Whether you’re establishing a new lawn or overseeding, picking the right grass is the key to a great lawn that needs less money, time, and work. In the Southern US, high-maintenance Bermuda grass (Cynodon spp.) has been a long-time favorite for its thick carpet growth, while cool-season Tall Fescue (Festuca arundinacea) is becoming a popular low-maintenance grass, especially for shaded areas. Find out whether Bermuda or Tall Fescue is a better choice for your lawn.
Table of Contents
- 0.1 Bermuda Grass And Tall Fescue Comparison Chart:
- 0.2 What Is Bermuda Grass?
- 0.3 What Is Tall Fescue?
- 1 Which Is Better: Bermuda Or Tall Fescue?
- 2 Frequently Asked Questions
Bermuda Grass And Tall Fescue Comparison Chart:
|Bermuda Grass||Tall Fescue|
|Scientific Name||Cynodon spp.||Festuca arundinacea|
USDA 7 – 10
|Cool-season, Transition Zone
Zones 4 – 9 (USDA)
|Sun||Full Sun (minimum 8 hours); low shade tolerance||Full and part sun (minimum 4 hours); part shade tolerance|
|pH||5.8 – 7.5 (able to handle a range of acidic to alkaline soils.)||5.5 – 8.0 (able to handle a range from acidic to alkaline soils.)|
|Water Requirement||Medium (great for regions with moderate rainfall, not a good fit for low rainfall areas or non-irrigated lawns)||Low (great for regions with low rainfall or non-irrigated lawns)|
|Yearly nitrogen (lb/1,000 sq ft)||4 – 5 (High) – high nitrogen (especially synthetic) attracts pests, increases thatch problems, and cost more time and money to maintain||2 – 3 (Low to Medium) – lower nitrogen requirement keeps pests and disease in check, and saves you money|
|Growth Habit||Rhizomes and stolons. Self-repairing and grows into a thick carpet that’s great for sports, but more thatch problems. Aggressive growth makes Bermuda a weed.||Bunch-forming. Requires overseeding to fix open patches and won’t be as thick. Fewer thatch problems, but more vulnerable to weeds.|
|Mowing Height||Mow to 1 to 2 inches with a rotary or reel mower.||Mow to 3 to 4 inches depending on season (longer grass encourages deeper roots, increasing drought-resistance)|
|Maintenance||High. Requires a lot of fertilizer, which causes more pest and disease problems, and can become your most challenging weed.||Low. Needing very little, you’ll only need to overseed and keep mowed.|
|Wear||Good. Tolerates frequent use, but not heavy use.||Good. Tolerates frequent use, but not heavy use.|
|Tolerances & Resistances||Excellent heat tolerance.
Medium cold and salt tolerance.
|Medium tolerance of heat and salt.
Good cold tolerance.
|Insects & Diseases||Medium resistance to insects and disease.||Excellent resistance to insects.
Good resistance to disease.
|Germination Time||7 – 14 days
|10 – 14 days
|Texture||Medium – not soft underfoot, but also not harsh||Medium – not soft underfoot, but also not harsh|
|Color||Dark green||Medium to dark green|
What Is Bermuda Grass?
Known as the Kentucky Bluegrass of the south, Bermuda grass grows fast, knits itself into a thick carpet, and looks great. Unlike the cool-season Kentucky bluegrass, it can thrive in high heat and high humidity, as well as offers better pest and disease resistance, although it can’t handle as much wear and tear. This is the grass used for PGA tour golf courses in the American south.
It’s also high maintenance. Bermuda grass is hungry for nitrogen, and high doses of synthetic nitrogen can exacerbate other problems, like poor soil health, pests, disease, and thatch. It’s also more expensive to maintain, in both time and money, and nitrogen leaching can cause environmental problems, especially to aquatic life.
Bermuda grass can also become your most challenging and frustrating weed as it grows aggressively and invasively. Once it’s growing in your lawn, it’s nearly impossible to eradicate. This isn’t a grass you can trial. So think long and hard before planting.
What Is Tall Fescue?
Tall Fescue, also known as “Turf-Type Tall Fescue” or “TTTF”, is becoming a prized turfgrass in cool-season and transition zones for its ability to withstand short periods of heat, cold winters, part shade, and drought while still being low maintenance. It features excellent resistance to pests and disease, coming as a sigh of relief to many homeowners who have struggled for years fighting pests in other lawns.
