- Festuca rubra – Slender-creeping Red-fescue
- Slender Creeping Red Fescue
- Slender Creeping Red Fescue
- All You Need to Know About Fescue
- Hard fescue
- Pests and Potential Problems
- The Amazing Shade Tolerance Of Fine Fescue Grass
- Gardening How-to Articles
- Low & Slow Fescues
- Growing Fine Fescues
- No-Mow Mix
- Turfgrass Cultivars
- Growing Fine Fescue: Learn About The Care And Uses For Fine Fescue
- What is Fine Fescue?
- Uses for Fine Fescue
- Fine Fescue Care
- Fine Fescue
- Working with Fine Fescue
- Hillside Fine Fescue
- Features & Benefits
Festuca rubra – Slender-creeping Red-fescue
Red fescue is a fine-leaved perennial grass of medium height and vigour. Its fine, bristle-like, mid to dark green glossy leaves are probably its most characteristic feature. Its heads are branched, typically growing to less than 70cm in height. Red fescue is extremely variable species which can grow in dense tufts or spread out by rhizomes to form patches or carpets of fine leaves. Slender-creeping varieties of red fescue are more densely tufted or mat forming and are ideal for creating fine quality lawns. They generally have shorter, slender, and less vigorous creeping rhizomes. The botanical taxonomy of red fescue group is both complex and confused. Slender creeping red fescue varieties used in amenity grassland have been variously described as Festuca rubra subspecies litoralis, ssp juncea or ssp pruinosa.
|Type||Seeds per gram||Origin||Ordering|
|Grassland Perennial||1000||Amenity||Order this species|
Red fescue is a widespread grass species and is a component of many botanically rich grassland communities. It is one of the most frequent grasses of unimproved traditional meadows, along with crested dogs tail and common bent. It is also common in all kinds of grassy habitats, including banks, verges and pastures.
Slender creeping forms of red fescue seem to be associated with grassland growing in more stressed environments: saltmarshes, sea-cliffs, sand dunes, hill grasslands, mountain slopes and rock ledges. F.rubra ssp litoralis for example describes a form found growing on tightly grazed, sea-washed coastal grazing marshes, and has been selected as the basis of some of the commercial amenity varieties. Slender creeping red fescue is a name widely used in the amenity trade to categorise the functional types which are most suited to creating fine lawns; these often are not definitively classified to subspecies, some indeed are probably slender forms of F.rubra ssp rubra.
Red fescue will grow in all but the most acid or waterlogged soils. It is a relatively slow growing and stress tolerant grass; it is particularly suited to growing on free draining, low fertility, neutral to calcareous soils.
Red fescue seed can be sown at any time of the year when soil conditions are suitable. It can be moderately quick to germinate from sowing, but being a relatively slow-growing grass, the small fine leaved seedlings will take some time to reach full size and cover (as compared with ryegrass for example).
Once established, red fescue plants are very long-lived and able to withstand considerable nutrient and drought stress. They are able to spread effectively by creeping vegetative rhizome growth, so are not dependant on seed to regenerate or colonise gaps. Red fescue can be a useful structural component filling out the base of a mown or grazed sward.
Where conditions favour it over other grasses red fescue does have the potential to become dominant. Long-term fescue dominance can be avoided by sowing a balanced mixture including companion grasses like crested dogstail, and by good ongoing management. Slender creeping red fescue is not as vigorous as strong creeping red fescue so is the preferred form for use in low maintenance and wild flower mixtures.
Slender creeping red fescue is particularly tolerant of frequent close mowing or grazing and responds by producing a fine dense sward so is widely sown to create fine quality lawns. Fescue turf is moderately tolerant of wear and trampling.
Red fescue grassland which is left uncut for too long can build up a smothering blanket of dense growth with an accumulation of persistent dead leaf litter (thatch) at its base. This is not good for plant diversity and good management (mowing) can help prevent this.
Mature red fescue leaves can get quite tough, wiry and have a glossy surface; they are good at resisting a scythe. Mowing a thick red fescue sward can be quite a challenge as the blade is prone to sliding up over the leaves, flattening rather than cutting through them. A really keenly sharpened well set blade is needed; keep the blade close to the ground and hone frequently. In well-managed diverse grassland red fescue typically only contributes a small proportion of the grass to be cut so is unlikely to be an issue except in occasional patches.
Fresh growth of red fescue is quite palatable to livestock and has a long growing season. As such it can provide some useful grazing as a bottom grass in meadows and pastures, particularly on unproductive low-input fields on which more productive grasses struggle. Red fescue is however less palatable than lush ryegrass and may be rejected by livestock if, with lax grazing, the fescue plants are allowed to accumulate older tougher leaves.
