Schedonorus arundinaceus

Inflorescence of tall fescue

Perennial, cool-season bunchgrass grown for pasture, hay, and silage. Also used for reducing oil erosion, recycling nutrients from manure and biosolids, and for turf, with good wear characteristics. Adapted to a wide range of climatic and soil conditions. Tolerates high temperatures and is drought tolerant due to its extensive root system. Grows best on deep, moist soils that are heavy to medium in texture and high in organic matter. Provides good winter growth in mild winter zones. It is important in forage-livestock systems and forms the forage base for beef cow-calf production in the east-central and southeastern United States.

Soil Improvement (Green manure)
Soil Protection (Cover Crop)

Species Selection Characteristics

Annual Precipitation (inches): 
20 to 24
24 to 28
28 to 32
32 to 36
36 to 40
40 to 50
50 to 60
60 to 70
70 to 80
80 to 100
100 to 120
120 to 140
140 to 160
> 160
Plant Hardiness Zones (cold tolerance): 
Soil pH Tolerance: 
Strongly acid, 5.1–7.3
Moderately acid, 5.6–7.3
Moderately acid to moderately alkaline, 5.6–8.4
Slightly acid to moderately alkaline, 6.1–8.4
Near neutral, 6.1–7.3
Alkaline, 6.7–9.0
Soil Drainage Tolerance: 
poorly drained
somewhat poorly drained
moderately well drained
well drained
somewhat excessively drained
excessively drained
Flooding Tolerance: 
7-30 days
Soil Salinity Tolerance: 
Moderately tolerant, 3–6 dS/m

Identification Characteristics

Growth Season: 

Growth Habit and Stand Life

Habit: Erect bunchgrass

Life Cycle: 
Long-lived perennial

Climate and Soil Suitability Zones

Climate Tolerances: 

Temperature: Survivable in 4 to 35 °C. Ideal range is 20°C to 25°C.

Precipitation: Minimum of 425-525 mm, with an ideal range of 635-1000 mm.

Soil Tolerances: 

pH: 4.5-9.0

Soil drainage: ED-PD

Salinity: Moderately tolerant, 3-6 dS/M

Quantitative Tolerances: 

Climate suitability characteristics in the following table are based on field experiments and forage agronomist experience. Soil factor data are based on values provided in Chapter 3 of the NRCS Range and Pasture Handbook.

  July Max Temp (°C) Jan Min Temp (°C) Annual Precipitation (mm) Soil pH Drainage Class Salinity (dS/m)
Well-suited 31 -12 625 5.4-8.0 SPD-WD 6
Moderately-suited 33 -15 525 4.8-8.9 PD-ED 9.9
Marginally-suited 35 -18 425 4.1-9.3 VPD-ED 13.15

Yield Potential and Production Profile

Performs best in temperate, humid climates. Very well suited as a stockpiled forage. High yields (6-7 tons dm/a) is achievable with high level of management and under suitable climatic conditions. More than 25% of the cow-calf herds graze tall fescue pastures (Forages, 7th ed.).



The first tall fescue cultivar developed was “Alta” in 1918. “Kentucky-31” was discovered soon after in 1931 and became widely used. As of 2005, there are over 500 tall fescue variations with more than 130 of those suitable as a forage type. Tall fescue cultivars are grouped according to three maturity categories: early, intermediate, and late. Presence or absence of endophyte are listed, with Plus-types for turf, not for livestock feed. Intended use and climatic conditions should be considered when choosing which tall fescue variety to seed.

Management Level Required

Suitable Management Level: 

Quality and Antiquality Factors

Quality Factors: 

Forage quality depends mostly on maturity stage at harvest and fertility. For early vegetative  stage, CP can exceed 22% crude protein (CP) and 73% total digestible nutrients (TDN). Quality decreases to 16.4% CP and 60% TDN at mid-bloom stage.

Anti-quality Factors: 

Tall fescue can be infected with the endophytic fungus Neotyphodium coenophialum. This endophyte produces an ergot alkaloid (ergovaline) that results in a complex of symptoms that includes poor weight gain and milk production, rough hair coat, excess salivation, and elevated body temperature. For forage, always use a non-endophyte (E-) cultivar. For established stands with endophyte, interseeding with a legume will dilute the toxin.

Image Gallery



Tall Fescue. 1956. J. Ritchie Cowan. Advances in Agronomy Vol. 8: 283-320.

Tall Fescue. G.D. Lacefield, J.C. Henning, and T.D. Phillips. 1977. University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service. Pub. AGR-59.

Toxic Factors in Tall Fescue. 1984. R.W. Hemken, J.A. Jackson, Jr., J.A. Boling. J. Animal Science, Vol.  58 (4): 1011–1016,

Importance and Problems of Tall Fescue. 1990. Robert F. Barnes. Biotechnology in Tall Fescue Improvement. CRC Press.

Tall Fescue. 1996. D.A. Sleper, C.P. West. Cool‐Season Forage Grasses. Advances in Agronomy.

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