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Kentucky Bluegrass vs. Tall Fescue

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While both Kentucky bluegrass and tall fescue are ideal for your lawn, physiological and physical differences could have a say in terms of what to choose to grow. Telling the two apart is easy.

How to Tell Kentucky Bluegrass & Tall Fescue Apart (Pictures)

Highlights in major differences (table).

Kentucky BluegrassTall Fescue
Grows relatively slowerGrows faster
More demanding maintenance & careModerately demanding maintenance & care
Less tolerant to heat stressMore susceptible to the heat of the summer
More demanding maintenance and careIt demands a little bit of care
More demanding watering needsLess watering demands
More tolerant of coldMore tolerant to heat
Establishes less fastMore susceptible to the heat of the summer
Kentucky bluegrass needs more lightPrefers shady areas of natural sunlight
Can resist weed overtakeMore resistant to weeds
Table 1: Tall Fescue vs. Kentucky Bluegrass

a) Physical Looks Differences

Tall fescue is mint green to dark green. It is often identifiable with true emerald or sea-green colors.

Kentucky bluegrass has a subtle brighter green with a bluish-green tinge/tone. Arguably, this physical appearance evokes a scenery with a breezy visual appeal.

KBG with exposed blades and stems

b) Sprouting & Growth Speeds

While Kentucky bluegrass takes slightly longer to germinate, which means that it also takes longer to establish well. Tall fescue grass takes about the same time to grow. However, it seems to establish in a shorter while.

Both grass types take about 9 – 21 days to germinate after sowing.

c) Texture & Feel

KBG has a characteristic soft velvety texture. When walking across lawns with this grass, there is the feel of underfoot comfort.

Due to this characteristic, it can barely take any heavy foot traffic.

Tall fescue is coarse-textured with a medium to dark green color. It has wide blades too. The European fescue has smooth erect stems. These stems can stretch to heights of about 1 meter high.

d) Effect of Physical Impact

Tall fescue is thin and coarse making its blades more resilient to foot traffic than the soft, plump Kentucky bluegrass.

KBG appearence due to foot traffic - lower tolerance to foot traffic

However, tall fescue can’t self-spread and repair itself the way Kentucky bluegrass can. Adding more sod or reseeding your lawn is a convenient way to fix patchy areas (or replace those that get heavily trampled).

e) Cold Tolerance

Both tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass are cool-season grasses that can withstand colder weather. However;

  • Kentucky bluegrass is much more tolerant of cold
  • Tall fescue has good cold tolerance but is not suitable for the coldest areas of the northern U.S. including
    • Connecticut
    • Massachusetts
    • Michigan
    • Minnesota
    • New Hampshire
    • North Dakota
    • Pennsylvania
    • Rhode Island
    • Vermont Wisconsin

f) Heat Tolerance 

While Kentucky bluegrass stands up to the North’s coldest winters, it can’t tolerate the extreme heat and sunshine. These two combined aspects can scorch or kill its leaves.

Tall fescue is more tolerant of hot weather. Thus, it is best suited for transitional climate zones and cool-season regions with milder winters. 

g) Pests and Disease: Resistance vs. Vulnerability

Kentucky bluegrass and tall fescue can both play host to common lawn pests such as ants, grubs, and webworms.

During hot summer days, both tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass become susceptible to disease and weed takeovers.

Certain disease pathogens can affect both kinds of grass differently. For instance, tall fescue tends to be more vulnerable to fungi. Tall fescue is also susceptible to the following infections.

  • Drechslera leaf spot
  • Crown rust
  • Pink and gray snow mold
  • Red thread
  • Brown patch
  • Dollar spot
  • Net-blotch
Tall fescue with signs of disease or pest effects

KBG on the other hand is vulnerable to the following diseases:

Due to the sub-surface rooting system, KBG is more susceptible to mole invasion and destruction.

h) Ideal Growing Medium

Soil pH and drainage are essential to the healthy growth of Kentucky bluegrass. The grass prefers a slightly acidic rooting medium (5.8 – 6.9). Apply a more nitrogen-based fertilizer to keep up with and check pH levels. Before deciding where to grow your grass, you may want to have your soil tested. Reach out to a local soil testing service or personnel near you.

The soil should also have the ability to drain well.

Tall fescue does best in rich, clay-based soils with a pH ranging from 5.5 to 7.5. However, tall fescue seems to be more adaptable to different soil types

I) Sunlight Requirements (Hours vs Strength)

Kentucky bluegrass is a sun-craving grass. As such it requires at least 8 quality natural direct sunlight.