You can order any quantity of this species from 1g up to 250000g. Please contact us if you require more.
nb: 1kg = 1000g, 0.1kg = 100g
Prices include p&p to most mainland destinations, more on delivery charges.
Slender Creeping Red Fescue
(Festuca rubra litoralis)
This densely tufted or mat forming species has a creeping growth habit, sending out rhizomes. It can form a close turf with bristle like, dark green, glossy leaves. It has uses in agricultural and amenity situations.
Normally used in lawn mixtures in the amenity market and traditional grassland or wild flower mixtures.
This is a long lived perennial species.
It has a creeping growth habit, allowing it to form a mat or a turf, it is more useful than other fescue species like strong creeping red fescue because it has a finer bristle like leaf and less aggressive growth. This means that it can be used for creating a finer quality lawn finish. This species also shows reasonable salt tolerance for coastal areas.
Good frost tolerance
Sowing Rate Advice
30kgs per acre / 75kgs per ha
Amenity rates may be significantly higher than agricultural rates to ensure a dense turf is created. Grams per metre squared are normally the preferred units for amenity situations.
Ideal Sowing Time
Sowing in warm soils from May to September is advisable.
Slender creeping red fescue will tolerate close mowing, the more it is cut in lawn situations the finer and more uniform the finish. A lack of regular cutting may allow it to become coarse, the creeping growth habit may also cause it to dominate in some swards.
This is a narrow, angularly shaped seed. It varies in colour from beige to light brown, and is 6mm in length.
This is a densely tufted, mat forming species, but finer and less aggressive than strong creeping red fescue. The leaves are dark green and bristle like, as well as slightly curved. It has an array of closely packed tillers or culms. The outer sheaths towards the base of the plant are glabourous (smooth and free from hair). It has characteristic slender rhizomes. The plant will grow between 15 and 50 cm in height.
Flowering from June – July
Works well with
Combining it with dwarf perennial ryegrass and highland bentgrass is a turf growers favourite for good quality lawn mixtures. It may also be used with other red fescue in shade tolerant mixtures. Being less aggressive than creeping red fescue allows it to be used in traditional grass mixtures or shade tolerant wild flowers mixes.
Buy Slender Creeping Red Fescue Straight
You can find Slender Creeping Red Fescue in the following mixtures
- Ornamental Lawn without ryegrass
- Pathways Mixture
- Shady Lawn without ryegrass
- Hard Wearing Lawn with ryegrass
- Golf Greens without ryegrass
- Golf Course Tees Mixture with dwarf ryegrass
- Golf Fairway & Cricket Outfield
- Grass Tennis Court & Cricket Wicket
- Orchard Mixture
- Quality Finish Arena
- Polo Pitch Mixture
- Woodland Edge and Shady Area Mixture
- Flower Rich Margin (AB8)
Some commercial varieties were originally selected from tidal areas and salt marshes, the species has some salt tolerance.
Slender Creeping Red Fescue
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If you’ve purchased directly from a Deer Creek Seed Co. facility or via our website, please note the following terms and conditions:
-Returns or exchanges are permitted if the product is returned, shipping cost prepaid, to the origin facility within 30 days of purchase. Credit will be issued within 30 days of receipt of merchandise.
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All You Need to Know About Fescue
For those in the market for a genuine cool season all-rounder, look no further – you can’t get much more utilitarian than Fescue.
It’s as hardy a cool season grass as you’ll find, making it perfect for the eminently changeable seasons that much of the more temperate and cooler regions of Australia experience. If you need a grass that will stand up to a stiff frost in winter and get through a major dry spell in summer, you could do far worse than jump on the Fescue bandwagon.
Fescue is a traditionally coarse and long growing grass. Its flexibility isn’t just contained to the conditions it can survive; it can also be cut low and be kept as a lawn, or it can be allowed to grow free and be grazed on by livestock. Depending on which variety of Fescue you choose, the natural growing height can vary anywhere from 10cm-200cm.
Fescue is very closely related to Ryegrass, and shares a lot of key features to the genus. It is also one of the only grasses that can be found on every continent bar Antarctica – yet another verification of its ability to survive a variety of conditions.
So is Fescue the grass for you? Let’s look at what makes this grass tick.
As mentioned, when it comes to Australia’s cooler climes, the hardiness of Fescue is nigh-on unbeatable. Its ability to withstand frosts make it the ideal candidate for Tasmania and Southern Victoria, and its ability to cope with extended dry spells also make is ideal for the Southern regions of Western and South Australia.
