Red fescue grass gives your lawn that meadow look that many homeowners long for and pay so much to achieve. Only with the creeping red fescue grass, it won’t cost you as much as other highly-sought grass and it doesn’t need as much maintenance or mowing either. In fact, if you want to get that natural meadow-look, then you will have to let the grass grow and bend. If you prefer to have a well-manicured lawn, then mowing the red fescue grass once a month is more than enough.
As a drought and shade tolerant grass, the creeping red fescue blends well with Kentucky bluegrass and is more suited to cool and cold climates. You can grow Kentucky bluegrass in the sunny parts of your lawn and red fescue grass in the shade parts to create an immaculate lawn.
Uses of Creeping Red Fescue Grass
Red fescue grass (Festuca rubra) is a favorite among many homeowners because it stays green all year round. But long before it adorned lawns in Europe and the northern parts of the United States, it has been growing in the wild. It has many uses including the following.
- Land Erosion: When it comes to stabilizing the soil and controlling erosion, red fescue grass is an excellent plant whose roots tie the topsoil together. It works well near waterways, on slopes, and hillsides. It’s also the right ground cover in orchards thanks to its high tolerance to shade and drought.
- Landscapes: The beautiful red fescue grass grows in lawns, golf courses, fields, and playgrounds everywhere for its landscaping qualities. Its all-year-round lush green leaves retain their color no matter how cold it gets.
- Crop: Livestock also grazes and feeds on red fescue and find it palatable. However, it’s not very productive as grass. Also, it contains high levels of endophytes which might not be healthy for the livestock.
- Wildlife: In the wild, red fescue also serves as a source of food and nutrition for deer and elk among other grazers. Snow geese and other small animals use it as cover to build nests and hide from predators.
- Soil Purification: The land near mining sites, oil fields, and other industrial areas are usually contaminated with large deposits of minerals. Red fescue grass usually absorbs all that excess minerals from the soil and make it fertile and easy to grow again.
Varieties and Cultivars of Red Fescue Grass
One of the reasons the creeping red fescue grass is such a popular choice as a turfgrass in lawns is that there are more than 200 species and varieties of this hardy grass. Add to that several hundred cultivars and you get the idea why red fescue grass is so ubiquitous. If you’re considering planting red fescue grass on your lawn, here some of the most popular varieties.
- Arctared: A popular cultivar developed by the University of Alaska in 1965. It favors rich soil although with a well-balanced fertilizer and organic compost, you can grow it just about anywhere. The Arctared is a hardy variety that can handle extreme temperatures, soil types, pH levels, and water shortages.
- Banner II: This cultivar was designed to resist insects and pests. It has a higher level of endophyte than other varieties which act as insect repellents. You can grow Banner II anywhere Kentucky bluegrass or red fescue grows. It doesn’t require special conditions and is easy to maintain.
- Boreal: The Canada Department of Agriculture Research Station was the first one to develop this cultivar in 1966. It can withstand the cold temperatures of Alberta, Canada which means it will grow anywhere in the lower 48. Its main use is for pastures but it adapts well to lawns and has a natural lush appearance all year round.
- Cindy Lou: A product of the Netherlands, this playful cultivar has been a fixture of the northern regions of the USA and the southern parts of Alaska since 1991. It looks its best when mowed regularly as its natural growth tends to be uncontrollable. As such, you’ll need to maintain it to get the most out of it.
- Jamestown: This cultivar found in Jamestown Island near the coast of Rhode Island, was first cultivated by the University of Rhode Island. The leaves of the grass are smooth and soft and feel like a thick cushion under the foot. It grows in all types of soil and weather conditions except the hot and humid southeastern parts of the United States.
How to Plant Red Fescue Grass
While most varieties and cultivars of the red fescue grass are cool-season perennials, it’s not always easy to plant this hardy grass. This despite the fact that it has USDA hardiness zones between 6 and 10. If it’s not getting the soil just right, it could be the watering. We will cover the best ways to maintain and care for this succulent perennial grass later. But for now, let’s tackle the rather complex process of planting it in easy steps.
