Ohioans shouldn't overlook tall fescue
COLUMBUS — With its lush green color and fine texture, Kentucky bluegrass may be the lawn grass of choice among Ohioans, but tall fescue — with its many favorable attributes — should not be overlooked, according to Ohio State University (OSU) Extension officials.
Pam Sherratt, an OSU Extension turfgrass specialist, said tall fescue has come a long way since the original “Kentucky 31,” which Sherratt describes as a “coarse, ugly grass.” Now tall fescue boasts more than 70 varieties that perform so well under Ohio’s environmental conditions that it could be labeled as the perfect lawn grass for Ohio, she added.
“Tall fescue varieties have really improved over the 40 or 50 years that the grass has been grown in the United States,” said Sherratt. “It’s virtually indestructible.”
Like bluegrass, tall fescue is a cool-season grass, but that’s where the similarity ends. Sherratt said that homeowners should take a hard look at tall fescue for a number of reasons:
• Long roots allow for drought and heat tolerance.
“The roots of Kentucky bluegrass are about 5 to 6 inches deep, but tall fescue roots can grow as deep at 15 inches,” said Sherratt. “This allows the grass to access water at depths Kentucky bluegrass can’t reach, remaining green during hot summers long after Kentucky bluegrass goes dormant.
• It requires less maintenance.
“Since tall fescue can more readily access water, it doesn’t require as much water or fertilizer as Kentucky bluegrass,” said Sherratt. “Less water means lower costs on the homeowner’s water bill over the summer.”
• Unlike other cool season grasses, tall fescue is shade tolerant.
• It can be quickly established.
“Tall fescue will germinate in about a week and will produce a lawn in 10 weeks,” said Sherratt.
• It’s more wear tolerant. Once established, tall fescue can withstand the wear and tear of usage.
• It contains endophytes — naturally occurring fungi that provide tall fescue with a natural defense against surface-feeding insects.
“Tall fescue is still susceptible to grubs, but it doesn’t produce thatch like Kentucky bluegrass does that the grubs are most attracted to,” said Sherratt.
The only problem that tall fescue is prone to is brown patch — a disease that occurs when grass is overfertilized and overwatered.
Sherratt said that for best lawn performance, tall fescue can be mixed with Kentucky bluegrass.
“It’s best not to mix it with rye grass, as it gets clumpy,” said Sherratt. “It was traditionally thought that Kentucky bluegrass was the lawn grass. But tall fescue has so many good attributes that we could very well recommend it as the lawn grass of choice in Ohio.”
Readers can find fact sheets and bulletins on using tall fescue in lawn establishment at OSU’s Ohioline site at ohioline.osu.edu. Homeowners also can visit the National Turfgrass Evaluation Program at ntep.org, which provides research results from 28 universities across the nation of all major turfgrass species.
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