Fescue is also a particularly low maintenance grass. More often than not, the areas that it is grown in have enough rain to keep it going, and you’ll only need to water it during the most taxing dry spells. Its drought resistance is due to the deep root system of the plant, which can dive down to depths of 6 feet, accessing moisture from the water table.
Fescue will also putt along just fine in a low fertility soil, although the better quality the soil, the better the turf will look. While fertiliser normally isn’t a must, it will enjoy a meal of nitrogen if given the option.
Not being an exceptionally fast growing plant, mowing isn’t a job that you’ll have to worry about every weekend. It is important to keep in mind that Fescue prefers to be cut relatively high – 7-10cm – as cutting anywhere below that height can dry the grass’s sod out, causing thinning.
A concern that is often raised regarding Fescue is the coarseness of the bristles. The scratchiness of the grass could be seen as a trade-off for its hardiness, and can be a little rough for the kids if they’re rolling about on it.
Fescue also has a susceptibility to pests and diseases, particularly after heavy rains or if the soil is waterlogged – great conditions for unwanted visitors to thrive. A preventative fungicide treatment may be worth a look if your area is prone to these sorts of conditions.
Mckay’s offer two separate types of pure Fescue – McKays’ Turf-Type Tall Fescue and McKays’ RTF Tall Fescue; and one Fescue blend – McKays’ Parks Blend (a Kentucky/Fescue mix).
McKays’ Turf-Type Tall Fescue is your traditional Fescue option, with all the pluses offered by Fescue listed above. It’s as popular a choice for Australian homes as ever, with the benefits of the grass coming at an economical price.
McKays’ RTF Tall Fescue is by-and-large a traditional Fescue, but with the added ability to efficiently repair itself. A great option for lawns that will experience a bit of wear and tear.
McKays’ Parks Blend is a combination of 50 percent Fescue, 40 percent Kentucky Bluegrass and 10 percent slow release fertiliser that was custom made to suit the needs of Australian parks and recreation areas.
No matter where you are in Australia, whether it’s Fescue or another variety, McKays will find a solution to your turf problem. So what are you waiting for? Consult your friendly McKays team today!
Tall Fescue is a bunch type grass that is established from seed. It is coarse bladed and dense, and grows well is shady areas. It also has a dense root system, which makes it very resilient to drought conditions. This, along with it’s tolerance of shade, makes Tall Fescue a desirable grass in seed mixtures for home lawns. It also stays green year long, giving a typical lawn a sense of aesthetic beauty. Tall Fescue is able to endure heavy foot traffic and other forms of wear and compaction.
Varieties: *Kentucky 31- One of the more popular varieties, Kentucky 31 is adapted to grow well in the upper area of the Transition Zone where the warm season grasses won’t grow, as well as the lower area of the Transition Zone where the cool season grasses won’t grow.
Where It’s Used: Lawns, athletic fields, parks, and anywhere a dense turf is desired.
Creeping Red Fescue
Creeping Red Fescue is a cool season grass used in the cooler temperate regions of the North. It is a fine fescue and has narrow, deep green blades. It tends to prefer shady, cooler areas. It is often used in mixtures with Tall Fescue, as well as Bluegrass and Perennial Ryegrass. Creeping Red Fescue is known for its ability to establish a lawn quickly, as well as the ease of which it is maintained due to its non-aggressive nature. It is one of the most widely used grasses used to overseed lawns of cool season species of grass.
Varieties: *Cindy Lou- This variety of Creeping Red Fescue has the best ability to “creep” or spread through underground shoots, which allows it to fill in bare spots and repair damaged turf. It thrives in shady locations and sandy soils, but is widely used in lawns as well as golf greens.
Where It’s Used: Lawns, erosion sites, steep slopes, along roadsides, meadows, and golf greens.
Chewings Fescue closely resembles Tall Fescue in that it grows very upright rather than creeping. It does, however, have the fine texture that is characeteristic of the fine fescue species. Chewings Fescue is a bunch type grass and grows well in the shade, in addition to being drought resistant. A downside of this type of fescue is that it does not tolerate wear and traffic as well as some of the other species. A positive characteristic is that Chewings Fescue prospers in sandy soils of low fertility, and has the ability to be mown shorter than other fescues. Its most popular use is in mixtures.
Varieties: *Windward Chewings Fescue is the most popular variety, and is known to be tough, long lived, and for its ability to grow in acidic soils. It is endophyte enhanced, which means it has the natural ability to deter harmful insects.
Where It’s Used: Shady lawns, areas of acidic or sandy soils; typically found in the Northern U.S. and Canada.
