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Tall Fescue Facts

By Frank Whittemore ; Updated September 21, 2017
Tall fescue can grow to 4 feet tall.

Tall fescue is a bunching perennial, cool-season grass, commonly used for cattle forage in pasture lands and also as a turf grass in landscaping applications. While tall fescue is a valuable turf and forage plant it is often considered to be an invasive species in some areas due to its rapid growth rate and persistence in the landscape.


According to the United States Department of Agriculture, tall fescue inhabits the vast majority of the United States including Alaska, Hawaii and many of the provinces in Canada. It is widely adapted to a variety of soil and climatic conditions, although it grows best in cooler climates. The grass can commonly be found in fields, forest and openings, prairie, and along roadsides, railroad lines, and embankments.


This grass grows vigorously in clumps or bunches with upright leaves. The leaves of tall fescue are long, thin, dark green and shiny. Each leaf blade is between and 1/8 and 1/2 inch wide and up to 24 inches long. Propagation of the plant is through spreading rhizomes. The roots of tall fescue run deep under good management conditions. The stems of tall fescue can grow to 48 inches in height and produce seed heads with loose branches that bear tiny green flowers. These flowers will eventually develop into small ovoid seeds.


Tall fescue is often planted as a forage crop and is frequently used as late fall and winter grazing feed for livestock. This is commonly referred to as deferred grazing or stockpiling. Because of tall fescue's propensity for cool seasons, is relatively easy to grow sufficient amounts to provide forage in colder weather for cattle sheep and goats. The plant can also be used in residential settings for lawns, although the tall nature of this grass can make mowing difficult. It is also frequently used to seed roadsides and embankments, due to its rapid growth rate and deep rooting system.


Tall fescue is usually grown from seed. It prefers to grow in full sun, but will tolerate partial shade. Tall fescue does require significant amounts of nitrogen in the soil to grow well. Tall fescue will tolerate wet soils for short periods of time. It is also extremely drought tolerant and the pH of the soil can range widely.

Invasive Properties

Tall fescue grows quickly, spreads rapidly and seeds easily. These properties allow it to invade native grasslands where it is often considered a pest worthy of eradication. Control of the plant can be accomplished through early spring burning, if repeated. This will inhibit the growth of the plant allowing native warm-season grasses to better compete. In forest lands, where there is no risk of affecting native species, a glyphosate-based herbicide may be used in the spring to control emerging growth.


About the Author


In Jacksonville, Fla., Frank Whittemore is a content strategist with over a decade of experience as a hospital corpsman in the U.S. Navy and a licensed paramedic. He has over 15 years experience writing for several Fortune 500 companies. Whittemore writes on topics in medicine, nature, science, technology, the arts, cuisine, travel and sports.