- The best time to plant the seeds is either in the fall or spring. The temperature is cool enough in the fall and the soil is warm enough in the spring. So September and late April are both ideal for growing red fescue grass.
- Choose a shaded area that doesn’t get a lot of hours in the sun.
- Till the land to remove any weed or grass growing in that area.
- Test the soil and make sure the pH is anything between 5.5 and 6.5. If it’s higher or lower than that, mix the soil with lime to increase the pH or peat moss to adjust it and bring it down to the desired levels.
- Add a thin layer of compost to the tilled soil. Mix well to spread the compost all over the tilled area.
- Sprinkle a well-balanced fertilizer at a ratio of one pound to every one thousand feet of land. Make sure the soil gets enough nitrogen which is crucial for the success of the creeping red fescue grass.
- Use the same spreader to spread the seeds. On average you should calculate about 4.5 pounds of seeds for every one thousand feet of land. Walk the spreader in long straight lines back and forth. Then finish off with diagonal patterns to cover every inch with seeds.
- If you’re planting the seeds on a slope to prevent land erosion, you can mix it with ryegrass seeds. They grow well together and complement each other and ryegrass grows faster than red fescue grass.
- Use a rake to push the seeds into the soil.
- Water the soil thoroughly to help the seeds settle.
- Keep the topsoil moist for the first two weeks until the roots of red fescue grass establish.
Creeping Red Fescue Grass Care
It’s not uncommon to find barren patches in your lawn after planting the seeds. This can be either the seeds didn’t sprout or you didn’t spread them evenly. You’ll need to replant these spots following the above steps from 7 to 11. Once your lawn is lush green and red fescue grass covers it like a thick carpet, it’s time for maintenance work.
Watering the lawn is usually a job relegated to automatic sprinklers. Gone are the days when you had to stand with a garden hose in your hand walking around making sure the lawn is fully irrigated. That said, you still need to adjust the sprinklers to water the lawn as sparingly as possible. Red fescue grass is notoriously drought tolerant and doesn’t like to get its feet wet. During the summer months when it gets really warm, you can water the lawn once or twice a week. In the winter when the grass goes dormant, you won’t have to water it more than once or twice a month.
Creeping red fescue grass doesn’t need much fertilizing. During the growing season in the summer, you can spread some 10-10-10 fertilizer with a focus on nitrogen to improve its growth. Overfertilizing is a thing with this perennial grass. You’ll notice the color fading and the leaves looking wilted. If that happens, hold off the fertilizer and see if the grass gets back to normal. Avoid fertilizing during the dormant months.
That’s by far the most time-consuming maintenance task you’ll have to deal with when you have red fescue grass growing on your lawn. It is recommended that you mow it for the first time about 3 weeks after it emerges out of the ground. This helps it grow thick stems and become hardy. Keep it between 1 to 3 inches for that first mowing. For grass growing in shaded areas, you need to raise the mower. The grass in sunny areas can still thrive even with short leaves. During the summer, the creeping red fescue slows down and then picks up again in the fall. So you’ll need to mow it usually during the spring and fall of each year. It hardly shows signs of growth in the winter, especially in cold climates.
Pests and Diseases
The two main pests that attack your creeping red fescue grass and impact its growth are white grubs and billbugs. The problem with these pests is that they have plenty of room to hide since we’re talking about a lawn. Most likely you won’t notice them until it’s too late. They feed on the succulent leaves of the red fescue grass and new shoots. You’ll see patches that look almost barren with uneven grass growth. The best way to fight this infestation is with a suitable herbicide. Make sure you use a selective product that doesn’t affect any plants in the vicinity.
As for diseases, you should be wary of red thread dollar spot, and pythium blight. Plant a cultivar with high levels of endophyte to resist these diseases and prevent the spread of white grubs and billbugs.