Hard Fescue is the “toughest” of all the fescues in that it is the most drought resistant, shade tolerant, and disease resistant than the other species. It is a clump type grass that can be grown in very adverse conditions as well as extremely shady areas, typically in the Northern regions and in higher elevations. Hard Fescue can be distinguished by its characteristic blueish green appearance, and its ability to stay green longer. It may not be cut as low as the other fescues, but is relatively slow growing and requires little maintenance. Hard Fescue is the only fescue grass that is salt tolerant.
Varieties: *Warwick Hard Fescue is one of the most popular and widely used varieties, and is known for its ability to survive in extreme drought conditions or in very shady conditions. Warwick Hard Fescue, which has a deep root sytem and is endophyte enhanced, is particularly well suited for soils of low maintenance and low fertility, where mowing is not feasable, and in areas where adverse weather prevents the growth of other turfgrass.
Where It’s Grown: Areas of low maintenance, where mowing is not possible, sites of erosion, areas of reclamation planting, and in soils that are very salty.
Hard fescue is indeed one of the “hardiest” of the fescues. Shade and drought resistant, and more disease resistant this fescue grows best in the north and the higher elevations and is more drought tolerant than chewings fescue.
Hard fescue has blue-green color, and can grow in some of the most adverse of conditions including heavily shaded areas. Known for its clump formations, hard fescue may not be mown as low as the other fescues. Hard fescue is one grass that stays green a longer period of time, is slow growing and a low maintenance grass. Varieties of hard fescue are being developed for extended usage and acceptability as lawn grasses. This fescue makes an ideal conservation, erosion, and reclamation planting option in areas not easily maintained, but still has adequate rainfall during the growing season.
Medium susceptibility to turfgrass diseases
Low heat tolerance
Not adapted to close mowing
Low traffic tolerance
- The only fescue that is salt tolerant
Hard fescue is a cool-season grass often used in cool-season grass seed mixtures when shade is an expected problem. It does well on low fertility soils and in shaded areas. This species is good as a non-mowed turf for slopes, median strips, and nonused areas of parks. In fact, where rainfall is not an issue, hard fescue is an excellent grass for soil protection and retention. However, it does not recover well from severe injury and is not tolerant of high summer temperatures.
Left unmowed, this no-mow lawn will form a soft, 4″ – 6″ tall carpet of grass. If you prefer a more cropped look, mow once a month to a height of 3″ – 4″. Never remove more than one-third of the top growth; cutting lower may damage the grasses. Water only during dry periods—occasional thorough soakings are better than frequent light sprinklings. Fertilizer is not necessary.
Pests and Potential Problems
Grubs, leaf spot, dollar spot, summer patch and red thread are potential problems for hard fescue.
The Amazing Shade Tolerance Of Fine Fescue Grass
Fine fescue is not native to the U.S., but originated in Europe. They are probably best known for their exceptional shade tolerance and their very thin blades. The blades often appear to be rolled like a string instead of a flat blade. The widest blades are not much more than 1/16 of an inch wide.
In the U.S. fine fescues are mostly restricted to being a “shade grass”. Common grass species include Creeping Red Fescue, Chewings Fescue, Hard Fescue, and Sheep Fescue.
The blades are so thin they simply cannot take the summer heat when planted in full sun, even in many parts of the northern U.S. However, in many European countries where the grass originated, the conditions are more favorable and these fine fescues have even been used as a primary turfgrass.
Important Note About “Fine Fescue” and “Fine Leaf Fescue”: I occasionally hear about someone planting their lawn with Creeping Red Fescue, for example, and are upset that it completely died in summer. In southern Missouri, summer temps are far too hot for fine fescue to survive in full sun. I believe there is a lot of confusion about fine fescues. Even some professionals get it wrong. I hope this helps solve the problem.
Fine Fescue grasses are not the same species as the “Fine Leaf Fescues”. Fine Fescues are the types listed on this page, while Fine Leaf Fescue is an older name for “‘Turf-Type’ Tall Fescue”.
Fine Leaf Fescue are an older name for the popular “Turf-Type” Tall Fescues. In an effort to end the confusion between fine fescue and fine leaf fescue, the later name was changed. Turf-type Tall Fescue are actually improved varieties of Tall Fescue. Are you thoroughly confused now?
How Fine Fescues are Labeled
There are a few different species of fine fescues. Each species will be able to tolerate slightly different conditions. They are often labeled as “Shade Grass Seed Blend” or something similar. A good blend should contain each of the species of seed to cover the different types of growing conditions. The grass species that will prevail will be the ones that are best suited for your conditions.
If planting seed in the fall the grass will grow as normal. However, any seed growing in full sun will probably be lost the following year. As the temps climb in late spring, the grass will start to suffer and eventually die. Plant a different species in the sun, such as a Turf-type Tall Fescue.
