormancy

Does Kentucky bluegrass turn brown in winter? After the first frost, Kentucky bluegrass will start to turn a uniform shade of brown across the whole yard. This isn’t cause for alarm!

Disease and fungus will typically affect grass in patches, not uniformly. You don’t need to do anything for dormant grass. Let it rest, and it will be ready to grow again in the spring!

Summer semi-dormancy

Kentucky bluegrass and tall fescue can also go semi-dormant during the warmest months of the year. Kentucky bluegrass is less heat tolerant than tall fescue, so you may notice brown or yellow patches in the summer when it is hot and dry.

Final Thoughts

Both Kentucky bluegrass and tall fescue are great grass choices!  A blend of these two types of grass may be the ticket for your lawn.

With the right choice and the proper care, your lawn should be green and thriving for years to come!