Bermuda grass and fescue are two types of sod-forming turfgrasses used commonly in lawns and landscapes in the U.S. Each has qualities worthy of a quality lawn. Choosing one of these types of grass involves several considerations. Each requires different care because of their different growth characteristics. Generally, a mix of the two grasses is common in home landscapes, although it is not usually desirable.
Grasses are generally grouped into two categories: warm-season grasses and cool-season grasses. Bermuda grass is a warm-season variety, meaning it performs better and grows the most during warmer times of the year. It goes dormant and turns brown during the winter. Fescue, on the other hand, is a cool-season grass. While above-ground growth is not noticeable during the winter, it continues to develop root structure during this time. Growth slows down substantially during hot summers.
Turfgrasses generally have one of two main growth structures. Bermuda grass, like most warm-season varieties, has a creeping growth habit. Lateral stems grow both above ground (stolons) and below the soil surface (rhizomes) and form new plants. These are actually often harvested and used to establish new lawns. Tall fescue grasses are commonly used in lawns in northern landscapes. These cool-season grasses grow in bunches. During cooler months, fescue produces new shoots from the bases of existing plants, called "tillers." Rhizomes are produced as well, but are very short.
Both Bermuda grass and fescue are susceptible to disease when conditions favor it. Dollar spot, leaf spot, pythium and brown patch are common fungal problems that attack Bermuda grass. Fescues are often attacked by brown patch as well. Apply regular preventive fungicides to control such diseases in both grass types. White grubs are often the most damaging pest in both types of grass. The grubs feed on grass plant roots and often kill grass due to a separation between the stem and soil.
Perhaps the most significant difference in caring for Bermuda grass and fescue lawns his mowing height. Again, Bermuda grass is a creeping grass. It forms a thick under-layer of stems more quickly than fescue. Therefore, it can handle a much lower mowing height. Ideally, mow Bermuda grass at 2 inches or lower during the summer. Raise the height to about 3 inches in mid-autumn. Cool-season, bunching grasses like fescue should be cut higher, especially during hot months. Mow fescue at about 3.5 inches in summer. Drop down to about 2.5 inches in early spring and late fall.
Control of Each
Homeowners who attempt to maintain a healthy, fescue-only lawn know how frustrating it can be when heat-tolerant Bermuda grass invades in summer. Alternatively, a dormant, brown Bermuda grass lawn looks awful when littered with green patches of fescue in winter. To control fescue in a Bermuda grass lawn, spray it with a non-selective herbicide such as Roundup, in winter, while Bermuda grass is dormant. Conversely, Bermuda grass in a fescue lawn must be sprayed in the fall before it goes dormant. Once it is dead, overseed heavily with fescue seed before winter weeds take over the dead area.