Red fescue is a cool-season grass, commonly used in the United States as a turf grass. It is rarely grown alone and is more often used in a blended seed mixture for lawns and other residential and recreational applications. It is a relatively slow-growing grass, is cold and drought tolerant, grows well in shade, and handles traffic moderately well.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, red fescue inhabits the vast majority of the United States, with the exception of some of the plains states and Florida, and all of Canada. It is widely adapted to a variety of soil and climatic conditions, although it grows better in cooler climates. Red fescue can be found in forest openings, fields, roadsides, embankments and in residential settings as a turf grass, primarily in the northeastern states.
The leaves of the plant form as a fine blade, wiry and narrow, and bright to dark green in color. They are distinctly ribbed and form a 'V' in cross section. The stems are bent at the base, which is red or purple, and can grow to 2 feet tall. The flower head is a slender spray of tiny green flowers that form close to and along short flower stems. The flowers produce seeds that are tiny and persistent.
There are two distinct varieties of red fescue. Regular red fescue tends to creep along the ground by sending out short rhizomes that will root and sprout. The other variety, Chewings red fescue, is a bunchgrass and forms upright clumps.
Red fescue can be used as a turf grass in residential settings for lawns, sports fields, golf courses, play areas and parks. It is also planted along river banks, roadsides and embankments for soil stabilization and erosion control. