P&PDL Picture of the Week for
March 15, 2004

Low Maintenance Tall Fescue Lawns?

Glenn Hardebeck, Turfgrass Research Agronomist, Agronomy Department, Purdue University

Turf type tall fescue has become widely used as a lawn grass across Indiana in the past ten years or so, especially south of Indianapolis due to its heat and drought tolerance. Tall fescue is generally sold as a low maintenance turfgrass taughting its reduced fertilizer and water needs over that of Kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass. But, as life usually goes, there is a drawback with turf type tall fescue.

Tall fescue (as well as perennial ryegrass) is a bunch-type grass where as Kentucky bluegrass is a spreading grass. While this is a good point when it comes to keeping the grass out of your perennial beds, a tall fescue lawn has difficulty recovering from damage such as thinning due to heat stress or physical injury. In general if a tall fescue lawn has many golf ball size holes or a moderate number of baseball size holes, overseeding may be necessary to get the lawn to fill back in well.

Overseeding is best accomplished with a power overseeder or by using a power rake (with blades not springs) to cut grooves into the soil followed by drop seeding. This type of machinery can usually be found at local rental stores. Good seed to soil contact is a must in order to give the seeds a fighting chance toward establishment. Overseeding is most successful when done in the early fall (around labor day). Spring overseeding is less desirable but still reasonable with a thin tall fescue lawn if done in early spring to give the seedlings some time to develop before the summer heat.


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A thin Turf Type Tall Fescue lawn is not likely to fill in on its own. This bunch-type grass requires overseeding when golf ball to baseball size holes are present


Purdue Plant & Pest Diagnostic Lab Purdue Cooperative Extension Service