Tall fescue is valued for its adaptability to a wide range of climates and its tolerances for cold, heat, drought and shade. In its preferred growing zones, tall fescue provides lawn owners with outstanding options for improving lawn resilience and durability. Depending on where you live and your lawn goals, this versatile grass may be an excellent choice for you.
Tall Fescue at a Glance
- cool-season grass with improved heat tolerance
- suitable for northern and transition zones
- heat, drought and shade tolerant
- disease resistant
- bunch-forming growth habit
- limited capacity for self-repair
Tall Fescue Basics
Like many northern lawn grasses, tall fescue originated in Europe. It was introduced to the United States in the early 1800s,1 around the time that lawns became fashionable with Early Americans. However, tall fescue remained relegated to agricultural use as a pasture grass until the mid to late 1900s, when a tall fescue variety known as Kentucky 31 made the leap from pasture to turf, and became an important part of Pennington Seed's history in the process.
In the years since, many new lawn varieties of tall fescue, known as turf-type and dwarf-type tall fescues, have been developed. A number of modern varieties offer darker green color, narrower blades, and improved tolerances to heat, cold and drought. Durable and easy-to-establish, Pennington Kentucky 31 Tall Fescue and remains a leading choice for lawn owners seeking economical, low-maintenance, heat- and drought-tolerant lawns.
Tall fescue is a cool-season grass that grows most vigorously during cool spring and fall months. Well-suited to northern lawns, it has added value in the turf grass region called the grass transition zone. Extending across the country's midsection from the Atlantic into the Midwest, this area marks where cool-season and warm-season grasses meet their climate limits. Tall fescue offers greater heat tolerance than other cool-season grasses and greater cold tolerance than warm-season grass options, contributing to beautiful year-round lawns in this challenging area.
Additional Characteristics to Consider
Tall fescue establishes easily from seed and germinates more quickly than Kentucky bluegrass. Its naturally extensive root system can reach 2 to 3 feet deep, much deeper than other cool-season grasses.3 This contributes to superior heat and drought tolerance compared to grasses commonly used in northern lawns. Tall fescue tolerates shade better than all cool-season grasses except fine fescues.
Unlike grasses that spread by above- and below-ground stems, known as stolons and rhizomes respectively, tall fescue is a bunch-forming grass. It does produce short rhizomes, but its spreading capacity is limited. It naturally grows in clumps and spreads primarily through “tillers" — vertical shoots that grow from the base of the grass plant itself, rather than from horizontal stems. This growth habit makes tall fescue easy to contain and keep out of flowers beds, but limits its capacity for self-repair when lawns sustain damage.
Pennington Smart Seed Tall Fescue combines the best qualities of various tall fescue varieties in a premium blend that matures to a uniform, finely textured, lower growing and lower maintenance lawn.
Tall Fescue Lawn Care
As with other cool-season grasses, the best time to plant tall fescue or perform other major lawn tasks is during its peak growth period in fall and spring. Because of its bunch-forming growth, tall fescue lawns rarely need dethatching. However, they benefit from periodic lawn overseeding to keep their density and avoid a clumpy appearance. When damage occurs, Pennington One Step Complete Tall Fescue simplifies repairs. Its combination of premium Smart Seed grass seed and professional-grade fertilizer and mulch repairs bare spots in two weeks or less under proper growing conditions.
Tall fescue's deep roots make good use of soil's moisture and nutrients. Roots benefit from wise lawn water management. Encourage deep growth by watering deeply and infrequently. In the transition zone, ordinary tall fescue varieties require more irrigation than warm-season alternatives, such as Bermudagrass and Zoysia grass, to stay green and healthy during hot summer months. However, water-conserving Pennington Smart Seed grasses require up to 30 percent less water year after year than ordinary grasses. Mow tall fescue lawns as needed to maintain the recommended height of 2 to 3 inches.
Tall fescue adapts to a wide variety of soil types and typically requires less fertilizer than Kentucky bluegrass and other cool-season grasses in similar soil.3 Soil testing identifies your lawn's soil type, soil pH and nutrient needs so you can fertilizer accordingly. Plant tall fescue in soil with pH between 5.5 and 7.5.2 For soil pH outside that range, test results may recommend lime or other soil amendments to restore pH balance and keep nutrients available.
With the advent of new varieties and a growing awareness of the benefits of a tall fescue lawn, many lawn owners consider this tough, resilient grass an essential component of their cool-season and transition-zone lawns. Pennington is dedicated to producing the finest grass seed possible and providing premium lawn and garden products and educational resources to assist you in growing a beautiful, healthy lawn — regardless of your grass choice.
Pennington, Smart Seed and One Step complete are registered trademarks of Pennington Seed, Inc.
1. Duble, R.L., “Tall Fescue," Texas A&M Agrilife Extension.
2. Patton, A. and Boyd J., “Choosing a Grass for Arkansas Lawns," University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension.
3. Cook, T., “Tall Fescue,"Oregon State University Department of Horticulture.