Fall planting of tall fescue pastures

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Tall fescue is best seeded in the fall in Kansas. Where there is adequate soil moisture, this would be a good time to establish a tall fescue pasture or hay meadow. By starting now with soil tests, variety selection, and seedbed preparation, tall fescue can be a productive pasture for many years to come.

Both tall fescue and smooth bromegrass make good cool-season permanent pasture in eastern Kansas. Tall fescue is more hardy and grazing tolerant that smooth bromegrass and is much more tolerant of wet conditions. Tall fescue can be utilized for fall and winter grazing much better than smooth bromegrass.

Be sure to use either endophyte-free or nontoxic (sometimes called novel or “friendly” endophyte-infected) varieties of tall fescue when establishing a new pasture, or renovating an old pasture if improved animal performance is the main objective. Old KY-31 endophyte-infected fescue would be acceptable to plant where you know excessive grazing will occur, for example in grass traps or pens for animal receiving facilities. In this instance ground cover and animal comfort are the main goals.

Figure 1. Tall fescue pasture near Parsons. Photo by Doohong Min, K-State Research and Extension.


Soil selection

Tall fescue will grow on almost any soil but produces best on fertile moist soils. The ability of tall fescue to withstand low fertility and wet soil is excellent. Tall fescue also can withstand submersion for a few days. It will produce on soils with pH of 5.2 to 8.0, but optimum growth occurs in the 5.8 to 7.0 pH range.


Several new varieties are suitable for Kansas. New certified varieties are either free of the endophyte fungus or contain the “friendly” nontoxic endophyte that does not produce the ergovaline toxin detrimental to livestock. Endophyte-free seed of older varieties like Kentucky-31 are also available. Check the seed tag to be sure of the endophyte level and type. To avoid reduced animal performance resulting from toxic endophyte-infected grass that is fed or grazed, livestock producers should plant the seed free of live toxic endophyte. Plants produced from fungus-free seed remain free of the endophyte.

The Southeast Agricultural Research Center have tested tall fescue varieties in recent years. The table below is from “Evaluation of Tall Fescue Cultivars,” in the SEARC’s 2017 Agricultural Research report: http://newprairiepress.org/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1376&context=kaesrr

 All varieties in this test are endophyte-free or nontoxic (“novel”) endophyte.




Table 1. 2016 Forage yield of tall fescue cultivars, Southeast Agricultural Research Center, Mound Valley


2016 total forage yield

(tons/acre at 12% moisture)

NFTF 1051






Teton II


LE 14-86


NFTF 1411


NFTF 1044






LE 14-84




GT 213


MV 14


Martin 2 ProTek




Tower ProTek


Ky 31 LE


Ky 31 HE


BarOptima PLUS E34


Bar FAF 131




LSD (0.05)


Seeded Sept. 30, 2014
Harvested May 9, August 18, and December 6, 2016
Source: SEARC 2017 Agricultural Research report,  http://newprairiepress.org/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1376&context=kaesrrf

Seedbed preparation

Tall fescue establishes best in a well-limed and fertilized seedbed that has been tilled 4 to 6 inches deep, leveled, and firmed before seeding. Several producers report successful stands by simply broadcasting or no-tilling the seed into existing overgrazed grass pastures in the fall. Even though the practice works on occasion, it is not recommended. A well-prepared seedbed improves chances of rapid stand establishment.

A soil test should be taken well ahead of planting to determine lime and fertilizer needs, and needed lime and phosphate should be incorporated into the seedbed before planting. About 30 - 40 pounds of N per acre should be applied at or before planting.

An existing tall fescue stand will tolerate pH as low as 5.0. On existing pastures with pH less than 6.0, 2 tons of agricultural lime per acre, topdressed, will increase life of the stand and growth of legumes if present.

Stand establishment

Figure 2. Recommended planting dates for tall fescue for each area in Kansas.

On droughty, claypan soils, only fall plantings are recommended because winter and spring plantings may not survive if summers become hot and dry. However, if a moist summer persists, seedlings may establish well. Deeper soils and/or good moisture supplies will result in successful winter or spring seedings. When planting in a well-prepared seedbed, 12 - 20 pounds per acre of pure live, high-germinating seed is adequate. When seed germination is not known or the seedbed is less than desirable, a rate of 20 to 25 pounds per acre may be required for a satisfactory stand. For drilled seedings, use the lower end of that seeding rate range. For broadcast incorporation, use the higher end of the range.

For best results, seed should be covered with 1 ⁄4 to 3 ⁄8 inch of soil. Seeding tall fescue with winter wheat is often desirable. The wheat seeding rate should not be much higher than 60 lb/acre. Planting a cover crop like wheat can protect the soil from erosion and furnish additional grazing or grain production income in the seeding year. If wheat is grazed, avoid grazing in fall or spring when new grass seedlings could be injured by trampling during wet weather.

Converting endophyte-infected pastures

Establishing a new tall fescue pasture on ground with existing endophyte-infected pasture requires some special care. The endophyte fungus that infects many tall fescue pastures in Kansas will survive in the seed up to 14 months. For that reason, you should prevent seed production on established endophyte pasture for 14 months before renovating with fresh seed. Otherwise, infected seed from the previous tall fescue may emerge along with the newly planted seed.

You can kill existing endophyte-infected tall fescue by applying glyphosate at the rate of 0.75 to 1.5 lb ae/acre when new growth is about 4 inches tall. It is easier to control fescue in the fall than in the spring however excellent spring control can be achieved. After tall fescue has been killed, producers could grow an alternative crop for one year that will allow the use of herbicides to control any volunteer tall fescue that emerges.

After 14 months without seed production from the old tall fescue, replant the field with an endophyte-free variety or a nontoxic endophyte variety. There are several nontoxic endophyte varieties on the market including MaxQ, DuraMax Gold, and BarOptima Plus E34 but new nontoxic endophytes are continually being developed so be watchful for their release.

More information

For more information, see Tall Fescue Production and Utilization, K-State Research and Extension publication C729, at: http://www.ksre.ksu.edu/bookstore/pubs/c729.pdf


Doug Shoup, Southeast Area Crops and Soils Specialist

Doohong Min, Forage Agronomist

Joe Moyer, Forage Agronomist, Southeast Agriculture Research Center

Stu Duncan, Northeast Area Crops and Soils Specialist