NC State Extension Publications


A great number of tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass cultivars tested in North Carolina provide excellent performance based on cultivar trials. These trials include standard cultivars that are well-known in the industry, newly released cultivars, and “not-yet-named-cultivars” that are still in experimental stages of testing. Every few years, recommended tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass cultivars lists have been published on the turffiles website with those cultivars that have been released to growers for production and sale. With so many production, selection, shipping and distribution variables to consider, it is difficult to predict availability of these cultivars to the consumers.

Due to the similarity of performance among tall fescue cultivars and the number of entries tested over the years, the lists had grown to be very long. In more recent field testing trials, it has become more difficult to separate the tall fescue entries in the trial. Most turfgrass breeders rigorously screen their new selections at their test farms before they submit their entries into the national trials. They can then use the national tests to see how their best entries performs across multiple environments compared to other germplasm. This is good for consumers since they have a greater assurance that the turfgrass seed they are purchasing is going to perform similarly to other high ranking cultivars. In many cases, proper establishment and maintenance of tall fescue will be a more significant factor in determining turfgrass performance than the cultivar. That is not to say that we cannot still separate the best performers compared to the good performers. For that reason, this 2020 list highlights the top performers in the last six tall fescue trials NC State University has conducted.

The cultivars in Table 1 are the top performers across the transition zone study sites plus any that performed equally as well specifically in the North Carolina (Raleigh) site for the last five National Turfgrass Evaluation Trials (NTEP) and one regional North Carolina trial. I used the mean of the transition test areas since parts of NC has climatic conditions more similar to other regions of the transition zone than Raleigh and by using several locations it removes some of the potential bias from using just one test environment. I used mean quality data (five years) for the NTEP trial and mean of two growing seasons for the regional trail planted in Raleigh. Several cultivars were entered in multiple trials, so they could be a top performer in more than one trial. If that was the case, they were only referenced to the most recent trial.

None of the tall fescue cultivars in our tests have been completely resistant to brown patch (Rhizoctonia spp.). This disease typically plays a dominant factor in turfgrass quality evaluations, at least for the Raleigh test site. Using appropriate management practices remains the primary means of reducing injury from this disease.

While Kentucky bluegrass cultivars do not enjoy the same level of success in North Carolina as they do further north, there are still some great cultivars that can be managed as a nice turf either as a monostand or planted as a mixture with tall fescue cultivars. Also, the Kentucky bluegrasses generally perform better in western NC than they do on the piedmont.

Generally Kentucky bluegrass cultivars are susceptible to summer patch when grown in Raleigh, which can be difficult to manage without the use of fungicides. Like brown patch in tall fescue, it is generally summer patch that reduces the quality of Kentucky bluegrass. Even with fungicide applications, we cannot prevent summer patch in all the Kentucky bluegrasses grown in Raleigh. As one moves into cooler, less humid climates, the disease may be more easily controlled.

Keep in mind that companies often blend multiple cultivars together for sale in the retail market but use a simple Name Brand to enhance brand recognition. The combination of grasses is often recommended since there is no one grass that will perform well under all conditions. So when shopping for tall fescue seed, the name on the front of the bag may not represent or identify the cultivars that make up the product. To add to the confusion, the cultivars and/or the percentage of each cultivar within the bag of a Name Brand may change from year to year but the Name Brand often remains unchanged. Again, this is done for brand recognition. Under close inspection, however, the bags are required to list the cultivar(s) and the percentage of each cultivar by weight within the bag. Customers often ask about matching our recommended cultivars to those listed on the bag seed label. Unfortunately, it may not be easy to find a bag that contains only cultivars from our high-performing cultivar lists. The higher the percentage of cultivars from our list in the bag, the greater the chances of obtaining/maintaining the highest quality turf possible in this climate.

These tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass trials used to develop these best performers evaluated 680 tall fescue entries and 454 Kentucky bluegrass entries. As mentioned earlier, many of the cultivars not on this best performers lists can still be wonderful turfgrass selection for a North Carolina lawn. The evaluations of the datasets did not directly factor in many of the data points collected over the years, concentrating just on the evaluation of turfgrass quality. If you are interested in viewing a complete dataset of all parameters evaluated or data just for a particular site, these data are available at the National Turfgrass Evaluation Program.


Table 1. The following tall fescue cultivars were the top performing cultivars in tests conducted between 1997 and 2018 among the 680 entries tested. Some of the older cultivars may no longer be available. Some of the newer cultivars may not currently be available in our market. A few cultivars appeared in more than one test, but its performance was only noted from the most recent test.

