Tall Fescue vs Kentucky Bluegrass | Which is Best?

The best things in life require careful planning. Deciding which type of lawn grass to grow is no different. It’s going to be there for a long time, so taking the time to make the right decision now will pay off in the long term.

The list seems endless when you consider what you want from your turf:

  • Lawn grass that grows thick and fast?
  • A variety that can provide you with a lush and verdant outdoor space?
  • One that grows in harmony with the climate in which you live?

No wonder it feels as though you might want it all!

Two popular choices when it comes to Northern grass types are tall fescue vs Kentucky bluegrass. But which is the better option?

In this article, I’ve provided expert recommendations based on my own experiences, so you’ll be able to make the best choice and bring those plans of yours to fruition.

Tall Fescue Vs Kentucky Bluegrass

Both of these grass types are capable of thriving in cooler zones. And yet they both respond to things like high heat, foot traffic, and shade very differently.

Selecting the best option means taking a careful look at factors such as your growing region, your lawn’s soil composition, the purpose of the lawn, as well as the level of maintenance you can expect to provide. All of which are covered right below.

Tall Fescue Vs Kentucky Bluegrass_inset.

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Grass Comparison Chart

 Tall FescueKentucky Bluegrass
Growing RegionsUSDA zones 3 to 8USDA zones 3 to 7
Soil TypeClay; LoamyFertile; Well-Draining
Soil pH4.5 – 9.05.8 – 7.0
Heat ToleranceHigh, up to 95° F (35° C)Low, up to 70° F (26.7° C)
Cold ToleranceModerateHigh
Drought ToleranceHighLow
Shade ToleranceModerateLow
Footfall ToleranceModerateHigh
Germination rateRapid (7-12 days)Slow (14-21 days)
Level of MaintenanceLow; Frequent WateringHigh; Frequent Watering and Mowing

Tall Fescue Grass Characteristics

Regarded as a cool-season grass and one of the most popular varieties on offer in the United States, Festuca arundinacea is actually found growing native to European meadows.

Introduced to North America in the 19th century, it is known for its characteristic dark green color and its ability to maintain its verdant allure during the coolness of winter.

Widely considered to be an excellent species for ornamental purposes, tall fescue can also be found in the Midwest where it was planted over thousands of acres to aid conservation efforts.

It’s also one of the fastest-germinating cool-season grasses. It is capable of germinating in less than two weeks. Only perennial ryegrass and rough bluegrass are faster.

Growing Regions

Tall fescue is capable of withstanding cold winters and can be found from the Pacific Northwest to as far south as Northern Alabama — a range extending through hardiness zones 3 – 8.

That said, the cool-season grass thrives between temperatures of 60° – 75° Fahrenheit  (15.5° – 23.8° Celsius) and is an excellent choice if you happen to live in the transition zone. This climatic band which marks the overlap between cool and warm regions is noted for being especially challenging for its warm summers which are too hot for cool-season grasses and its cold winters which are unsuitable for warm-season grasses.

The transition zone extends from California to Virginia and covers various states, including Arkansas, Maryland, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.

Soil Type And pH

According to Oregon State University, this grass is capable of growing in soil with a pH of 4.5 – 9.0.

However, the species thrives best in mildly acidic or mildly alkaline soils with pH levels of 5.5 – 7.5.

In terms of soil type, tall fescue does best in clay soil with a high amount of organic matter. However, it will also grow in loamy soil.

Tolerance Of Heat And Cold

Tall fescue tolerates temperatures as high as 95° Fahrenheit (35° Celsius) and is most heat-tolerant cool-season grass. This tolerance is due to its root system which can reach depths of 2 to 3 feet.

This fescue also has impressive cold tolerance. Overall, the species does best between 68 – 77° Fahrenheit (20 – 25° Celsius).

Drought Tolerance

Tall fescue has an impressive level of drought resistance. Its extensive root system makes it more drought-tolerant than relatives like fine fescue. And it is much more drought-tolerance than Kentucky bluegrass.

Shade Tolerance

This grass requires 3 to 4 hours of sunlight to thrive and is moderately shade-tolerant. Its relatively fine fescue is considered to be the most shade-tolerant turf grass.

On the other hand, tall fescue is more tolerant of shade than both perennial ryegrass and Kentucky bluegrass.

Tolerance To Foot Traffic

Tall fescue holds up to foot traffic very well. However, it takes longer to recover compared to Kentucky bluegrass.

Level Of Maintenance

Tall fescue requires low levels of maintenance and should be cared for as follows:


Your fescue lawn will require 1 inch of water weekly, preferably early in the morning. Watering should be slow and gradual rather than a torrential downpour to ensure the moisture is fully absorbed.

Ideally, you want to split watering applications into two sessions for optimal results. 

For sandy soils, the above recommendation should be changed to ½ of an inch every three days.


Fescue lawns typically need mowing weekly in early spring and twice weekly during warmer weather.

Special care should be taken to keep it at 2½ or 3 inches to enable moisture to penetrate the soil.

Keep mower blades on a high setting to ensure that only ⅓ of the total blade height is removed. This will keep your turf at its healthiest and prevent its rich green uniformity from taking on an unhealthy yellowish tinge.


Owing to its habit of forming clumps like perennial ryegrass, tall fescue is rarely at risk of thatch. If the thatch layer grows thicker than 1 inch, dethatch in the fall for the best results.


