Tall fescue is the most widely grown cool-season species in North Carolina. For a cool-season species, tall fescue is tolerant to heat and drought, disease resistant, and persists with minimum care. It has a tendency to clump due to its bunch-type growth habit and may need to be re-seeded each year in areas that exhibit thin growth patterns due to excessive summer stresses. Tall fescue is easily confused with Kentucky bluegrass, annual ryegrass, and perennial ryegrass. However, Kentucky bluegrass has a boat-shaped leaf tip and distinctive light-colored lines on both sides of the midrib. Tall fescue has rolled vernation in the leaf bud and perennial ryegrass has folded vernation. Also, tall fescue has rough leaf blade margins whereas annual and perennial ryegrass have smooth ones. Tall fescue and perennial ryegrass both have non-clasping auricles, whereas annual ryegrass has clasping auricles. The backside of the tall fescue leaf blade is less glossy than that of annual ryegrass.

Cool-season grasses include Kentucky bluegrass, fescues, bentgrass and ryegrasses. They are often referred to as “northern grasses” because they are hardy and well adapted to cold winter climates. Tall Fescue grass grows vigorously in the cool months of fall and spring. Growth slows in the heat of the summer. This grass go dormant and turn brown in cold winter areas where the soil freezes. Where winters are not quite as cold and the ground doesn’t usually freeze, such as in the West and the transition zones of the Midwest, cool-season lawns stay green all winter. With proper water, it also stays green all summer.

The most important time to fertilize fescue lawns is in fall and spring, prior to periods of vigorous growth. In cold winter areas, you should not fertilize in spring until the grass is “greening-up” and has started to grow. In most areas, cool-season grasses are not fertilized in the heat of summer. Summer feeding can weaken the turf and promote disease.

The most common and important disease of tall fescue in this region is brown patch, caused by the fungus Rhizoctonia solani. Brown patch is primarily a midsummer disease, but may occur anytime when night temperatures exceed 70°F and grass blades remain wet for periods of 10 hours or longer. Pythium blight, caused by Pythium aphanidermatum, also damages tall fescue during hot, wet, summer weather, but is not as common as brown patch.

One of the best method to maintain it healthy is overseeding. After several years, mature plants begin to slow down their reproduction rate. Since a blade of grass lives only an average of 45 to 60 days, production of new tillers must continually outpace the dieback of older leaves. Young grass will produce tillers faster than older grass. Therefore, one of the most important secrets to maintaining a healthy, thick lawn is to make sure your grass is young. The practice of overseeding lawns is the easiest way of keeping grass young.