Establishment of Tall Fescue

Key Points

  • Only sow into paddocks clean of weeds
  • Establish when soils are warm (14oC+ in autumn, 12oC+ spring)
  • Sow at 10-20 mm depth with good soil coverage
  • Control weeds and insects well
  • Take care not to graze too hard

Tall fescue is naturally slower to establish than ryegrass, but success rates are just as high when a little more attention to detail is applied.

Tall fescue does not like establishing in cold soils, and can struggle to compete with weeds.  The keys to success are therefore preparation and timing.


The paddock needs to be prepared so that weed plants are eliminated, and seeds in the soil are minimised before sowing.  This will require multiple spraying/cultivation to remove plants, and cropping or fallowing to germinate weed seeds before sowing.

Sowing depth needs to be accurate (10-20 mm), so a cultivated seedbed needs to be fine, level and firm.  When direct-drilling, extra care needs to be taken to ensure the correct depth over all soil conditions in the paddock.

It is important that tall fescue is planted into paddocks that have been prepared well so that weed content is low.


Soils need to be warm for good establishment.  In autumn, sow before soil is less than 14oC, and in spring when more than 12oC.

In Southland, the ideal time to sow is between late November and mid- January.  In the northern North Island, March is the optimum month to sow.  Click here for more information.

Weed and Insect Management

Control weeds soon after establishment to keep the grass free of competition over the first six months.  Where Poa annua is expected to be a problem, Nortron can be used as a pre-emergent (or post-emergent on young poa seedlings), with clover seed no sown. 

The slower establishment rate of tall fescue can extend the period when it is susceptible to insects.  Seed treatment is normally recommended, as well as monitoring and spraying after sowing.

Grazing Management

Tall fescue is more delicate than ryegrass until well established.  Before first grazing (when plants should be about 15 cm tall), check that plants cannot be pulled out.  Only graze when pugging will not occur.

Especially during the first year, Tower is very palatable and often over-grazed.  Take care not to leave animals in the paddock too long, aim for a grazing residual of 1600 kg DM/ha.  Do not set-stock or make hay/silage in the first year.

Frequent nitrogen fertiliser will improve the development of young tall fescue pastures.

Tall fescue is delicate in the first six months, so requires good weed and insect control and careful grazing.

Seed Rates and Mixtures

Tower is normally sown with white and red clover.  Do not mix with ryegrass.  Chicory (e.g. 1 kg/ha) and timothy (e.g. 1 kg/ha) can also be mixed, but plantain rates need to be kept lower (e.g. 0.5 kg/ha).

Tower should be planted at 25-30 kg/ha.  The seed is larger than ryegrass and plants develop ground cover more slowly.

Typical seed mix.


Seed Treatment

Rate (kg/ha)

TowerProtek tall fescue



Riesling white clover



Renegade red clover