Tall Fescue has also more latterly become popular in New Zealand particularly since the mid 1990’s when it was introduced to the market by turf producers. Indeed, Finelawn was actually the first producer to offer this as a standalone species. It is genetically dark green in coloration and tends to be quite drought tolerant when compared to other temperate grasses. It forms a very tight, durable and hard wearing sward when correctly managed. Another advantage is that Tall Fescue only rarely suffers from fungal disease.
It is slower to germinate that many other temperate species, particularly in winter. In cooler zones it grows only very slowly during the winter months, but unlike warm season species such as couch grasses it retains good colour, though the leaf tips may experience some yellowing following heavy frosts. Care is advisable when using herbicides on this species over the winter period when growth is poor as they can severely affect winter growth rates as well as plant health and thrift. It can grow rapidly in spring and summer and mowing frequency should be increased at these times to retain sward density.
Tall Fescue is a highly sought after species for new lawns because of its characteristic features of drought tolerance and durability. Secondarily, it shows more resistance to both Black Beetle and Tasmanian beetle larvae once it is well established. This is mainly because insects are sensitive to the alkaloids that are produced by the endophytic fungi that are commonly found on the turf type cultivars. It has now superceded ryegrass as the most preferable lawn species for temperate conditions. Because of its dark green colour, the annual grass weed annual winter grass (poa annua) which has a bright yellowish-green appearance does appear prominent. For this reason it is advisable to regularly treat these lawns with the herbicide Ethofumosate (sold as Claw, EXPO 500, Ethosan or Nawtron) to act as a pre-germination treatment. Whilst it is quite drought tolerant the best results in terms of appearance are achieved when it is irrigated over the summer months in association with regularly applications of nitrogenous fertilisers.
It has a relatively course seedhead stalk and during the reproductive stage these can be prickly to walk on after mowing, although this phase only lasts 4 – 6 weeks.
Because of its erect nature the mowing height should be elevated and it is recommended to be mown at 40mm – 50mm. The recommended sowing rate is 40 - 50gms/m2. It is preferably sown in autumn whilst ground temperatures are still relatively warm. If sown late in autumn or during winter it is notoriously slow to germinate and establish which enables the introduction of competitive species and weeds. Likewise, if a spring planting is required it is preferable to establish it once ground temperatures have started to increase. These establishment issues are the biggest deterrent in the use of Tall Fescue. After establishment it is extremely difficult to remove foreign grasses and the longer the time period until germination the bigger the opportunity for these foreign grasses to become established. Secondly, it takes far longer to establish after germination than a lot of the other temperate turfgrass species. Whilst the chemical ethofumasate is effective at preventing the establishment of these foreign species in mature swards it is not recommended to be applied on young plants as it has the effect of slowing down both the rate of germination and establishment of the desirable tall fescue plants.