Click here to see a map of the U.S. climate zones for grass adaptation.
Fine Fescue Grass Types
Creeping Red Fescue
Creeping red fescue prefer cooler, damp climates. Their best range of adaptation is in the north/central to north/eastern areas of U.S and Canada and has exceptional cold tolerance. It is strictly a shade grass and will not survive long in the sun. Tall fescue or Kentucky bluegrass should be used in the full sun portions of your lawn.
Creeping red, as the name implies, is a slowly spreading grass. It creeps along by way of short underground stems called rhizomes. This grass can also develop thatch. Core aeration can help reduce thatch, especially if the cores are left on the grass. See Plant Structure for a better understanding of rhizomes.
I have heard many times where homeowners planted Creeping Red Fescue in sunny area because a store clerk recommended it. Clerks are often poor sources for advice. Be sure to read the bag ingredients carefully, so you don’t waste your money. Creeping Red will die in sunny locations as temps heat up in summer in most U.S. locations. Only a few places in the U.S. have acceptable conditions. Keep it as a shade grass and you will do okay.
Chewings fescue prefers a little drier climate than does creeping red fescue. It prefers the north/central U.S. It will do best in shade, however, has the ability to survive in the sun as long as it is not too hot. It has a bunch type growth habit and does not spread.
Like the other fine fescues, hard fescue has very fine blades and is very shade tolerant. One difference is in the color. It tends to have more of a gray/green color similar to the color of buffalograss. It prefers northern areas with drier climates. It will perish in soils that are consistently moist.
This species is especially useful in shaded areas that will receive little maintenance. It is considered to be a common variety with few cultivars. It doesn’t require much maintenance. On shaded areas, including steep shaded hillsides or other difficult to mow places, this is a perfect choice. Just let it go and don’t worry about mowing it.
Fine fescues should not be used in high traffic areas. It won’t hold up due to low wear resistance. All grasses, including fine fescue, grow slower in shade. There isn’t enough sunlight to support rapid growth, due to lower photosynthetic rate.
Since shade grasses grow slower than sun grasses, any damage that occurs will take longer to repair. Turf-type tall fescue has good shade tolerance and is a better choice for those areas with moderate to heavy traffic.
Planting Fine Fescue
Planting fine fescue lawn grass seed is easy and is best done in the fall when high temps are in the eighties or lower. Remove any fallen leaves and make sure the soil is damp. Since it will be planted in the shade, use a steel rake to scratch and loosen the soil surface. You can also use a pull-behind dethatcher, as well. Scatter the seed and use the back side of the rake to lightly cover the seed. Keep it watered lightly, so soil remains moist until germination. Only 3 to 5 lbs per 1000 sq. ft. are all that is needed.
Click here for more information on Grass Seed Germination to better understand the process and the best methods.
You can also check out this page for more information on Overseeding a Lawn for the best methods and techniques.
Fine fescue is low fertility requirement. It needs only about 1 to 2 lbs. of nitrogen per 1000 sq. ft. per year. The best time to fertilize is in the spring and fall. However, if the grass is to remain unmowed, fertilize only once a year in fall.
It can be mowed as low as 1.5 inches, but 2 to 3 inches is better. HIgher mowing rate produces deeper root growth and maintains longer blades for maximum photosynthesis.
Most fine fescues prefer drier soils. Creeping red will do well in moist soil, but not prolonged wet soil. It may become diseased under prolonged wet conditions.
On the up side, shaded soil will retain moisture longer than soil in sunny areas. If you are experiencing drought conditions the grass will still need to be watered. A half inch or more of water a couple times a week in summer should do well depending on soil type. Sandy soil may require more in high heat periods.
Insects such as billbugs and grub worms can occasionally be a problem. Lawn insecticides containing carbaryl (seven) or trichlorfon (dylox) will have the quickest results on insects. Granular insecticides are the easiest and fastest method of application if you have a broadcast spreader. If not, a hand-held or drop spreader will work. Do not broadcast by hand unless you have latex gloves on. Since the insecticides are often small flakes, it is best to spread on a calm day.
You can also use liquid insecticides if that is easier for you. You can use a pump sprayer or other types of spray equipment. The label will advise on many types that are acceptable.
Products containing imidacloprid or halofenocide as the active ingredient do not have quick killing action. These are preventative products meaning they need to be applied a considerable time before any damage occurs. If applied at the time of damage, it will have no effect.
Dollar spot is a fungal disease that can be an occasional problem. Dollar spot occurs when nitrogen levels are too low. The best method of preventing dollar spot is to make sure there is sufficient nitrogen levels. (But not excessive.) There are several fungicides labeled for dollar spot if necessary.