The soil should be aerated in the fall using a core aerator for maximum benefit to your turf.

To boost your efforts here, make sure you provide your grass with nourishing doses of water and fertilizer once you have aerated.


The best time to fertilize tall fescue is during fall and spring. This is because it will experience active growth during these seasons.

Kentucky Bluegrass Characteristics

The most well-known and widely used of bluegrass species, Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis) originates from Europe, Asia, and North Africa.

Its main features include boat-shaped leaves, a fine texture, and a characteristic blue-green hue. It is considered to be the ideal species of cool-season lawn grass.

It is particularly renowned for its excellent cold tolerance and its ability to withstand wear owing to its rhizomes. However, Kentucky bluegrass is vulnerable to disease, salt, and drought.

Unlike tall fescue which grows in clumps and germinates quickly, this species is self-spreading and takes about 14 days to sprout.

Growing Regions

Kentucky bluegrass is well-suited to cold winters and can be found in the transition zone and regions north of it. This cool-season species can be grown in hardiness zones 3 – 7.

It performs best in temperatures of 60° – 75° Fahrenheit (15.5° – 23.8° Celsius).

Soil Type And pH

This species of cool-season turf prefers mildly acidic to neutral soil and thrives at pH levels between 6.0 – 7.0.

It also enjoys rich, heavy soil with a good quantity of organic matter to provide it with the nutrients it needs.

Tolerance Of Heat And Cold

Kentucky bluegrass is less heat-tolerant than fescue and other popular turf types.

Its shallow root system is a contributing factor and it will enter a state of dormancy once temperatures reach 90° Fahrenheit (32.2°Celsius).

That said, it is one of the most cold-tolerant turf grasses. Only creeping bentgrass and rough bluegrass can withstand colder temperatures.

Drought Tolerance

Kentucky bluegrass is less drought-tolerant compared to fescue. However, thanks to its rhizomes, it is capable of bouncing back quite fast after drought stress.

This species will enter dormancy after two weeks without water. It will be able to survive in this state for a further 6 weeks. However, water must be provided following this period to ensure it is able to recover.

Shade Tolerance

This grass requires direct sunlight to grow properly. It needs about 4 hours daily. While it can tolerate dappled light, it is less shade-tolerant than other cool-season grasses.

Tolerance To Foot Traffic

Despite a reputation for being somewhat slow-growing compared to other cool-season grasses, Kentucky bluegrass comes with an impressive tolerance to traffic. This is due to its rhizomes and the fact that it starts to grow rather thickly once it has taken root.

This quality puts it ahead of fescues and perennial ryegrass, which are both capable of tolerating footfall to a moderate degree.

It also makes this species ideal if your lawn is likely to be the scene of games of hiding and seek with toddlers or catch with your resident canine.

Level Of Maintenance

Kentucky bluegrass can be somewhat demanding in terms of maintenance:


This turf grass needs 1 inch of water weekly. Water is best applied gradually so that it penetrates the soil without pooling.

Early morning watering sessions are best and will prevent evaporation caused by heat or bright sunlight.


Kentucky bluegrass should be mowed every 5 days during spring and fall when the weather tends to be cooler and its growth is more robust.

During these periods it should be cut to a height of 2.5 – 3 inches.

The mowing frequency should be changed to weekly or fortnightly with the arrival of summer.

The height of your turf should be increased to 3.5 inches to protect the crowns from heat. Doing so will also ensure the grass is able to produce more energy and be better equipped to handle the warmer weeks ahead.


Because this grass grows rapidly, it is affected by the presence of thatch and will need to be dethatched every 2 or 3 years.

This process should be conducted during periods that are favorable to its growth, i.e., during the cooler months of spring and fall (preferably at the start of each season).


Aerating your lawn can also prove beneficial and help encourage a stronger root system.

As is the case with fertilization and dethatching, aerating is best done in early spring or fall. A core aerator is the best choice of device for the procedure (spike aerators, while convenient, can worsen compaction).

Aeration should be carried out the day after a spring or autumn shower to ensure the soil has had time to soften for optimal results.


Kentucky bluegrass requires more frequent feeding than fescue. I always use a high-nitrogen fertilizer for this turf to promote lush, green growth and healthy roots.

Three-quarters of a pound of slow-release granules per 1,000 square feet is ideal for recovery from the rigorous summer heat. It makes sense, then, that the best time to supplement any depleted nutrients is by way of a good quality lawn fertilizer in early or mid-September.

I recommend applying a second dose of the same amount in mid-October. Again, opt for a slow-release formula to allow nutrients to be absorbed gradually rather than all at once.

In spring, apply 2 pounds of slow-release granules per 1,000 square feet of lawn. This can be repeated in mid-summer.

Verdict: Tall Fescue vs Kentucky Bluegrass

Tall fescue’s ability to germinate quickly and withstand warm summers and drought, while being relatively low maintenance, makes it an excellent choice if these factors happen to be your key concern.

However, if your ideal lawn is one capable of recovering from wear effectively, and handling the cold better, while also being comfortable to walk on, Kentucky bluegrass should be your preferred option.

Either way, both types of grass can provide you with years of usage and enjoyment, provided you follow my guidance on how best to water, mow, fertilize, and generally maintain your lawn.