Fine Fescue vs Tall Fescue: Differences + Which to Choose

When you decide to change the turf on your lawn, you do a lot of research to pick the best grass. When looking for cool weather grasses, you must have come across tall fescue and fine fescue, and you are wondering what the difference between them is. Here I will explain their differences so that you can pick the one that suits your lawn best.

Tall fescue is a single grass type, while fine fescue is a name given to collective fescue grasses, including chewing fescue, creeping red fescue, and hard fescue. The grasses vary in color, soil preference, traffic tolerance, and shade tolerance.

Fine Fescue vs. Tall Fescue – Differences

The following are the main differences between fine fescue and tall fescue grasses:

1. Color and Texture             

Tall fescue has a dark green color with large coarse blades. It grows in clumps and does not spread, so if you plant it sparingly, do not expect it to fill the lawn. Instead, you will have to reseed the bare patches.

Fine fescue, on the other hand, has medium green to blue-green blades that have a fine texture and grow still and erect. Similar to tall fescue, fine fescue also grows in clumps except for creeping red fescue, which is spread by rhizomes.

2. Soil Type and PH

Fine fescue thrives in poor sandy well-draining and a little acidic soil. It’s preferred PH is 6 – 6.5 but will also grow in neutral PH, although slow. Tall fescue, however, loves rich clay soil with a PH of 5.5 – 7.5. But will still thrive in a variety of soils.

3. Shade and Temperature Tolerance

Both fine fescue and tall fescue are cool weather grasses and therefore do not prefer direct sunlight. The ideal temperature for tall fescue is between 50°F and 85°F. 

When the temperature falls below 50°F or goes above 85°F, the grass will go dormant. Prolonged temperature of below 50°F will cause the tall fescue to brown.

Fine fescue prefers a temp of 35°F to 90°F. Above 90°F, you should water the grass appropriately to prevent it from turning brown.

4. Drought Tolerance 

Both tall fescue and fine fescue are deep-rooted, making them drought tolerant. Usually, they should be watered 1 inch a week, but fine fescue will look even better when watered 1.5 inches. 

In the dry season or with limited water, both types of grass should be kept at 3-4 inches to cover the roots from the sun, enabling them to conserve moisture.

5. Traffic Tolerance 

Fine fescue can tolerate moderate traffic and have a moderate recovery rate. Tall fescue can take more traffic than fine fescue and has a high recovery rate. Both grasses are ideal for a home lawn, but tall fescue can also be planted in a commercial lawn or a park.

6. Diseases and pests

With proper maintenance, both fine fescue and tall fescue are hardy turfs. However, fine fescue is prone to diseases when flooded. High rainfall or over watering leaving water standing around the grass will cause root rot and other fungal infection such as brown patch, mildew, and fairy rings.

Tall fescue can endure more water around it but can also be affected by fungal infections. The two types of grasses can be affected by pests such as hairy clinch bug, bluegrass billbug, green bug, sod webworm, and fall armyworm.

7. Growth Habits

Both tall fescue and fine fescue grows very fast and tall. During spring and fall, the grass can grow up to 2 inches per week. It is recommended not to mow it lower than 3 inches during this time. Mowing high allows the grass to protect its roots from heat and conserve moisture.

Which Fescue is Best?

Both tall fescue and fine fescue are good cool weather grasses for your lawn. They grow relatively fast and are not invasive. However, the most suitable grass will depend on the attributes of your lawn. To best tell them apart, let us look at their pros and cons.

Pros of Tall Fescue

  1. Has good wear resistance and excellent injury recovery—ideal for high-traffic areas.
  2. It can grow in various climates.
  3. Water efficient – does not need much watering as it has a deep root system that helps it draw moisture from the soil.
  4. The deep root system also aids in preventing soil erosion in a sloppy yard.
  5. It is resistant to diseases.
  6. High heat tolerance.

Cons of Tall Fescue

  1. It grows in clumps and does not spread. You have to reseed the bare patches to achieve a thick turf.
  2. It has moderate shade tolerance.

Pros of Fine Fescue

  1. It can thrive in both cold and hot weather. 
  2. Creeping red fescue will spread by rhizomes to fill the bare patches on the lawn.
  3. High drought tolerance.
  4. High shade tolerance.

Cons of Fine Fescue

  1. Moderate wear resistance and injury recovery – Good for home lawns but not for high foot traffic lawns such as parks.
  2. Vulnerable to diseases when exposed to stagnant water. Not ideal for areas with high rainfall.

Can I Mix Fine Fescue with Tall Fescue

Yes, you can mix fine fescue with tall fescue and still have a beautiful lawn. However, you have to consider several factors, such as soil type and the PH of your lawn, before mixing the two. 

Although they thrive in almost similar conditions, you will notice differences, such as fine fescue thrives better in shady areas. Although mixing is an option, if you want a uniform yard with the same color, it is best to use one type of grass. However, if you do not mind several shades on the lawn, you can go ahead and mix them.

In my opinion, I would prefer mixing the three types of fine fescue instead.

Recap

Both fine fescue and tall fescue are good cool weather grasses you can plant on your lawn. Tall fescue has a high tolerance for drought and wear and also a high recovery from mowing and injuries.

Fine fescue also has high drought and shade tolerance. Both types of grasses can grow in a variety of climates and soils. 

Although they can be mixed, planting one type of grass will give your yard a uniform look. The best grass for your lawn will depend on the soil type, PH, and if you have a tree canopy around your lawn.

References:

  1. Pennsylvania State University: The Fescue Family of Grasses
  2. University of Minnesota: Which fine fescue should you use?
  3. University of Missouri: Understanding Those Fescues
  4. University of Tennessee Extension: Turfgrass Selection Fescues

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