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Tall Fescue

Tall Fescue (Festuca arundinacea)

Tall fescue is one of the most widely used grasses in the world, but it is not extensively used in the in the UK. The main reason for its popularity is its outstanding tolerance of hot and dry conditions. For this reason, it is widely used in parts of the USA and through areas of southern Europe. When you think of fescue it is the wire-like fine fescues that come to mind, such as Chewings or slender creeping red fescue. Tall Fescue is not like that – it is much broader in the leaf and resembles a ryegrass more than a fine fescue. In fact, there has been long running debate as to whether tall fescue should be reclassified as a member of the ‘Lolium’ (ryegrass) family.  

Key Characteristics

  • Exceptional drought tolerance
  • Very deep rooted
  • Generally dark green in colour
  • Generally broad leaved and can be coarse in texture
  • Slower to germinate and establish
  • Requires warm temperatures for germination

 Sowing times

Tall fescue grass seed requires constant soil temperatures of 15 degrees Celsius for optimum germination. In the UK this would typically be between May and September.

Germination time

Tall fescue grass seed will germinate in 14-28 days, subject to conditions.

What is tall fescue used for?

General lawn and landscaping: Tall fescue is not used in many grass seed mixtures for lawns, generally because most requirements are met by a mixture of perennial ryegrass and fescue. However, this all might start to change if climate change means that we experience hotter and drier summers. Tall fescue is widely used in the south of France, so if our climate starts to become more like that then it would follow that we start to use more heat and drought tolerant species such as tall fescue. Tall fescue does however get used in some lawn and landscaping mixtures here in the UK, specifically mixtures for drought prone soil and for steep banks - due to its deep rooting it is ideal for stabilising soil.

Sports: Tall fescue is not used in sports mixtures simply because it does not outperform perennial ryegrass in terms of wear tolerance. It is also not fine enough to be used in mixtures for golf. However, new varieties are being developed all the time, some of which are hugely improved in terms of fineness of leaf and density. It is possible that in the future they may be more widely used, particularly on golf course fairways due to their exceptional drought tolerance.

Landscaping: Tall fescue is used in some specialist landscaping mixtures, particularly those where soil stabilisation is required. It is also the main species for grass seed mixtures that are sown around airport runways. Tall fescue, when left to grow at approximately 100-125mm becomes very stiff and stalky; this growth habit makes it very difficult for birds to land. For this reason, it is used around runways to deter birds and minimise the chances of aircraft colliding with birds, better known as ‘birdstrike’.