06 Dust ‡ Dynamic § Jamboree ‡ Shenandoah Elite ‡
Millennium # Dynamite LS ¶ Justice ‡ Shenandoah III ‡
2nd Millennium § Dynamite LS QS ¶ Kalahari § Sidewinder ‡
3rd Millennium SRP ‡ Dynasty # KY-41 ‡ Silverado II §
4th Millennium SRP † Embrace † Leonardo † Silverstar §
Amity † Escalade ‡ Lexington § Skyline ‡
Arid 3 # Essential ‡ LS 1200 ‡ Solara §
Apache III § Faith ‡ Maestro † Speedway ‡
AST7001 ‡ Falcon III # Magellan § Spyder LS ‡
AST7007 ‡ Falcon IV ‡ Masterpiece § SR 8650 ‡
AST9001 ‡ Falcon V ‡ MET 1 † Standout †
AST9002 ‡ Falcon NG ‡ MET 3 † Supersonic †
Avenger § Fat Cat ‡ Monet ‡ Tara ¶
Avenger II † Fidelity § Mustang II # Tarheel #
Barvado § Finelawn Elite § Mustang 4 ‡ Tarheel II §
Biltmore § Finelawn Express ‡ Olympic Gold # Tahoe II ‡
Birmingham * Firebird § Oncue # Talladega ‡
Black Tail † Firecracker LS ‡ Padre § Tanzania ‡
Blackwatch § Firecracker SLS ¶ Padre 2 * Technique †
Blade Runner II ‡ Firenza ‡ Paramount † Temple †
Bloodhound † Firewall † Patagonia ‡ Thor †
Braveheart ‡ Five Point § Pedigree ‡ Thunderstruck ¶
Bravo 2 * Forte § Picasso § Titanium §
Bullseye ‡ Garrison ‡ Plantation # Titanium 2LS †
Bullsey LTZ * Gazelle II ‡ Raptor II ‡ Toccoa ‡
Cannavaro ‡ GE-1 ‡ Raptor III † Traverse SRP ‡
Catalyst * Genesis # Rebel Sentry # Traverse 2 SRP †
Cayenne § GO-RH2O * Rebel Exeda § Trio ‡
Cezanne RZ ‡ Grande II § Rebel IV ‡ Trinity †
Cochise III § Grande 3 † Rebounder † Tulsa Time ‡
Cochise IV ‡ Greenkeeper WAF § Reflection † Turbo ‡
Compete ‡ Golconda ¶ Regenerate † Turbo RZ ‡
Corona ‡ GTO † Rembrandt ‡ Ultimate §
Coyote # Guardian-21 § Renegade H2O ¶ Umbrella ‡
Crossfire II # Guardian ‡ Reunion ‡ Van Gogh ‡
Darlington ‡ Hemi ‡ Rhambler SRP ‡ Valkyrie LS †
Dakota ¶ Honky Tonk ‡ Rhambler 2 SRP † Venture ‡
DaVinci § Hot Rod † Rowdy † Virtuoso §
Degas * Houndog 6 § Rocket ‡ Watchdog #
Diablo ¶ Houndog 8 † Rockwell † Wichita †
Dominion # Inferno § Serengeti § Wolfpack #
Durana # Integrity ‡ Scorpio #
Wolfpack II ‡
Dragster * Jaguar 3 # Shenandoah II #
2013-2017 NTEP; 2007-2011 NTEP; § 2002-2005 NTEP; # 1997-2000 NTEP; 2014-2016 Regional; * 2018-2019 NTEP (preliminary)

Table 2. The following Kentucky bluegrass cultivars were the top performing cultivars in tests conducted between 2001 and 2019 among the 454 entries tested. Some of the older cultivars may no longer be available. Some of the newer cultivars may not currently be available in our market. A few cultivars appeared in more than one test, but its performance was only noted from the most recent test.

4-Season § Blue Velvet # Keeneland ‡ Quantum Leap #
After Midnight † Bombay † Legend ‡ Rhapsody §
Alexa II § Cabernet ‡ Liberator # Rhythm §
Aramintha ‡ Cloud † Mazama ‡ Rugby II §
Aura § Corsair § Merlot ‡ Royce #
Award § Diva # Midnight † Shiraz §
Awesome # Dynamo § Midnight II # Skye †
Barnique # Emblem § MoonLight SLT § Star †
Barrister § Endurance ‡ Moon Shadow # Solar Eclipse §
Barvette HGT † Everest § Mystere § Sorbonne #
Barserati † Everglade § Nu Chicago ‡ Sudden Impact ‡
Beyond § Excursion § Nu Destiny § Total Eclipse #
Bewitched § Freedom III # Nu Glade § Tsunami #
Bluebank ‡ Front-Page # Nu Rush † Twilight †
Blue Gem † Ginney # Oasis ‡ Unknown #
Blue Devil † Ginney II § Odyssey # United †
Blue Note ‡ Granite § Perfection # Zinfandel §
Bluestone # Impact § Prosperity §
2019 NTEP data only; 2012-2016 NTEP; § 2006-2010 NTEP; # 2001-2005 NTEP


Crop & Soil Sciences

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Publication date: Aug. 3, 2020

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