Turf Type Tall Fescue vs Kentucky Bluegrass

Turf Type Tall Fescue vs Kentucky Bluegrass

Two of the most popular cool-season grasses are quite different from one another when you compare them and take a hard look at their characteristics. People in the far northern zones are safe to call Kentucky Bluegrass a go-to favorite. At the same time, some of their neighbors – especially ones a little farther south in the transition zones – might choose Tall Fescue for their lawns. Let’s compare Turf Type Tall Fescue vs Kentucky Bluegrass and explore the differences between these popular turf grasses.

Trust and Accuracy Information

This article was last updated on by Lawn Chick Owner Sarah Jameson
Article content reviewed for accuracy by Certified Horticulturist Nicole Forsyth, M.S.

A Quick Comparison of Kentucky Bluegrass & Turf Type Tall Fescue

There are some distinct characteristics between these popular grasses, and in the landscape it’s easy to tell them apart. In this article I’ll explore their tolerances, how they grow, and how they differ in appearance and texture.

Understanding these differences can significantly influence which grass seed is right for your lawn, and in most cases, a blend of the two with Perennial Ryegrass might be your best option for a cool season lawn.

Difference Between Kentucky Bluegrass and Turf Type Tall Fescue
A healthy stand of Kentucky Bluegrass in a lawn

Key Differences Between Turf Type Tall Fescue and Kentucky Bluegrass

Some key differences between Turf Type Tall Fescue and Kentucky Bluegrass are:

  • Both Kentucky Bluegrass and Turf Type Tall Fescue are cool season grasses hardy in USDA growing zone 8 and above. The Fescue can take a bit more height and is slightly less cold hardy of the two.
  • Turf Type Tall Fescue germinates more quickly and grows faster than Kentucky Bluegrass.
  • Kentucky Bluegrass has a shallower root system than Turf Type Tall Fescue.
  • Kentucky Bluegrass spreads via Rhizomes and creates thick turf in your yard. Tall Fescue is a bunch-forming grass that doesn’t spread or repair itself in the landscape.
  • Kentucky Bluegrass requires more sunlight, fertilizer, and water than Turf Type Tall Fescue. It’s less resilient to heavy foot traffic, but is capable of repairing any damage it sustains from heavy traffic or pesky dogs.
Turf Type Tall Fescue vs Bluegrass
Close-up of Turf Type Tall Fescue grass

Now let’s take a closer look and compare Turf Type Tall Fescue vs Kentucky Bluegrass.

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Everyone needs to choose a grass seed based on its tolerances as they compare to your climate. Here’s the breakdown between Turf Type Tall Fescue vs Kentucky Bluegrass .

  • Kentucky Bluegrass is a cool-season grass that has the best cold-hardiness reputation there is for northern lawns. This type of grass is less heat-tolerant and grows in zones 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8.
  • Tall Fescue is a cool-season grass that withstands heat and drought better than other cool-season grasses. It is perfect for northern lawns and performs well in the transition zone. It is less hardy in the cold, but grows in zones 1, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 12.

In other words, these grasses grow in many of the same climate zones, but each has specific tolerances that can make a difference when choosing the best grass for your lawn.

Kentucky Bluegrass is a safe bet in areas with harsher winters and a limited warm season.

Difference Between Turf Type Tall Fescue and Kentucky Bluegrass
Turf Type Tall Fescue lawn grass

By comparison, TTTF (Turf Type Tall Fescue) is a better choice for more temperate parts of the northern regions that get hotter and stay warmer longer.

Using a grass seed with a blend of each type of grass is a good choice because when Kentucky Blue starts to fade and struggle in the heat of summer, TTTF performs well with its heat tolerance and deep roots which combat drought.

Growth Patterns

The way grass grows and spreads can also make a difference when choosing the perfect seed for your lawn.

Turf Type Tall Fescue and Kentucky Bluegrass are entirely different when it comes to the way they grow and spread. These differences lend themselves to the subtle variations in heat and cold tolerances just discussed.

The following is a description of the growth patterns for these two popular cool-season grasses.

