While tall fescue is a single grass type, fine fescue is the name of a whole category of fescues with similar likes and dislikes. The “fine fescue” category encompasses red, hard, chewing, and creeping fescues. Below you can learn how the fine fescue category stacks up against tall fescue and if it’s worth looking further into the fine fescue category to find your ideal turf type.
Comparing Tall Fescue vs Fine Fescue
What is the difference between fine fescue and tall fescue? In short, the primary differences are appearance and preferred soil type. While tall fescue has broad blades, fine fescue has narrow blades that can become a little prickly during water restriction. Where fine fescue has a broader ideal temperature range, tall fescue can handle a more acidic soil. Each of these grass types has its strengths and weaknesses. In some ways, they are so different that one might thrive in your yard’s soil conditions where the other would flounder.
Appearance of Tall Fescue and Fine Fescue
Appearance is the first big difference you will notice when you begin comparing tall fescue vs fine fescue. While tall fescue is dark green with broad, coarse blades, fine fescue has narrow, stiff blades. Fine fescue is also dark green when it’s healthy but the blade type can make it seem like an even deeper shade than tall fescue when they’re both the same height.
As far as feel goes, fine fescue will have a smoother texture, though the blades can get a bit prickly when the lawn is under-watered. Tall fescue may have coarse blades, but some of that is mitigated by how broad the blades are.
Best Uses for Tall Fescue vs Best Uses for Fine Fescue
This is the section for a quick answer to which grass type, fine fescue or tall fescue, is going to be better for your situation. For example, the best use for fine fescue is going to be a shady lawn with an average amount of traffic. This is a good turf type for families with pets or any landscaping around a business. It’s a great grass for parks with a mix of sun and shade, too. The area should be in the cool-season grass range, too (zones 6b and below.) Terrain that is well-drained is also ideal, though it can be flat or sloped.
For tall fescue, you want a lawn with any pH in the 5.5 to 7.5 range, making this an ideal turf for any lawn with a naturally acidic pH. Rich, well-drained, clay soil with a decent shade cover for most of the lawn is also ideal. Tall fescue also handles quite a lot of traffic and can handle slopes just as well as fine fescue, but is better at thriving in areas that tend to stay damp and compact.
Soil Types and pH Needs of Tall Fescue vs Needs of Fine Fescue
Fine fescue prefers soil that is poor, sandy, and well-drained. It holds up well whether the lawn is flat or sloped. The ideal pH for fine fescue is 6 to 6.5, slightly on the acidic side. A neutral pH is also acceptable, though it may result in slightly slower growth.
Tall fescue has an opposite preferred soil type to fine fescue. Tall fescue likes rich, clay soil and even soil that tends to compact easily. Drainage is key to a healthy lawn, though tall fescue can handle a few puddles now and then much better than fine fescue will. The ideal pH for tall fescue is very flexible with a range of 5.5 to 7.5. This means tall fescue grows well in acidic soil and even slightly alkaline conditions. If you want a type of grass that’s going to persevere and stay green as long as it’s fed, tall fescue may be the right choice.
Water Needs for Tall Fescue Lawns vs Water Needs for Fine Fescue Lawns
Both tall fescue and fine fescue will do very well with the standard 1” of water each week. However, if it’s available, fine fescue will do well with a little more at an ideal 1.5” per week. This extra moisture can help improve its texture.
In water-restricted areas, fine fescue will stay greener for longer during a drought, though all types of fescue grass have excellent drought tolerance. During a drought or water restricted period, both fine fescue and tall fescue should be allowed to grow up to 3-4”. This helps shade their roots and conserves moisture.
When it comes to periods of heavy rain, tall fescue will do better. Tall fescue is better at thriving in damp and even persistently wet conditions without contracting any sort of disease, even if puddles on your lawn are a regular thing. Fine fescue is likely to contract brown patch or a fungal disease in consistently wet conditions.
Sun, Shade, and Temperature Requirements for Tall Fescue vs Fine Fescue
Both tall fescue and fine fescue like shade. They even prefer dappled shade to full sunlight, especially in warmer regions, like the transition zone. Tall fescue will start to go dormant before fine fescue. Its overall acceptable temperature range is smaller. It will green up more slowly than fine fescue and will turn brown faster outside of its ideal temperature range.
This ideal range is between 50F and 85F. Below 50F, tall fescue will go dormant and, after a month or so in this range, it will begin to turn brown. Above 85F, tall fescue will go dormant but will not turn brown if consistently watered. It will, however, slow its growth to the point where it should not be mown until things cool down. Tall fescue can tolerate some freezing without damage.
Fine fescue is much more forgiving in terms of temperature. Fine fescue will go dormant below 32F and can easily tolerate freezing conditions and harsh, long winters without any noticeable damage. Above 90F, fine fescue will go dormant but should not turn brown as long as it is watered consistently. If water is restricted, fine fescue will slowly turn brown over 6 weeks or so. It should not be mown while dormant.