While tall fescue is much more tolerant of shade, it is well-suited to partial shade over full sun. A short-medium exposure to direct sunlight of 4 hours of sunlight per day does facilitate better establishment. 

j) Maintenance Details

“If you have Kentucky bluegrass, you ought to aerate your lawn every two to three years to ensure proper soil drainage and keep your grass thriving.”

Tall fescue on the other hand, “benefits from an annual over-seeding to keep the blades dense and vibrant.”

k) Weed Overtake

With its delicate leaves and shallow root system, Kentucky bluegrass is more vulnerable to being overtaken by weeds.

Tall fescue has deeper roots and can compete against any weeds that try to take over.

Why Choose to Grow Kentucky Bluegrass?

The Kentucky bluegrass is a cool-season grass. When its full growth potential unleashes, it stretches up to 18 to 24 inches tall. You can conveniently and easily identify it by observing the leaf tip. And it has a poised boat-shaped leaf tip.

One of the popular reasons why this KBG is handy to grow is because of its growing strength in cool climate regions. It remains strong and ignores the threats that come with each growing season.

From that sense, it is a preferable low-maintenance grass for your lawn.

Adaptability to Colder + Hotter Weather

One of the reasons to go for KBG lies in its natural incredibility to adapt to the cold. And that is not only a great ideal choice for cool climates but also the ability to withstand cold for long periods.

This one can also is well adapted to and can survive during periods of hot, humid weather.

KBG appearance due to hot weather

KBG has Easy Self-spreading

Aided by the production of rhizomes in the spring and summer, this one spreads with ease. Most shoots in early spring, remain vegetative and lie along the ground.

This lying on the ground is a quality attributed to the grass responding to daylight hours. During the longer days, the shoots remain erect. And during shorter daytime, the shoots lie along the ground. As a result, these grass shoots esthetically grow upright during late springtime and summertime.

Well tucked KBG lawn

In particular, Kentucky Bluegrass as a cool season grass, spreads allowing for thickened lawn.

Your Choice for Lawns with Frequent Visits

In terms of foot traffic and trampling impact, tall Kentucky Bluegrass to a great extent the better choice. You don’t have to worry or control who has to visit your lawn area.

As such, KBG is a resilient grass type that can resist footwork wear. The steady spread of rhizomes enables your lawn to regenerate and self-repair. It is considered one of the most reliable, self-sustaining lawn grass.

Keeps Disease at Bay

Resistance to disease attack is another exquisite quality owned by KBG. For the grass to keep disease at bay, water your lawn and see that you keep up with maintenance to the standard levels.

To strengthen the withstanding of disease invasion, consider the following:

  • regular application of nitrogen fertilizer to keep off rust disease
  • applying a protective fungicide to prevent leaf spot signs

Why Choose Tall Fescue

Well-adapted to shady and sunny areas of the lawns, tall fescue is a great cool grass. One great feature of this grass is its capability to form a uniform appearance.

The most familiar and popular variety is the tall one. Even though there are those varieties that are softer and shorter.

Identifying tall fescue is easy than you thought. Leaves are rolled in the bud. This grass has rounded auricles with a fantastic extensive root system.

Here are some of the reasons why you need to choose this grass for your lawns:

Tall fescue grass after mowing
  • Tall Fescue has low maintenance
  • Tall fescue has excellent tolerance to heat stress
  • This grass can also survive moderate foot traffic
  • Opting for this one means that you see beautiful year-round lawns in the transition area

Reference and Sources

  1. Patton, A. and Boyd J., “Choosing a Grass for Arkansas Lawns,” University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension. Accessed online 13 May 2023
  2. Diseases of Tall Fescue Lawns. https://ssl.acesag.auburn.edu/pubs/docs/A/ANR-1168/ANR-1168-archive.pdf. Accessed online 13 May 2023
  3. Common Lawn and Athletic Field Diseases.  https://www.mdturfcouncil.org/resources/Documents/TT%20Bulletins/TT-32%20Diagnosing%20Common%20Lawn%20And%20Athletic%20Field%20Diseases.pdfDiagnosing. Accessed online 13 May 2023
  4. Tall Fescue AN AWARD WINNING GRASS. LAWN CARE ACADEMY. https://www.lawn-care-academy.com/tallfescue.html#:~:text=Tall%20fescue%20has%20good%20cold,patch”%20in%20high%20humidity%20areas. Accessed online 13 May 2023
  5. Everything You Need to Know About Kentucky Bluegrass. JonathanGreen. https://www.jonathangreen.com/resources/kentucky-bluegrass-seed-html. Accessed online 3 May 2023

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