Tall fescue is considered a ‘non-spreading’ grass species due to its atypical, upright growth habit. It doesn’t spread as much sideways and seeds need to be planted close together in massive amounts to lower the number of visible bare spots once the lawn is established. Still, there are multiple ways in which you can get it to spread and fill in gaps on your lawn.
Does tall fescue spread?
Tall fescue doesn’t spread, as it’s a clump-forming turfgrass type. Only grasses that have stolons (above-ground offshoots) and rhizomes (under-ground) offshoots can spread laterally and fill in all the bare spots on lawns without the need for reseeding. Meanwhile, bunch-type grasses like tall fescue grow via upright tillers that sprout from the basal shoot of the parent plant.
Despite tall fescue being a non-spreading turfgrass species, each plant forms several tillers, making the clumps of grass appear denser with time. While this can technically be seen as spreading, a single tall fescue grass plant can’t develop a bunch that’s dense or wide enough to fill in bare patches on a lawn.
Note: Tillering in tall fescue results in a tuft-type growth habit whereby there’s rapid vertical growth but minimal lateral spread. The tillers grow and remain within a two-inch radius of the original sheath from the parent stem.
How long does it take tall fescue grass to fill in?
Typically, tall fescue takes about 2 weeks to germinate into seedlings. However, if there’s an issue with the soil pH levels, the irrigation schedule, or the temperature conditions, it may take longer to sprout. Soil compaction (or lack thereof) also influences the germination rate in tall fescue.
As such, ensure soil pH is between 5.8-6.5 and water once a day to speed up the germination rate. Under optimal conditions, tall fescue may sprout in as fast as 4 days. This is regardless of whether you’ve reseeded to fill in bare spots or are establishing a tall fescue lawn from scratch.
After the seeds germinate into shoots, it shouldn’t take long for the clumps of tall fescue to become dense enough to fill in the whole lawn. This fast-growing grass grows by two inches every week, with the thick grass blades filling in more bare spots as the grass grows.
How to get tall fescue to grow and fill in faster
Despite it being a tussock-type grass, there still are some measures you can take to get your tall fescue turf to grow and fill in quicker. These include seeding at the right time, limiting lawn traffic, and adopting the appropriate fertilizing, watering, and mowing requirements. Additional measures include planting enough seeds and reseeding in the fall to cover bare patches.
Seed at the right time
To get tall fescue grass to grow faster, plant the seeds at the appropriate time, which is in the spring. Being a cool-season turfgrass species, tall fescue doesn’t thrive in hot conditions. As such, your newly-planted grass is likely to show signs of stunted growth or dormancy if you plant in the summer when temperatures exceed 80 °F.
However, when planted in the spring when air temperatures range between 60-70 °F, tall fescue will germinate before the heat of the summer. And by the summer, it’ll have developed deep enough roots (2-3 inches) to be able to draw water from deeper in the soil and stay cool.
You may also plant tall fescue in early fall when the temperatures begin to drop. However, never plant this grass species in winter, as the soil will be too cold for proper germination. Tall fescue prefers soil temperatures ranging between 50-65 °F.
Plant enough Seeds
Due to its bunching growth pattern, tall fescue lawns typically have bare patches. You need to plant a large number of tall fescue seeds to minimize the number of bald patches on the turf. The recommended seeding rate for this turfgrass species is 7-9 pounds for every 1,000 square feet of lawn area.
Fertilize at the right time
To encourage aggressive top growth in tall fescue grass, fertilize your fescue lawn from spring-early summer, before resuming in the fall. If you fertilize at any other time of the year, the nutrients will be directed towards facilitating deeper root development for grass survival, rather than boosting top growth.
Meanwhile, when fertilizing tall fescue, you want to avoid feeding the soil with too much nutrient salts, as this can have a reverse effect on the grass. For reference purposes, the recommended fertilizer rate (annual rate) for tall fescue lawns is one-pound of nitrogen fertilizer per 1000 square feet.
Overseed in the fall
Assuming you’d established your tall fescue in the spring, you should overseed it with new tall fescue seedlings in October or November. That’s because such bunch-type grasses leave bare gaps between each grass plant. Overseeding is the quickest way to fill in these unsightly spaces and end up with a lawn that’s green all the way through.
Note: Before reseeding your tall fescue with new seeds, core aerate the lawn to enable the seeds to penetrate deeper into the soil.
Despite being a drought-tolerant turfgrass variety, the growth rate of tall fescue slows down considerably when it’s suffering from heat stress. Thus, when temperatures become extremely high in late summer (especially in the south), water your turf weekly to keep the soil moist and keep the grass growing.
Note: During summer, the recommended irrigation rate for tall fescue is at least 1.5 inches of water per week. You should apply this entire amount in a single watering session. Avoid watering the lawn little by little multiple times during the course of the week.
Mow at the right height
Mowing grasses facilitates deeper root development, which in turn makes turf grasses more tolerant to nutrient deficiencies, drought, and traffic. However, mowing too low gets rid of excessive shoot tissue and your turf may never recover. For tall fescue, the recommended mowing height for denser turf growth and deeper root development is 3-3.5 inches.
Note: Mowing also helps to curb weed growth and development. If you let weeds take over, they increasingly deny tall fescue of essential resources like water and soil nutrients. This in turn, may lead to plant stress and slow down the growth of tall fescue grass.
Limit Lawn Traffic
Tall fescue grass has better wear tolerance compared to many other cool-season grasses such as Kentucky bluegrass. However, once physical damage occurs, it’s hard for tall fescue to recover by itself, as it ranks amongst the worst when it comes to turf grass injury recovery.
As such you may want to limit lawn usage until the turf fully fills in. Avoid parking your car or keeping heavy equipment on the lawn before it establishes. Meanwhile, light foot traffic is acceptable, but you should watch out for how frequently people and pets are walking on the lawn before it fills in completely.
Note: To repair wear-damaged patches on tall fescue, reseed those areas with tall fescue seeds.
- University of California Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program: Bunch-type Grasses
Laurie E. Trenholm, Sports Turf: The Importance of Mowing