Having the right type of grass for your area and conditions can make all the difference between an average lawn and a great one.
In this series of articles, we take a look at different grass species, pair them off against each other, so you can decide which one is best for your yard.
Next up, is fescue grass vs St. Augustine grass.
Both with their advantages and disadvantages – but which one is right for your lawn?
Let’s find out – and stay tuned for a final verdict and FAQ section at the end.
Note – for the purposes of this article, we’ll be talking about fine fescue grass, and not tall fescue.
- Key Differences Between Fescue and St Augustine Grass
- Fescue Grass
- St Augustine Grass
- Which is Better?
Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. If you shop through the links on YardThyme, we may earn an affiliate's commission from qualifying purchases at no additional cost to you. For more information, read full disclosure here.
Key Differences Between Fescue and St Augustine Grass
To the untrained eye, all grass might well look alike – it’s all green, right?
But here are the main differences between fescue and St. Augustine:
- Fescue is a cool season grass whereas St. Augustine belongs in the warm season. As such, fescue can’t stand the heat, while St Augustine doesn’t do so hot in the cool weather.
- Fescue is a dull green or gray color with a soft texture, whereas St. Augustine is coarser, with lush dark green tones and sponge-like texture.
- St. Augustine takes longer to establish compared to fescue, and is only ever planted in sods or plugs.
- Appearance wise, fescue is fine and hair-like, whereas St. Augustine is broader with a more rounded tip.
However, both grasses do have an excellent shade tolerance, with fescue being the best out of any lawn grass species, and St. Augustine being the best of the warm season grasses.
Fescue, or “fine fescue” as it’s often known, is a broad term given to a number of different fescue grasses that are popular in the northern parts of the US, and more temperate climes around the world.
Hard fescue, sheep fescue, chewings fescue, creeping red fescue, and slender creeping red fescue are the main types. You’ll often find they are regularly blended to stand a better chance of survival.
Tall fescue is a different species altogether, and we’ve not included it in this particular article.
Fescue grasses are most commonly found in a mix of other species, such as Kentucky Bluegrass and perennial ryegrass. This is largely due to the fact that it doesn’t do well on its own in full sun.
Perhaps the main reasons it’s so popular is that it germinates quickly and has a very high shade tolerance. Of all the turfgrasses, fescue is also the most low-maintenance variety.
In leafy gardens in cool season areas, fescue can be just the ticket for overseeding or patching up bald spots in your turf. And if you want some more information on how to do that, check out this article on lawn recovery after winter.
Pros of Fescue Grass
- Thrives in shady conditions.
- Fast germination.
- Does well in acidic soils.
- Excellent drought tolerance.
- Resistant to most diseases.
- General low maintenance.
Cons of Fescue Grass
- It can’t stand the heat.
- Needs well-drained soil.
- Can be susceptible to pests in overly wet conditions.
- Not the best grass for heavy wear or areas of high traffic.
- Low tolerance to dog urine.
Characteristics, Growing Conditions, and Appearance
The main characteristics of a fescue lawn is that they are the very definition of low maintenance.
They have an excellent drought tolerance, so they don’t require frequent watering, largely thanks to the deep root system that can access underground moisture.
And while they germinate quickly, and you’ll see new grass blades in as little as two weeks, it doesn’t grow so fast as you’ll be mowing the lawn every couple of days (which you shouldn’t be doing anyway).
Fine fescues will go dormant under the stresses of heat, but will re-invigorate when watered or given shade. They are the most shade-tolerant of all lawn grass species.
As for appearance, they’re recognizable for their fine, hair-like aesthetic, with thin blades that are no more than 1/16-inch or less and that taper into a pronounced tip.
It’s a soft grass, which makes it enjoyable as a tactile, roll-around option, ideal in areas where children (and adults) like to play.
Most fescue types look very similar, and they’re often hard to tell apart. But don’t confuse fine fescue with tall fescue here – which is a stiffer grass with not as much give.
Aggression and Invasiveness
Fine fescue isn’t a particularly aggressive species, and it plays well with others. It’s certainly not as assertive and invasive as tall fescue.
As mentioned, you’ll find that fescue grass is often mixed with other species, as it won’t take over and crowd out other variants.
However, it will dominate if its optimum conditions are met, while other grasses needs aren’t being fulfilled – but the same can be said for almost all grass types.
