The fine fescues are comprised of a group of lawn grasses that includes:
- Creeping red fescue (Festuca rubra)
- Chewings fescue (Festuca rubra var. commutata)
- Hard fescue (Festuca longifolia)
- Sheep fescue (Festuca ovina)
The fine leaf fescues are the most shade-tolerant of the lawn grasses. Their leaves are medium- to dark-green and narrow -- almost needle-like. They are primarily bunch-type grasses, except for creeping red fescue which can produce rhizomes. Fine leaf fescues are often favored as low-maintenance grasses, because they grow very slowly, and they require little or no fertilizer. Fine fescues should be mowed at 2 inches or higher.
These grasses are well adapted to infertile, acidic soils and tolerate shade better than other cool-season grasses. They are not good for high traffic areas because they do not tolerate abrasion, and like other bunch grasses, they are slow to fill in damaged spots.
Thatch can become a significant problem if not managed properly, as fescues are the most aggressive thatch producers of the cool-season grasses. (This is primarily because fescue's leaf stems are high in lignin, which is slow to break down.)
Traditionally, fescues are used in mixtures with Kentucky bluegrass and/or perennial ryegrass. However, growing interest in low-maintenance lawns has made blends of fine fescue cultivars increasingly popular.
If you use fescue blends as part of a low-maintenance strategy, you need to lower your quality expectations. Fescues do not hold up to traffic as well as other species, and they often take on a "brown haze" appearance under full sun and dry conditions. These are the tradeoffs you need to weigh against the benefit of reduced mowing and fertilizer applications.
Sheep and hard fescues are more adapted to the low-maintenance approach, while the chewings and red fescue perform better in traditional lawn mixtures that will receive regular fertilizer applications.
Fescues have few major pest problems. Under wet conditions however, red thread and leaf spot can attack them. Similar to the ryegrasses, certain fescue cultivars have endophytes to repel surface feeding insects but are susceptible to white grub infestations.