Its downside is its clumping growth habit. Instead of spreading like rhizomatous turfgrass into a thick carpet, it grows in clumps, which can leave gaps open and look uneven. These gaps require overseeding to fill in. You can also pick up seed mixes that include rhizomatous species (like other fescues) or even a more recently developed cultivar of rhizomatous Tall Fescue. On the positive side, its clumping growth habit means that it won’t spread aggressively into unwanted areas.
Which Is Better: Bermuda Or Tall Fescue?
Appearance And Texture
Both Bermuda and Tall Fescue have dark green foliage with a medium texture, although Tall Fescue can also have a medium green color. If walking barefoot or having kids roll around on your lawn is important to you, look for new cultivars with a finer texture.
Bermuda grass should be mowed to 1 to 2 inches tall, while Tall Fescue should be kept longer at 2 to 3 inches, with it being longest (even 4 inches) during the high heat of summer to help preserve moisture in the soil and shade the grass. During periods of scorching temperatures and low water, allow both grasses to grow a ½ longer to give the grass more resources. Don’t mow dormant lawns.
Establishment & Growth Rate
Both Bermuda and Tall Fescue germinate within 2 weeks of planting and establish themselves quickly. Bermuda will continue to spread out through rhizomes and stolons to create a thick lawn. You may need to overseed Tall Fescue to fill in gaps and grow a thicker lawn, use a seed mix with rhizomatous species, or allow beneficial weeds like clover to pop up in between to create a healthier lawn.
Both Bermuda and Tall Fescue will do well in any type of soil, although Tall Fescue can handle more acidic soil (as low as pH 5.5) and more alkaline soils (as high as pH 8.0) than Bermuda can. If you live in an area with lower amounts of rainfall, you’ll have an easier time fulfilling Bermuda’s water needs by growing it in soil that retains water, either with loam or clay soils, or by amending with organic matter like compost.
Climate & Sun
Bermuda grass is a warm-season grass, meaning it does really well in high heat and humidity and can tolerate some cooler temperatures. It can’t withstand cold winters. It’ll grow greenest and most vigorously at the height of summer while going dormant (brown) as temperatures lower in the winter.
Tall Fescue is a cool-season grass, meaning that while it can withstand some heat and cold winters, it grows most vigorously and green in the spring and fall when temperatures are more temperate. It’ll go dormant in the summer heat unless irrigated.
Bermuda grass craves the sun and has very little shade tolerance. Tall Fescue has more shade tolerance, so long as it gets at least 4 hours of sun per day. When planting in regions where summer temperatures skyrocket for long periods of time, Tall Fescue does best planted under afternoon shade to protect it from the heat. Bermuda does best in full sun spots, as it won’t wilt or suffer from the heat.
Pests & Disease
For pests and disease, both Bermuda grass and Tall Fescue are hardy grasses. Tall Fescue has excellent pest resistance while Bermuda has medium. They have around the same resistance to disease.
Because Bermuda has high nitrogen needs, it will be more prone to both pests and disease as synthetic nitrogen spikes attract pests and destroy the soil’s healthy microbiology that would otherwise help grass resist diseases. Using organic methods like compost twice a year and compost teas in between will help boost nitrogen levels (and a lot of other nutrients your lawn also needs that synthetic fertilizers tend not to provide) in a soil-friendly and sustainable way.
Tall Fescue needs less water than Bermuda grass, requiring only a low-to-moderate amount and being fairly drought-hardy. Bermuda grass will need 1 inch or more of water per week, although it also has some drought tolerance.
You can tell when grass needs to be watered because it’ll take on a grayish cast to it and not bounce back immediately when walked on. By noticing when your lawn needs more water, you can adjust the watering schedule to avoid overwatering.
Tall Fescue lawns will be more prone to weeds than Bermuda lawns. Since Bermuda grows into a thick mat, there’s simply less space for weeds to grow and more shade over the soil preventing germination. Tall Fescue’s clumping growth habit opens up more opportunities for weeds to sprout up, but you can reduce this by overseeding for denser growth, mixing with rhizomatous varieties, or mixing with beneficial “weeds” like clover.