Turf Type Tall Fescue

This grass is easily established from seed and germinates more quickly than Kentucky Bluegrass.

TTTF develops a 2 – 3 foot deep root system, which is deeper than most other cool-season grasses. The deeper root system seeks and retains moisture, making this variety of grass more heat and drought tolerant than Kentucky Blue. The root system of fescue grasses is one of the reasons they are so popular for both dense clay, and even sandy lawns where other grasses may struggle.

Turf Type Tall Fescue Characteristics

Tall Fescue is a bunch-forming grass with limited spreading capability. This means that it grows in clumps and spreads through tillers. Tillers are vertical shoots that grow from the base of the plant itself rather than from horizontal stems (rhizomes). You can compare this to a shrub that spreads out via suckering from the ground.

For this reason, bunch-forming grasses, such as Tall Fescue, are easier to contain and keep out of places they are not supposed to be, such as flower beds, gardens, and driveways.

The downside to this growth habit is that if your lawn is damaged, the grass isn’t able to quickly fill in bare patches and repair itself. These bare patches are unsightly, and can leave your lawn vulnerable to weeds.

Kentucky Bluegrass

Kentucky Bluegrass has a shallow root system when compared to Turf Type Tall Fescue, making it more vulnerable to heat and drought.

Closeup of Kentucky Bluegrass and its Texture in a Lawn
Close-up photo of a Kentucky Bluegrass lawn

Like Tall Fescue, it grows well from seed and is an easy type of grass for homeowners to grow. But Kentucky Blue germinates at a slower rate, so it requires patience and isn’t quite as beginner friendly.

Kentucky Bluegrass is a self-spreading, sod-forming grass that spreads quickly via rhizomes.

It is known for its deep emerald blue-green color and medium to fine texture that is easy on bare feet. Most landscapers and experts agree that Kentucky Bluegrass is one of the most beautiful lawn grasses available for northern lawns.

Kentucky Bluegrass vs Turf Type Tall Fescue Grass
The distinctive color of healthy Kentucky Bluegrass

During extreme heat and drought, Kentucky Bluegrass will go dormant, so you can expect to water you Kentucky Bluegrass lawn more during the summer to keep it looking its best.

Key Differences Between Turf Type Tall Fescue & Kentucky Bluegrass

If you have not been able to determine the right grass for your lawn yet, consider the following characteristics. This way, you end up with the lush green lawn you desire.

  • Kentucky Bluegrass needs more sunlight than Tall Fescue. In fact, it requires an average of 8 hours of direct sunlight daily, whereas Tall Fescue only requires half that amount to thrive.
  • Kentucky Bluegrass also needs more water and fertilizer than Tall Fescue.
  • Kentucky Bluegrass needs dethatching every year or two. Tall Fescue does not require this process, but it can benefit from overseeding – something which isn’t needed as often in an Kentucky Bluegrass lawn. Thatch is the build-up of live and dead organic matter that clusters near the base of the grass. Removing this debris with a lawn dethatcher, can stimulate growth. The process of overseeding is seeding an established lawn to promote a thicker, healthier stand of grass. 
  • Tall Fescue is more tolerant of foot traffic; however, it is less capable of repairing itself from stress and damage.
  • Kentucky Bluegrass needs more moisture and fertilizer than Tall Fescue. The former needs 3 – 6 lbs. of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet, while the latter requires 1 lb. of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet.
  • The best time to plant Kentucky Bluegrass is early fall. Turf Type Tall Fescue does well when planted in peak growth periods, which occur in both spring and fall.
Turf Type Tall Fescue Close Up
Tall fescue lawn grass, close-up

