Turf-Type Tall Fescue for Home Lawns

John Orick, Purdue Master Gardener State Coordinator, Department of Horticulture & Landscape Architecture,Purdue University

Turf-type tall fescue has been recommended for use in home lawns throughout Indiana. Many people are familiar with Kentucky 31 (K31) tall fescue which has been widely used along roadsides and in other “low-maintenance” areas. Turf-type tall fescue varieties have growth habits and characteristics that are more desirable, aesthetically, for home lawns. Turf-type tall fescues have a darker green color and finer leaf texture (narrower leaf blades) than K31 tall fescue. Turfgrass specialists recommend homeowners choose the turf-type varieties of tall fescue to take advantage of these improved growth characteristics. These improved tall fescue varieties are also favored for their increased heat and drought tolerance compared to Kentucky bluegrass. As well, tall fescue requires less fertilizer than Kentucky bluegrass to maintain a comparable aesthetic appearance. And, tall fescue germinates faster than Kentucky bluegrass. With these positives, come some negatives, tall fescue grows faster requiring more frequent mowing during the growing season and tall fescue is a bunch-type grass rather than a spreading grass like Kentucky bluegrass. This means tall fescue plants cannot spread to fill in bare spots in the lawn as well as Kentucky bluegrass. Therefore, when tall fescue lawns have bare spots larger than the size of a baseball, they will most likely need to be reseeded. Consider using a mixture of turf-type tall fescue (90% by weight) and Kentucky bluegrass (10% weight). This mixture is predominately tall fescue and looks like a tall fescue lawn, but the mixture has enough Kentucky bluegrass to allow it to spread and fill-in when damaged. For Indiana, late-summer through early fall is the best time to reseed turf areas and, both turf-type tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass are at the top of the list as recommended turfgrass species.

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