Red thread and leaf spot can also affect the grass. They are most common in humid, damp, cool spring weather. When environmental conditions change to less humid, warmer weather, the disease should stop. If the disease is only in the grass blade, it will grow out. If it persists, it may affect the crown. The use of a fungicide may be warranted. See the Disease section for detailed information.
Kentucky Bluegrass and other bluegrass varieties
Kentucky bluegrass is one of the most popular of all grass type. It is used on lawns, fairways and athletic fields in the cooler areas of the U.S. Find out what makes this grass so special.
Coarse and Turf-Type Tall Fescue
Tall fescue is an exceptional cool season grass. It is preferred by many because of its dark green color, wear resistance and heat tolerance. Click here to find out everything you need to know about tall fescue.
Annual and Perennial Ryegrass
Ryegrass has come a long way with the introduction of new turf species. See all the pros and cons about using the perennial and annual varieties.
Overseeding Lawns – Detailed Tips and Techniques for a Beautiful Lawn
Lawn overseeding is one of the most overlooked practices by homeowners. However, it is one of the most important steps you can take to maintain a consistently thick and beautiful lawn. Find complete information on why and how to overseed correctly.
Watering a New Lawn
Watering a new lawn is very different from watering a mature lawn. When planting a new lawn, success will be greatly increased by learning proper watering techniques.
Understanding Organics and Organic Lawn Fertilization
An unbiased look at organic fertilizers, how they work and how to best use them to your advantage. Includes detailed information on natural organic fertilizers and organic/synthetic fertilizer blends.
All About Lawn Fertilization
Fertilizing a lawn can be tricky if you are not sure how to do it correctly. Find everything from understanding fertilizer ingredients to calculating fertilizer rates to planning your fertilization schedule for the entire year and more.
Lawn Moss and How to Contol It
Lawn moss is a common problem in yards. However, its presence represents deeper soil problems that must be fixed or the moss will stick around. Find out what must be done to finally end your moss problems.
Dog Urine Damage on Lawns
We all love our pets, but dog urine can do a number on grass. There is hope. Find out what can be done to save your lawn and your pet too.
Fine Fescue to Lawn Care Academy Home
Gardening How-to Articles
Low & Slow Fescues
By Stevie Daniels | December 31, 2001
For years fescues languished as obscure players in the turfgrass pantheon, relegated to second-class status as components of shade-tolerant seed mixtures. These attractive, fine-textured grasses are finally coming into their own.
Today, fine fescues are being hailed for their low maintenance requirements. They grow slowly and if left uncut reach a mature height of only 8 to 12 inches. They don’t like a lot of fertilizer, and thrive in dry, infertile soil. They tolerate not only partial shade but also drought. In fact, irrigation and fertilizer actually restrict their development. Fine fescues can withstand the cold of northerly climes and the heat of the upper South. They have fine, narrow leaves to boot.
The two main types of native fine fescues are red fescue (Festuca rubra) and sheep fescue (F. ovina). Many subspecies and cultivars of red fescue have been developed for use in turfgrass blends. A natural variety of sheep fescue commonly known as hard fescue, F. ovina var. duriuscula, is sometimes listed as F. longifolia. Hard fescue is described in some sources as native to open woods and stony slopes from North Dakota and Washington to Alaska; it apparently was introduced and naturalized eastward. It is also native to Europe. Many states have other indigenous fescues, although these have not been cultivated by nurseries or horticulturists and seed is not commercially available.
Left unmowed, the ‘no-mow’ mix of hard and creeping red fescues forms a soft carpet of grass for cooler, medium-rainfall areas of the Midwest and Northeast. (Photo: Neil Diboll, Prairie Nursery)
Both red and sheep fescues are bunchgrasses, meaning that each plant forms a small clump. Consequently, if you plant the pure species, you will need to sow thickly to get a dense cover (6 pounds per 1,000 square feet). The subspecies and cultivars of red fescue that have been developed for use in turfgrass mixtures send out runners and therefore form a sod. These include creeping red fescue (F. rubra subsp. trichophylla), spreading fescue (F.r. subsp. rubra), and chewings fescue (F.r. subsp. commutata). They do not need to be seeded as thickly, so use 5 pounds per 1,000 square feet.
The popular, small ornamental grass blue fescue is a cultivar of sheep fescue. You may see it labeled F. ovina ‘Glauca’ or F. cinerea. In fact, dozens of blue fescue cultivars have been developed, ranging in height from 5 to 15 inches, and most send up silvery green seed heads in early summer. These inflorescences turn beige and shatter by midsummer.
