If you’re on the hunt for low-maintenance turf grass, fescue and Bermuda are likely to be on your radar. And in a time when water conservation is at the forefront of many people’s minds, the fact that these grasses require little irrigation gives them an edge over the competition.
While fescue and Bermuda grass have many things in common, the preferred climate isn’t one of them. Most areas can only support one or the other. But those in transition zones — regions that can sustain both warm- and cool-season turf — must decide between fescue grass vs Bermuda grass for the best results.
- Fescue Grass vs Bermuda Grass
- Fescue Grass Characteristics
- Bermuda Grass Characteristics
- Fescue Grass vs Bermuda Comparison Chart
- Verdict: Fescue vs Bermuda Grass
Fescue Grass vs Bermuda Grass
Regardless of your lifestyle, you want a lawn that will hold up to everyday foot traffic without constant care. A big part of achieving this goal is understanding your local climate and selecting a grass that aligns with it.
If you live in a warm climate, Bermuda grass is likely a very good option for your lawn. Meanwhile, fescue grass is ideal for areas that experience sub-zero temperatures in winter.
Even excluding climate preferences, there are some key differences between fescue and Bermuda grass. For example, fescue is much more tolerant of shade. Also, fescue grass prefers slightly acidic soil while Bermuda grass prefers slightly alkaline soil.
Fescue Grass Characteristics
Fescue is a cool-season grass native to Europe. It was brought over to North America in the 1800s when residential lawns first gained popularity.
There are several varieties of fescue grass to choose from. Popular options for turf lawns include tall fescue, creeping red fescue, Chewings fescue, and sheep fescue. The latter three are categorized as fine fescues.
Fescue grass roots typically extend 2 to 3 feet into the soil. This is considerably deeper than the average turf grass, and aids fescue in surviving drought and other environmental stressors.
Fescue is one of the most prolific turf grasses in the world, with most fescue lawns being located in North America and southern Europe. When compared to other cool-season grasses, fescue stands out because it tolerates heat and humidity surprisingly well.
In the United States specifically, fescue can be grown in all but the southernmost areas. Depending on the variety, fescue grass is generally hardy in USDA zones 4 through 8.
Tall fescue grows in zones 3 to 8 and is a wonderful choice for the majority of the country. However, there are fewer advantages to growing fescue the closer you get to the edge of its preferred growing range.
Soil Type and pH
A big reason for fescue’s popularity is its tolerance of different soil compositions. However, fescue grass tends to perform best in rich, clay soils.
Fescue also thrives in a wide soil pH range. While this grass can survive in soil with a pH between 5.5 and 7.5, it prefers a range of 6.0 to 6.5.
Tolerance of Heat and Cold
According to Oregon State University, the optimal temperature for mature fescue grass is between 68 and 77°F. Fescue may continue growing in temperatures ranging from 40 to 95°F. However, sustained temperatures at either end of this range will send the grass into dormancy.
In summer, fescue grass will likely stop growing when daytime temperatures exceed 90°F. Grass planted in the shade or receiving sufficient water may tolerate higher temperatures.
In winter, fescue typically goes dormant when temperatures drop below 50°F. The grass will stay alive below the soil’s surface throughout winter as long as temperatures are above -30°F (tall fescues suitable for USDA zone 3 can survive temperatures down to -40°F).
When first planting fescue grass seed, you’ll need soil temperatures around 60 to 75°F for optimal growth. Any warmer or colder, and germination might be delayed or not happen at all. I recommend seeding fescue grasses in late summer or early fall, depending on your individual climate.
One of the fescue’s greatest selling points is its superb drought tolerance. Tall fescues require 1.25 inches of water per week on average. Fine fescues require up to 1 inch of water per week on average.
Both tall and fine fescue varieties need little water to survive. Following drought damage, fescue is able to quickly bounce back thanks to deep root systems and rhizomatic stems. In my experience, the best varieties for drought tolerance include dwarf tall fescue, creeping red fescue, and Chewings fescue.
Many fescue lawns only require irrigation on particularly hot and dry days. If you live in the northern part of fescue’s growing range, watering may not be necessary at all.
Fescue is generally regarded as a shade-friendly grass option. For maximum shade tolerance, I recommend opting for a variety of fine fescue. Creeping red fescue is a very popular choice. While tall fescue also offers some shade tolerance, it performs best in partial sun.
Tolerance To Footfall
With its thick blades and dense root system, fescue grass is particularly resilient against heavy foot traffic. If you need further convincing, just keep in mind that fescue is a top choice for athletic fields and public parks.
Tall fescue tends to be the most durable variety when it comes to foot traffic. It’s ideal for areas that are too warm for Kentucky bluegrass but too cold for Bermuda grass.
Level of Maintenance
Though no turf grass is maintenance-free, fescue comes pretty close. It does not require frequent watering and stands up well to many pests and diseases. Common fescue issues to be aware of include white grubs and brown patch disease.
Throughout the growing season, you may need to mow as often as every week to maintain the fescue’s height. Fescue responds well to nitrogen-rich fertilizer applied as needed. According to NC State University, annual aeration is recommended for fescue lawns that receive heavy foot traffic or that are planted in clay soil.
