Are you looking for the best grass type for your lawn? Here’s a comparison between two of the most common lawn grasses: tall fescue vs. perennial ryegrass.
Choosing the right grass species for your lawn is essential for a beautiful and healthy turf. Otherwise, chances are that you may end up with a lawn with bald spots, various diseases, or patches of wilted grass.
There are some things to keep in mind when choosing a lawn grass. Some of the most important include:
- The type of grass depending on the climate
- Soil requirements
- Resistance to foot traffic and lawnmowers
- Tolerance to strong sun or shade
There are numerous species of grasses that are often used for lawns. As the purpose of this article is not to speak about all of them, we are only going to make a comparison between two of the most popular species, the tall fescue and perennial ryegrass.
Tall Fescue (Festuca Arundinacea)
Tall Fescue (Festuca Arundinacea) is a cool-season perennial bunchgrass in the family Poaceae, genus Festuca. It is native to Europe but was introduced to numerous other regions and it is now a popular ornamental grass in Europe, North America, and parts of North Africa.
The Festuca (fescue) genus is closely related to ryegrass (Lolium) and includes multiple species of grasses. Two of the varieties most commonly used as turf grasses are the tall fescue and fine fescue.
Tall fescue is a perennial bunchgrass with long dark green leaves that have prominent veins and lightly toothed edges. The underneath of the leaf may be shiny.
This grass species forms nice dense turfs and it is also used as forage grass throughout Europe.
Tall fescue spreads through seeds and tillering (shoots that emerge from the base of the plant).
Perennial Ryegrass (Lolium perenne)
Perennial Ryegrass (Lolium perenne) is a tufted cool-season perennial grass in the family Poaceae, genus Lolium. It is native to Europe, Asia, and Northern Africa but is grown throughout the world. Some of its other common names include the English ryegrass, ray grass, or winter ryegrass.
The Lolium (ryegrass) genus includes several species of tufted grasses. One variety commonly used as turf grass in this genus is the perennial ryegrass.
The perennial ryegrass doesn’t grow very tall, develops in tufts, and is hairless. It has dark green leaves, shiny and smooth on the inferior surface, with prominent parallel veins on the superior surface.
It is frequently used as grass for lawns and golf courses, but it is also cultivated for fodder and grazing livestock, as well to prevent erosion and to stabilize soils.
Similar to tall fescue grass, perennial ryegrass spreads through tillers and not through rhizomes or stolons.
Tall Fescue vs. Perennial Ryegrass
Both the tall fescue and perennial ryegrass are cool-season grasses. This means that both of them thrive in cooler temperatures.
Cool-season grasses are the species that typically get out of dormancy in mid-spring and stay green until late fall. The warm-season grasses are those that are in active growth starting from late spring and go inactive in early to mid-fall. (source)
Tolerance To Hot Climates
The tall fescue grass has a high tolerance to hot and dry climates, while perennial ryegrass does not tolerate very well the high temperatures.
Summer temperatures above 87°F (30°C) may cause ryegrass to enter a dormant period and, hence, pause its growth. (source).
On the other hand, the tall fescue grass can withstand temperatures of up to 95°F (35°C).
Resistence To Drought
Tall fescue also has a high tolerance to drought, unlike the perennial ryegrass which doesn’t handle very well extended periods of dryness.
If this is a key requirement for choosing a lawn grass species, then you might want to take a look to Bermudagrass which is a warm-season grass known for its very high drought tolerance.
Too hot summers are not good for any of these grasses. However, the cold can also constitute an issue.
Tall fescue has a better tolerance to freezing than perennial ryegrass. Although both are susceptible to freezing during very cold winters, tall fescue is known to be able to withstand lower temperatures.
Growing In Shade
If your turf has areas of light shade due to trees or buildings, tall fescue is the best choice between these two species. Tall fescue can tolerate shade better than perennial ryegrass, as well than most cool-season lawn grasses.
Another aspect of choosing a grass species for your turf is its resistance to traffic.
While for most lawns you mostly need to worry about the foot, pets, and lawn mowing machines traffic, things change when the grass is used for golf courses, parks, sports fields, transition zones, and recreational areas with heavy traffic. Hence, you need to choose a grass type that has high endurance and a good recovery.
Both tall fescue and perennial ryegrass have medium-to-high tolerance to traffic. So, any of them would be a good good choice.
Seed Germination Time
Another feature to keep in mind when choosing a grass type for your lawn is seed germination time. In time, your turf will thin out, will be affected by various diseases, or suffer various damage due to traffic and will need reseeding.
Perennial ryegrass has a slightly faster germination time than tall fescue.
The germination time of tall fescue is estimated somewhere between 7 and 21 days, while that of perennial ryegrass is roughly 5 to 7 days.
Soil Types And Fertilization
Tall fescue can tolerate a wide range of soil types and can grow both in sandy but also in heavy clay soils. While it tolerates soils poor in nutrients, it grows best when regular nitrogen-rich fertilization is applied.
On the other hand, perennial ryegrass requires moderate-to-high soil fertility, which makes this grass a bit more needy than tall fescue.
Tall Fescue vs. Perennial Ryegrass (Quick Comparison)
|Tall Fescue (Festuca Arundinacea)||Perennial Ryegrass (Lolium perenne)|
|Family: Poaceae||Family: Poaceae|
|Genus: Festuca||Genus: Lolium|
|Cool-season grass||Cool-season grass|
|Native to Europe||Native to Europe, Asia, Northern Africa|
|High tolerance to hot, dry climates||Does not tolerate well hot temperatures|
|Has high tolerance to drought||Has little tolerance to drought|
|Has good cold tolerance||Has poor cold tolerance|
|Good shade tolerance||Tolerates light shade|
|Moderate-to-high tolerance to traffic||Moderate-to-high tolerance to traffic|
|7 to 21 days germination time||5 to 7 days germination time|
|Withstands poor soil conditions||Requires medium to high soil fertility|
Choosing a suitable grass species is a crucial first step towards obtaining a beautiful and healthy lawn. Because not all grass species have the same needs, you need to know the requirements of each grass variety that is a potential candidate.
In this article, we have discussed about two of the most common turf grasses – tall fescue and perennial ryegrass. To help you make a better idea of their needs and features and assist you in making a decision on what species to choose, we made a comparison between these two.
Is there a winner?
We can’t say that one of these grass species is better because not everyone is looking for the same thing.
A quick conclusion would be that tall fescue seems to have a bit more advantages as it is slightly more tolerant to various climate conditions, can also grow in nutrient-poor soils, and overall, requires less maintenance than the perennial ryegrass.