Tall Fescue (Festuca arundinacea) is a clumping, tall-growing pasture grass that grows up to 4 feet tall. It is commonly used for moderately, low-water-use lawns. Tall fescue has tough blades and tolerates compacted soils, making it an excellent turf for sports, playgrounds and golf courses. Tall fescue grows in sun and partial shade in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 8. With proper care tall fescue grows quickly and completes the majority of its growth in the first third of the growing season.
Soil Preparation and Seed
A lush lawn of tall fescue begins with quality seed, so it is best to purchase certified seed. Properly preparing the soil helps to establish the tall fescue, so it can grow properly. You should clean all rocks and other debris from the planting area. Conducting a soil sample can help you determine if the soil requires amendments, such as organic matter, fertilizer, lime or sulfur, to create the optimum growing conditions. Soil pH for tall fescue should be between 5.5 and 6.5. You till in lime to raise the pH or sulfur to lower it at a depth of 4 to 6 inches, if necessary.
Tall fescue requires frequent, light irrigation to prevent surface drying. Generally, this means about one-eighth of an inch of water daily for the first three weeks. After seedlings develop, you can decrease irrigation frequency. Established tall fescue needs supplemental water when grass shows signs of stress, which includes wilting or rolling leaves and appears off-color. At this time, you can irrigate the soil to a depth of 3 to 4 inches. The lawn often needs supplemental water frequently during hot summer months, usually at least an inch of water per week. Tall fescue growth slows during late summer.
The soil test should help you determine the best fertilization method for growing tall fescue. Generally, feed the grass using a complete fertilizer applied at the rate of 1 pound per 1,000 square feet is necessary every four to six weeks. To improve color and growth, you can add one-half pound nitrogen per 1,000 square feet at one-month intervals, but be careful of over-fertilization, which can add to drought and heat stress.
Mowing helps turf, including tall fescue, grow better. Begin mowing newly planted tall fescue when seedlings reach about 2 inches tall; only mow when grass is dry. Generally, mowing the grass to 2 inches is recommended, except during periods of hot, dry weather or in shady areas. Under these conditions only cut about one-third of the grass height. When cutting tall fescue by removing 2 inches of growth, you should mow when the grass height reaches 3 inches.
- The New Sunset Western Garden Book; Kathleen Norris Brenzel, Editor
- University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension: Tall Fescue
- Texas A&M University Aggie Horticulture: Tall Fescue
- The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Gardening Volume 7; T.H. Everett, Editor