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Tall Fescue Well Suited for Water-Saving Lawns

By Carl Wilson, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Agent, Horticulture, Denver County

The installation of water meters within the Denver Water Department service area is sounding a wake-up call: Residents are beginning to realize how much water their lawns use.

Grass consumes at least 20 percent of the water used in the average Denver-area home. Alternatives to thirsty Kentucky bluegrass look better all the time.

One alternative proving its worth is turf-type tall fescue. A recent tour of a Denver curbside area seeded to tall fescue three years ago showed the grass to be healthy and weed-free, unlike adjacent city tree-lawn strips planted to bluegrass.

Tall fescue is well suited for growing in areas between streets and sidewalks, because it resists the wear of foot traffic from people getting in and out of cars. It also solves some of the water-waste problems in these narrow tree-lawn strips, which are difficult to irrigate and always result in water runoff from overspray onto the pavement. But with a healthy tall fescue turf, fewer waterings means less run-off. Turf-type tall fescue uses about half the water as bluegrass, or 10 gallons per square foot per year (in addition to natural precipitation). Many miserly managers find they can water even less and still grow a satisfactory turf.

Less watering also means less mowing, an additional plus in the minds of many.

Tall fescue is a cool season turfgrass, as is bluegrass, and it remains green for about the same period of the year. Although slightly coarser than bluegrass, it is a similar green. The majority of those attending a recent public garden show found tall fescue to be very satisfactory for lawn use in a side-by-side comparison of fescue and bluegrass.

Start tall fescue either from sod or seed. A quick recent survey showed six Colorado growers now producing tall fescue sod. The seeding operation is similar to starting bluegrass seed, and it should be done in an improved soil at the recommended rate. Turf-type tall fescue varieties recommended by the national Better Lawn and Turf Institute's Variety Review Board are Arid, Galway, Falcon, Houndog, Mustang, Rebel II and Titan.

Try converting a small section of your yard, perhaps the curbside tree-lawn area, to tall fescue this year. When you see that tall fescue requires less maintenance and water, chances are you will change additional areas in the future.

Photo: Judy Sedbrook

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Date last revised: 01/05/2010