Growing Fine Fescues
Fine fescues are cool-season grasses that do best in the middle Atlantic region and farther north or in high-altitude regions of the middle to lower South. They prefer slightly acid soil (5.5 to 6.5 pH). They green up early in the spring and stay green longer in the fall than warm-season grasses do; they’re even evergreen in some situations. They germinate rapidly (in five to twelve days), and seedlings establish quickly.
Prepare the ground before sowing (see “Planting a Native Grass Lawn Step by Step”). The best time to sow is August to September.
All blue fescue cultivars are propagated solely from division (not from seed) to maintain their characteristics. Therefore, if you want to use them as a groundcover you will need to start with plants. They look their best when trimmed in fall or early spring before new growth begins. Clip the foliage 3 to 4 inches above the crown but do not cut back hard, especially in the heat of summer. Sometimes old clumps die out in the center after three to four years. You can divide and replant the sections or plant new plants. Keep in mind that if you start with a cultivar propagated by division and let it go to seed, the new seedlings may not be exactly like the original plant. For instance, the foliage may not be as blue.
One commercially available fine fescue seed mix was developed by Neil Diboll, chairman of Prairie Nursery in Westfield, Wisconsin. Diboll, known for his expertise in designing and establishing prairie plantings, realized that although many people may not want to fuss with a highly manicured lawn, they still want some kind of low-growing, green play area—one that does not require mowing or applications of fertilizers and herbicides. He experimented with various fescues and came up with a “no-mow” lawn mix suitable for the cooler, medium-rainfall areas of the upper Midwest and northeastern United States, and southern Canada. The mix contains hard fescue and creeping red fescue. He recommends sowing 5 pounds per 1,000 square feet. The no-mow mix will not do well in poorly drained soil, wet soil, or heavy clay.
Left unmowed, the no-mow lawn will form a soft, 4- to 6-inch-tall carpet of grass. If you prefer a more cropped look, mow once a month to a height of 3 to 4 inches. Never remove more than one-third of the top growth; cutting lower may damage the grasses. Water only during dry periods—occasional thorough soakings are better than frequent light sprinklings. Fertilizer is not necessary.
Some special fine fescues were developed by Jan Weijer, a plant geneticist retired from the University of Alberta. He collected all sorts of native grasses growing on the cold and dry eastern slopes of the Canadian Rockies. The cultivars he developed, which are not yet named or available on the market, are frost and drought tolerant and grow only 6 to 7 inches a year. They are not naturally sod forming, so they must be seeded heavily to get a closely spaced lawn.
The easiest way to achieve a thick lawn is to let the grass go to seed the second year of growth, according to Weijer. “Let the grasses reseed themselves, filling in whatever gaps there may be,” he advises. He says in the test plots that he established, only two annual mowings were necessary—one early in spring to remove debris, and one after flowering to remove spikelets.
Stevie Daniels is the director of publications for Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania. She is the the author of The Wild Lawn Handbook: Alternatives to the Traditional Front Lawn (Macmillan, 1995) and gardening columnist forPennsylvania Magazine. She has been a Penn State Master Gardener since 1988. Daniels has spent the last three years replacing the grass in her own yard with native plants and a front lawn of native grasses.
Growing Fine Fescue: Learn About The Care And Uses For Fine Fescue
Lawns in cool areas with plenty of shade will benefit from a turf sown with fine fescue. What is fine fescue? It is a standard turf grass that is bunching and perennial. This variety of fescue is often part of a grass mixture to create a northern shade tolerant grass that has low moisture and fertilizer needs. The grass stays green all year long in most regions and is drought tolerant.
What is Fine Fescue?
Fine fescues encompass at least 5 major species. These are:
- Hard fescue
- Sheep fescue
- Chewings fescue
- Creeping red fescue
- Slender creeping red fescue
The 5 varieties are often sold as a blended seed mix for better turf vigor. These grasses are perfect for temperate and cooler regions, especially maritime and low mountainous climates. The majority of the species clump and form tufts with the exception of the red creeping varieties, which spread by rhizomes. Leaves are medium green to blue green with a fine texture. Many growers have trouble determining if they have fine fescue vs. tall fescue. The delicate leaves are an indicator as is the superior performance in shade locations.
One of the best uses for fine fescue is as an eco-friendly turf lawn. Fine fescue for lawns germinates quickly and establishes readily. It is often blended with bluegrass and rye as well as different varieties of fine fescue. It is the most shade tolerant of all turfgrasses.