Cheat Sheet

Characteristic for ComparisonKentucky BluegrassTurf Type Tall Fescue
Growing Zones1,3,4,5,6,7,81,3,5,6,7,8,12
Sunlight8 hours direct sunlight daily4 hours direct sunlight daily
Type of GrassCool-season northern grassCool-season northern grass
HardinessEspecially hardy in colder climatesEspecially hardy in warmer transition zones
Growing SeasonBest growth in cool spring and fallBest growth in cool spring and fall
Ideal Time to PlantEarly FallPeak growth periods in spring and fall
Type of GrowthShallow rhizomes / self-spreading, sod-formingTillers spread / bunch-forming / limited spreading capabilities
ConditionsNeeds more moisture and fertilizerNeeds less moisture and fertilizer
SturdinessSelf-repairs from damage; but less tolerant to foot trafficLimited capabilities for self-repairs; but more tolerant to foot traffic
Extra CareNeeds dethatchingDoes not need dethatching but can benefit from overseeding
pH Soil Balance5.8 – 7.0: needs more nitrogen (fertilizer)5.5 – 7.5: needs less nitrogen (fertilizer)
ResistanceLess resistant to disease and weedsMore resistant to disease and weeds
TextureFine to medium: easy on bare feetCoarse and clumpy
ColorDeep emerald blue-greenMedium to dark green

Final Thoughts on Turf Type Tall Fescue vs Kentucky Bluegrass

The best recommendation for choosing a grass seed comes down to choosing one that fits your climate (specifically the micro-climate that exists on your property), and how you use your lawn.

Tall Fescue vs Kentucky Bluegrass

While both Tall Fescue and Kentucky Bluegrass are cool-season grasses recommended for the northern regions, they do best in different conditions.

Where You Live

Since Kentucky Bluegrass is particularly hardy in colder areas, it is better suited for the colder regions of the northern states. In addition, it tends to need more moisture and fertilizer. This does not mean you will continuously be watering your Kentucky Bluegrass. When the snow in the northernmost regions melts, it provides some of the extra moisture the grass needs. 

If you live a little farther south in a transition zone between the colder north and warmer south, Tall Fescue is probably a better choice for your lawn. While modern Tall Fescue varieties have overcome many vulnerabilities, including cold sensitivity, it is still better suited for warmer areas. I like the Titan Rx Turf Type Tall Fescue seed (Amazon link), but there are a lot of good varieties of this quality grass.

How They Look and Feel

Finally, the look and feel of the two grasses is different, and for most homeowners this will play a large role in which type of grass you will choose.

Kentucky Bluegrass is a bright green color with hints of blue-green and a more delicate texture. Turf Type Tall Fescue has a coarser texture, and offers a darker pure green hue. If you have a strong opinion on the look and feel of your lawn, these details should not be ignored when comparing the two.

These two cool-season grass favorites are hard to beat. Both grow well in a variety of climates in the northern zones. Personally, I recommend most people plant a blend of different grass types, and these grasses can work well together in many northern lawns.

In my own lawn I overseed with Jonathan Green’s Black Beauty Ultra grass seed, which is a blend with excellent color and texture matching. If you order directly from the manufacturer you can take 10% off with code LAWNCHICK10.

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Sarah Jameson’s blog, Lawn Chick, is read by over 2 million homeowners each year and she is regularly cited as an expert source of lawn care knowledge by major publications. Her goal is to meet you where you are, and help you achieve a yard you’ll be proud of. Ready to take the next step toward improving your lawn? Grab her free lawn care cheat-sheet: What to Do When - Take the Guesswork Out of Lawn Care, or upgrade your garage by browsing her favorite DIY lawn care products.

4 thoughts on “Turf Type Tall Fescue vs Kentucky Bluegrass

  1. Rick Eckerman

    You state the following:

    “Kentucky Bluegrass needs more moisture and fertilizer than Tall Fescue. The former needs 3 – 6 lbs. of nitrogen per 100 square feet, while the latter requires 1 lb. of nitrogen per 100 square feet.”

    Shouldn’t that read “…..per 1000 sq ft” for fertilizer recs?

  2. David

    Editing recommendation for the article:

    “TTTF develops a 2″ – 3″ deep root system…”

    ” means inches, ‘ means feet in measurements. I’d just recommend going from feet notation to just spelling it out so there is less potential confusion.

    Thanks for the write-up, enjoyed it! Considering switching from KBG to TTTF myself in central Ohio!

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