Durability of Fine Fescue Grass vs Tall Fescue
Tall fescue may not win in the temperature resilience category but it wins in a contest of durability determined by traffic resilience and recovery time. Tall fescue will recover faster when cut or pulled up. It is likely to root well if transplanted or replaced after being dug up roughly. Traffic or crushing pressure on the lawn, be it from people, pets, or a parked car, is unlikely to harm tall fescue. Similar traffic will wear down fine fescue much faster. Both tall and fine fescue hold on well when planted on a slope.
Common Pests and Diseases for Tall Fescue or Fine Fescue
Both tall and fine fescue are susceptible to ants, webworms, and thrips like most other grasses. However, each of these grass types also has a particular vulnerability. Fine fescue is most vulnerable to conditions resulting from standing water, including puddles. If left in these conditions, fine fescue is likely to develop a fungal infestation. This may present as mushrooms, fairy rings, mildew, slime molds, or a brown patch disease.
Tall fescue holds up better in wet conditions, though it can still be vulnerable to fungus if conditions are too hot and humid during a rainy spell. Tall fescue can also be infected with leaf rust in sustained, hot conditions. It can be tempting to mow a lawn infected with leaf rust as doing so will clip off the red/brown ends and improve the appearance of the lawn. However, doing so while the lawn is dormant is discouraged as this can cause further damage.
Mowing Needs of Tall Fescue vs Mowing Needs of Fine Fescue
Tall fescue and fine fescue grass types should both be mown with the same goals in mind. Both tall fescue and fine fescue should be kept in the 2 to 3” mowing range. However, in periods of hot, dry weather both of these grasses can be kept at 3” to 4” to conserve moisture and a green appearance.
Are There Better Strains of Tall Fescue or Fine Fescue?
Both tall fescue and fine fescue have limited improved strains or other varieties. This is fairly common for cool-season grasses. Given this limited selection, the traits described above are really what you’ll have to work with.
Do keep in mind, however, that the “fine fescue” grass category is much more flexible than tall fescue. Tall fescue is its own type of grass, fine fescue includes chewing, creeping, and red fescues under its umbrella. If you are interested in fine fescue and have some of the conditions that would make it a better choice, it’s a good idea to do a deep dive on each of these types to select the best for your situation.
Tall Fescue vs Fine Fescue: Cost
Both tall fescue and fine fescue can be found for less than $10 a pound, at the time this article was written. Given the lack of patented or improved strains of either variety, neither of these types of grass should increase in price beyond this rough estimate. If you’re interested in plugs, cuttings, or sod you should expect a higher overall cost for your lawn compared to seed. Both tall fescue and fine fescue do very well when grown from seed so these alternative starting methods aren’t mandatory.
Can You Mix Fine Fescue and Tall Fescue?
You can mix all types of fescue. They don’t tend to fight too much, though you will see fine fescues win out in the shade and tall fescues will likely take over the sunnier patches of your lawn. However, there is no strong reason to mix fescues, especially when you start to consider what type of soil each fescue prefers- there is very little overlap.
The Best-Case Scenario for a Tall Fescue or Fine Fescue Lawn
If you have a yard with a heavy clay or even loam soil type, you should start by looking at tall fescue. Tall fescue prefers this soil type, a slightly acidic pH, average to heavy traffic, and somewhere with steady rainfall. This makes it great for use in residential areas throughout the Midwest.
Fine fescue likes a shady lawn with nutrient-poor soil and a slightly acidic to neutral pH. It’s a little more finicky than tall fescue about the parameters it will grow well in, such as how much drainage it needs, but it handles drought much better than tall fescue and has a greater acceptable temperature range. If you can control the amount of water your lawn gets to a greater degree, you will be rewarded with a fine fescue lawn as it could stay green longer throughout the year and stay a little softer than tall fescue or another cool-season grass might.
To sum this Tall Fescue vs Fine Fescue showdown up, I’ve put the main points of comparison in the table below for easy reference.
|Grass Type||Tall Fescue||Fine Fescue|
|Appearance||Dark Green with Coarse, Broad Blades||Narrow, Bristle-Like Blades with Deep Green Color and Smooth Texture|
|Popular Uses||High Traffic Areas and Yards with Mostly Shade||Shady Lawns or Parks with Moderate Traffic|
|Ideal Soil Type and pH||Rich and Clay Soil is Ideal - 5.5 to 7.5 Ideal pH||Poor, Well-Drained, Sandy Soil is Ideal - 6 to 6.5 Ideal pH|
|Water Requirements||1” of Water Per Week – Average Overall Water Consumption||1” to 1.5” of Water Per Week – Average Water Consumption – High Drought Tolerance|
|Sun/Shade/Temperature Needs||Shade Preferred/Dormant at 50F and Above 90F||Shade Preferred/ Dormant Below 32F and Above 90F|
|Durability||High Durability, Fast Recovery||Average Overall Durability and Average Damage Recovery|
|Pests and Diseases||Fungus, Leaf Rust – Webworms, Thrips, Ants, Grubs||Brown Patch, Mushrooms, Mildews – Webworms, Thrips, Ants, Grubs|
|Mowing Needs||Should Be Mown to 2” Height or 3”+ If Sunny and Hot – Grows Best in Cool Weather||Should Be Mown to 2” - 3” - Grows Best in Cool Weather|