Check out this article when fescue goes up against zoysia – which is known as a more invasive grass species – to really see a difference with temperament.
Planting and Caring for Fescue Grass
Growing fine fescue requires a soil pH level of between 5.0 to 6.5. Pick up a soil testing kit and make sure you have optimum conditions. Add lime if you need to balance it out.
Sow in late summer/early fall, when soil temperatures are the best for growth – consistently just above 60 degrees Fahrenheit, but without the blazing heat and stress of the summer months.
Failing that, spring is also a good time to plant a fescue seed mix.
While fescue is drought tolerant and germinates fast, it will still need regular watering initially – at least until it becomes established.
Plan to water a new fescue-based lawn two to three times a day, for around five minutes at a time. Once it has taken hold, you can cut that right back and let nature do her thing.
Pesticides are not normally required, although you should take care in high moisture areas and ensure you have adequate drainage.
One way to do that, is to know when to aerate your lawn, so follow that link for some more top lawn care advice – no matter the species of grass.
Add a suitable fertilizer around two to three days after your initial seed, so as not to crowd the lawn with too much material right away.
Fescue grasses don’t need to be scalped when it comes to mowing, and you should be looking at trimming your lawn every couple of weeks during spring growing seasons.
But remember – try not to stick to a set schedule, rather checking the height of the grass.
Mow fescue when it gets to around 3-3 1/2 -inches, and to not less than two inches in height. And be sure to keep your mower blade in top condition with one of these lawnmower blade sharpeners.
It is not recommended you use herbicides anywhere near fine fescue as they won’t be able to handle them well. Try this article on the best chemical free weed solutions for your lawn for an alternative.
St Augustine Grass
A popular warm season grass, St. Augustine is best suited to hotter climes, in places such as Florida, Southern California, and the Gulf states.
It thrives in higher temperatures, anywhere from 70-90 degrees Fahrenheit, and is known for its salt tolerance – which makes it an ideal option for such coastal regions.
It’s also known to thrive in sandy soils – which is convenient for sea-front locations.
However, it does need a fair bit of moisture to achieve optimum health, and still doesn’t do at all well in colder temperatures.
There are several types of St. Augustine grass, including palmetto, citrablue, Seville, and floratam.
Floratam is actually a common name used to describe St. Augustine, given that it’s the most popular and widely-used variant.
Pros of St Augustine Grass
- Does well in heat and shade.
- High salt tolerance.
- Thick, dense, healthy-looking texture.
- Attractive color.
- Prevents thatch build up.
Cons of St Augustine Grass
- Known to attract pests and disease.
- Requires frequent watering.
- Slow to germinate – planted with sod and plugs only.
- No use in colder regions.
Characteristics, Growing Conditions, and Appearance
Visit almost any home along the Gulf Coast in the US, and there’s a strong chance the yard will be rocking St. Augustine grass.
Known to withstand salt, heat, and shade, St. Augustine is a prime choice for these warmer coastal regions.
Compared to other warm season grasses such as Bermuda and zoysia, St. Augustine has a higher drought tolerance, and will remain greener for longer in hot conditions.
This article covers zoysia grass vs St. Augustine grass in more detail.
It forms a thick, durable sod – with similar characteristics to that of a dense green carpet. However, such pleasures only come with high maintenance – and St. Augustine can be tricky to keep happy.
The coarseness of the grass also has the ability to crowd out weeds, undesirable plants, and trouble spots. This can be both a blessing and a curse, as you might not notice that St. Augustine actually has a problem.
It’s quick to brown when the first frosts arrive, and slow to green when the winter finally ends. It’s not as tolerant to traffic as you might expect, and is better to look at than it is play upon.
You can identify St. Augustine grass by its attractive blue/green hue, and broad blades with rounded tips, that can be up to 1/4-inch wide.
Aggression and Invasiveness
Compared with fescue, St. Augustine is certainly the more aggressive variant, but when it comes up against something like centipede, there’s not a lot in it.
Although not regarded as invasive, St. Augustine is still an aggressive grower, and it can spread rapidly where planted, providing its needs are being met.
Which is basically a hot climate with plenty of water. So, subtropical, then.
Planting and Caring for Fescue Grass
St. Augustine is planted from sod or plugs only, and rarely – if ever – from seed.
This actually makes it relatively easy to start a lawn with this grass, as plugs of St. Augustine will spread quickly to cover bare spots and form a nice, even surface.
