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Aug 162012

The fine-leaved fescues (Festuca spp.) are generally considered low maintenance grasses because of their low nitrogen requirement and slow growth, but they can produce a dense, quality turf with proper management. The fine fescues include creeping red (Festuca rubra subp. rubra), chewings (Festuca rubra subsp. chewings) sheep (Festuca ovina) and hard (Festuca longifolia or duriuscula) fescue. All are primarily bunch-type grasses except for creeping red fescuse which has rhizomes. Fine fescues are the most shade tolerant of the cool-season grasses and are commonly used in shade mixtures with Kentucky bluegrass and/or perennial ryegrass. They are not recommended for high traffic areas because their leaves do not hold up to wear like perennial ryegrass and tall fescue and they are slow to fill in damaged areas.

Leaves of the fine fescues, as their name suggests, are very narrow, resembling a pine needle. Although they are bunch-type grasses, the fine fescues will produce thatch quickly due to the chemical makeup of their leaves and stems that makes them difficult to break down.

Fine fescue leaf

Fine fescue leaf. Note the needle-like appearance. (Photo courtesy: A.J. Turgeon, Penn State University)

The fine fescues are very drought resistant, but do not tolerate heat very well and may go dormant in the middle of the summer when temperatures reach into the 90s even under well watered conditions. However, they are very cold tolerant and tolerate poor soil conditions. Mowing can be difficult for the fine fescues because the leaves tend to lay over so are missed by the mower blade. For medium quality, dense lawns, the fine fescues should be mowed closer to 2 inches and up to 2½ inches under shady areas. Fertility requirements are quite low, ranging from 1/2 to 2 lbs nitrogen (N) per 1000 ft² per year. For true low maintenance areas, sheep and hard fescue are better adapted, while under traditional home lawn conditions and in mixtures with Kentucky bluegrass, creeping red and chewings are better.

Sod is not available for the fine fescues except under special and specific conditions. Seed is readily available and several varieties are currently in use. Seeding rates should be in the range of 5 to 7 lbs per 1000 ft². Germination is fairly rapid although seedling maturation is quite slow, so frequent irrigation may need to be extended longer than for the esteablishment other cool-season grasses.

 August 16, 2012