The plant prefers difficult soil conditions such as rocky, sandy or clay situations. Its only major drawback is that it doesn’t perform well in high traffic areas. Growing fine fescue as a mix is recommended for northern gardens and shady warm regions.
Uses for Fine Fescue
Fine fescue is most often used as a lawn. It is not useful in grazing situations. The shade tolerance of the plant is attractive to gardeners with numerous trees, and in low light, the turf is still vigorous and thick. It may go dormant in periods of summer with temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 C.) but will reanimate when cooler conditions arrive.
Growing fine fescue requires soil pH of 5.0 to 6.5. As with any turf grass, it is best to prepare the bed before seeding, drilling or laying sod. Fine fescue blends are not recommended for heavily trafficked areas, such as athletic fields, but perform well in standard home landscapes.
Fine Fescue Care
One of the characteristics of fine fescue for lawns is its tolerance for low mowing, especially Chewings and hard fescues. The grass has low irrigation needs but will require consistent moisture when establishing.
Thick thatch is a problem that develops as the lawn matures and can cause difficulty with irrigation. The plants tolerate low fertility conditions but will gradually brown without supplemental nitrogen. Springtime fertilizing followed by an early summer feed will develop strong roots, good color and enhance the drought and heat stress properties of the grass.
As a general rule, fine fescue care doesn’t require a pesticide, as most insects do not seem to do any damage. Fungal issues, however, do tend to occur, especially in coastal and high moisture regions.
Three grasses go under the common name of fine fescue: chewings fescue, creeping red fescue, and hard fescue. All three survive extreme cold and combine well with other cool-season grasses.
None of the fine fescues tolerate wear and tear, but they have the unusual talent of being able to grow in dry shade. Hard fescue has a strong bunching habit that makes it appears less refined than other lawn grasses, but will persist in difficult sites that are unusually cold, windy, and dry.
All of the fescues share the same variety characteristics with the three dominant ones being shade tolerance, staying green all year, and having good drought resistance. Fine Fescues are more cold and shade tolerant than Tall Fescue, but both are used though-out much of the Central to Northern USA states.
All of the fescues are cool season grasses that are adapted from the transition zone into Canada. The fescue species are easily seeded and include the sub species of tall bunching grasses named tall fescue and fine shorter fescues named creeping red, hard fescue, chewings and sheep fescue.
Working with Fine Fescue
Depending on your soil and climate, it may be wise to diversify a fine fescue lawn by including other cool-season grasses. Bluegrass gives the lawn vibrant green color and helps hold soil in place with its spreading habit, and perennial ryegrass helps the lawn recover quickly from wear and tear. In some sites, it is a good idea to emphasize these species and use fine fescue mostly to improve the lawn’s appearance in shade or to improve its ability to withstand extreme cold. Reliable mixtures are available as both seed and sod. Plant fine fescue seed or sod in early spring or early fall so it can grow vigorously during cool weather.
Look at the contents label on bags of grass seed to identify the varieties of fine fescue and companion species. Avoid fine fescue seed that shows some annual bluegrass on its contents label under “weed seed content”. Annual bluegrass is a weed.
Recommendations for the best selections of fine fescue are constantly changing. New selections undergo extensive evaluation at numerous sites in different climates, and the grass seed industry is quick to make use of new selections that show superior overall quality or outstanding resistance to common diseases. When buying hard fescue seed to plant in low maintenance areas, the species name to look for is Fesutca ovina, which translates literally as sheep fescue.
Hillside Fine Fescue
FOR USE ON GOLF COURSES, LANDSCAPES, and UNMAINTAINED AREAS in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA.
West Coast Turf’s Hillside Fine Fescue is the ultimate low maintenance, cool season turfgrass. This fine fescue is a three-way mix of Florentine GT Strong Creeping Red Fescue, Seabreeze GT Slender Creeping Red Fescue, and Tiffany Chewings Fescue.
Florentine has strong rhizomes to provide a spreading compact growth habit that will quickly fill in weak or damaged areas. It also has improved salt tolerance as compared to other strong creeping fescues on the market.
Seabreeze has a bright green color with great density, aggressive growth, and good color during winter months. It also has excellent salt tolerance compared to most fine fescues.
Tiffany is the most competitive of the three species. With a bright medium-green color, it tillers rapidly providing strong springtime turf quality.
When mixed together, these three fine-leafed fescues provide a dense, low growing, fine textured turf with low fertility requirements. In cooler, more temperate climates, ,fine fescues perform well in full sun to moderately heavy shade. In warmer transition climates, they perform best when shaded from the heat of the afternoon sun.
Hillside fine fescue can endure a broad range of mowing heights. If left un-mowed, it takes on a beautiful natural look.
Features & Benefits