The best time to establish a St. Augustine lawn is in spring and summer. Look for days when the temperature is consistently between 80-100 degrees Fahrenheit.
It requires a soil pH level of 6-6.5 to thrive. If your soil is higher than this, you can add sulfur to balance it out.
You’ll need to measure the area you’re planting in order to figure out how much sod or how many plugs you should order.
Depending on where you’re purchasing from, a pallet of sod will cover around 450 square feet, while a tray of 18 plugs will cover 32 square feet.
Lawn-care experts Scotts offer some practical advice on how best to plant St. Augustine.
And you must always be keeping an eye out for disease, pests, and bugs. Take action if you notice anything out of the ordinary – particularly brown spots or mildew.
St. Augustine will need the application of a suitable fertilizer, and if the soil has a higher pH, then iron supplements might need to be applied.
Look out for yellowing grass spots in St. Augustine – that could mean an iron deficiency. Take a look at this article for more help with yellow grass in general.
And with the grass being susceptible to bugs, you might need to apply a compatible pesticide to prevent any problems from breaking out.
When it comes to mowing, St. Augustine is a thick grass, a full-bodied, broad species that demands to be cut high.
You can feel free to wait until the grass reaches up to 4 1/2 – inches before giving it a trim, and whatever you do – don’t cut it down any lower than 2 1/2 – inches.
And be especially careful when using string trimmers, as you can easily scalp and expose the grass to the hot sun if you’re not careful.
Either way, you’re going to want to make sure your lawnmower is in top condition to handle St. Augustine – so follow that link for some excellent maintenance tips, and be sure to keep your blade sharp.
When it comes to irrigation, St. Augustine needs a lot of attention. While it doesn’t need to be flooded, it does need to be watered often and consistently.
A good sprinkler system is highly advisable – especially if you live in a region with little rainfall. Aim for no more than one inch of water for the week – but not all at once.
And you can check out this excellent, in-depth video for more information on how best to care for St. Augustine grass.
Which is Better?
How long is a piece of string?
Here you have two, completely different grass species for growing in completely different grass seasons. It’s like comparing chalk and cheese.
If you live in the north – fescue is better, if you live in the south, St. Augustine is the way to go.
However, having said all that, for the sheer fact that it is much easier to maintain in the long run, I would say fescue edges it. If I HAD to make a choice.
Will Fescue grass take over St Augustine?
No. If anything it’s going to be the other way around, as St Augustine is the more aggressive of the two.
Neither grass is considered invasive, but St Augustine will choke out fescue if and when it comes into contact with it – and conditions are met.
Can you mix Fescue and St Augustine grass?
Given that one’s a warm season grass and the other a cool season species, I wouldn’t advise it. Catering to a lawn that has mixed needs is going to be a real challenge.
Regardless, you’ll need the right equipment to cater for any lawn, and you should take a look at this article on the best lawn-care tools to get started.
How often should you mow fescue?
Fescue doesn’t need to be mowed that often, and given that you should be aiming to take no more than third of the blade tip each time, I would recommend waiting until the fescue is between 3-3 3/4 – inches before breaking out the mower.
And if you’re not sure what time of machine to use, might I suggest you take a look at this article on the different types of lawnmower that are available today?
Where does St Augustine grow best?
St Augustine thrives in warm coastal regions, like Florida and along the southern coast of the United States.
A prominent tropical and subtropical species, you will also find it planted and growing healthily in many countries south of the equator.
It’s known as buffalo turf in Australia and buffalo grass in South Africa.
Is fine fescue good for lawns?
Providing you’re in a cool-season grass region, fine fescue makes an excellent species for lawns – although it’s highly likely it will be mixed with other variants to maximize health.
How often should St Augustine grass be watered?
St. Augustine is a thirsty plant, and it needs regular watering to maintain a healthy appearance.
Approximately 1/2 – inch of water at least twice a week is required.
It certainly doesn’t have the drought tolerance of Bahia, and you can read more about that match up in this article on St. Augustine vs Bahia grass.
Two of the most popular lawn turf species, fescue grass vs St. Augustine has yielded no clear winner.
That’s probably due to the fact that they’re so different, and thrive in polar opposite regions.
Still, we all have our favorites, and you can tell me yours in the comments below. Since I have a fescue lawn – I’m slightly biased.
And until next time, I wish you the very best of luck with your lawns!