Bermuda’s major downside is that it will become your most challenging weed as its stolons and rhizomes spread into your garden, between flagstones, and into your neighbors’ lawns. It’s nearly impossible to eradicate, so your weeding strategy will be one of containment. When hand weeding, dig at least 6 inches down to remove the rhizome as well.
Tall Fescue is unlikely to spread past its boundary so long as you keep it mowed to prevent it from going to seed.
Bermuda Grass is hungry for fertilizer and nitrogen, while Tall Fescue only needs an application of compost once a year.
Bermuda grass and Tall Fescue will be on different schedules. As a cool-season grass, Tall Fescues benefit from fertilizer in the spring after it starts growing again or in the late fall. If you plant Tall Fescue in a warm-season zone, add compost in the fall after temperatures have cooled and the grass starts growing vigorously again. As a warm-season grass, Bermuda grass benefits from a compost application in May and late August, with compost teas applied monthly when Bermuda is not dormant.
Do not use synthetic fertilizer on dormant grass! Fertilizer won’t turn grass green again, it’ll just further stress your grass when it’s already struggling or conserving its energy. You could end up killing your lawn.
Bermuda grass is prone to thatch problems. Stolons take a lot longer to decompose than other plant material, so they layer up and if the layer is thick enough (over 1/2 inch), can prevent water from reaching the roots. Synthetic nitrogen promotes excessive growth which exacerbates the problem. Dethatch in the summer when your lawn is growing vigorously.
If the thatch layer is ½ inch or less, don’t dethatch as it can damage your lawn. Some thatch is handy as it shades the soil, keeps the soil moist, prevents weed seeds from germinating, and breaks down into nutrients that feed your lawn without you needing to.
Tall Fescue will rarely have thatch problems, if ever, because it doesn’t spread by stolons.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Can I Tell Whether I Have Bermuda Or Tall Fescue?
You can tell Bermuda and Tall Fescue apart in several ways. If the grass grows most vigorously and green in mid-summer but goes dormant in the winter, then it’s Bermuda. If the grass grows most vigorously in spring and fall but goes dormant in high temperatures, then it’s Fescue. If it grows in a place with cold winters, it’s not Bermuda.
Bermuda grows above ground roots (stolons) into a thick carpet. Tall Fescue doesn’t grow stolons but grows in clumps.
Bermuda has small hairs where the leaf blade meets the sheath. Tall Fescue has equal-sized veins running parallel to the leaf with no central vein (midrib).
Is Bermuda Or Fescue Easier To Maintain?
Fescue is usually easier to maintain than Bermuda grass if it’s in the right climate. Fescue is a low maintenance grass while Bermuda is high maintenance, requiring more fertilizer, dethatching, and weeding as it becomes a weed. In areas with extreme summer temperatures and humidity, and the grass will be in full sun, Bermuda grass will be easier to grow as Fescue suffers in prolonged heat. In that case, though, you may be better off looking at Bahia (Paspalum notatum) or Centipede (Eremochloa ophiuroides).
Can You Mix Fescue And Bermuda?
Fescue and Bermuda are generally not mixed together, although you may decide to grow Bermuda in your full sun areas and Fescue in your shade areas. They both require different care on different schedules, so depending on your situation, choosing just one, choosing another grass, or using groundcovers in shade areas will make lawn care more straightforward. Grasses like Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) and Buffalograss (Buchloe dactyloides) suit transition zones as they can withstand hot summers and cold winters, and warm-season Bahia (Paspalum notatum) and Zoysia (Zoysia spp.) can handle shade.
Will Bermuda Grass Choke Out Fescue?
Yes, Bermuda grass can choke out fescue as it grows aggressively. Fescue can never choke out Bermuda because its clump-like growth leaves gaps for Bermuda to exploit. The same cannot be said of Bermuda. However, if the area is shaded and gets cold, Bermuda grass will struggle to grow and give Tall Fescue a better chance.
Jamie is the founder of The Backyard Pros. When he was 15 years old he started working at a garden centre helping people buy plants, gardening products, and lawn care products. He has real estate experience and he is a home owner. Jamie loves backyard projects, refinishing furniture, and enjoys sharing his knowledge online.