Bermuda Grass Characteristics
Bermuda grass is a warm-season grass native to tropical and subtropical regions. While Bermuda grass requires irrigation if it receives fewer than 20 inches of rain annually, its heat tolerance makes it a prime candidate for much of the southern United States.
Bermuda grass is famous for its durability. Its deep root system — which can grow to over 6 feet long — makes this grass ideal for high-traffic, drought-prone areas.
In all but the warmest climates, Bermuda grass turns brown in winter. Some homeowners opt to overseed Bermuda with cold-season grass — annual ryegrass is a popular choice — to maintain a green lawn year-round.
You’ll find Bermuda grass all over the southern third of the United States, as well as in what lawn care professionals call the “transition zone.” If you’re wondering whether or not Bermuda grass is appropriate for your area, I recommend looking up your local USDA hardiness zone. Bermuda grass will grow in zones 7 through 10.
Soil Type and pH
Bermuda grass will grow in nearly any soil type as long as it has adequate access to nutrients. Amending with organic matter is the best way to improve the soil quality prior to planting Bermuda grass, regardless of its clay or sand content.
Bermuda grass prefers a neutral or slightly alkaline soil but is also incredibly tolerant when it comes to pH. According to Texas A&M University, a soil pH between 6.5 and 8.0 is appropriate.
Tolerance of Heat and Cold
Bermuda grass thrives in high heat. So much so that the ideal daytime temperature for Bermuda grass growth is between 95 and 100°F — well above the point where many other turf types of grass would go dormant. Bermuda grass needs an average daytime temperature above 75°F for optimal health.
Of course, the trade-off is that Bermuda grass has very little cold tolerance. Winter dormancy typically starts when the average temperature reaches 50°F or below.
Bermuda grass can tolerate chilly nights as long as days are warm. However, any temperature below 30°F will likely kill the blades outright. The roots of Bermuda grass need soil temperatures above 0°F to survive winter.
Bermuda is one of the most drought-tolerant warm-season grasses available. Like many other drought-tolerant turf types of grass, Bermuda grass has very long roots that excel at drawing water from deep under the soil’s surface. On average, Bermuda grass requires just 1.25 inches of water per week.
Another great feature of Bermuda grass is its ability to bounce back after an extended drought. Even after several weeks of drought, Bermuda grass will regain its color and vigor quite quickly when conditions improve.
Shade tolerance is one area where Bermuda grass falls short. Bermuda grass is easily one of the least shade-tolerant turf grasses available to homeowners.
If your property features large trees or other structures, Bermuda grass might not be the best option. Bermuda grass needs a minimum of 4 hours of direct sunlight each day to thrive, though more is preferable.
With that said, newer cultivars offer slightly better shade tolerance than common Bermuda grass. For example, TifGrand Bermuda is a patented variety advertised as having 50% shade tolerance. But no version of Bermuda grass is truly well-suited to a shady yard.
Tolerance To Footfall
Bermuda grass is a wonderful choice for any high-traffic lawn. It will hold up to everyday wear and tear from kids, pets, gardening equipment, and more.
Since Bermuda grass has such a fast growth rate, it recovers easily when damage does occur. This is why it’s so popular for sports fields and golf courses in hot climates.
Level of Maintenance
Bermuda is a very low-maintenance grass. Water and fertilize the lawn as needed throughout the growing season. You may also need to irrigate during dormancy to keep the roots from drying out.
Healthy Bermuda grass requires weekly mowing during active growth. According to Clemson University, thatch buildup of Bermuda tends to be worse than that of other turf grasses. You should plan to monitor and remove excess thatch as needed.
Common Bermuda grass problems include mole crickets, grubs, and fungal diseases. These issues can be easily controlled with proper maintenance and the use of chemical treatments as needed.
Fescue Grass vs Bermuda Comparison Chart
|Fescue Grass||Bermuda Grass|
|Growing Range||3 to 8||7 to 10|
|Heat Tolerance||Moderate (<90°F)||High (100°F+)|
|Cold Tolerance||High (-40°F+)||Low (0°F+)|
|Weekly Watering||0.75 to 1.25 inches||1.25 inches|
|Soil Type||All (clay is ideal)||All|
|Soil pH||5.5 to 7.5||6.5 to 8.0|
|Germination Rate||10 to 14 days||7 to 14 days|
|Mowing Height||2 to 4 inches||1.5 to 2.5 inches|
Verdict: Fescue vs Bermuda Grass
Fescue and Bermuda grass are both excellent options for the average lawn. Choosing between one versus the other type comes down to your location. While fescue is ideal for colder areas, Bermuda grass will thrive in some of the hottest climates around.
If you live in a transition zone — somewhere that accommodates both warm- and cool-season grasses — you may be able to grow either of these grasses in your yard. I recommend taking into account things like soil quality and the amount of shade on your property to determine whether fescue or Bermuda grass is best for your lawn.
Rest assured, you’ll see great results no matter which of these two types of grass you ultimately decide on. Both are low-maintenance varieties that require minimal water to keep lush and green during the growing season.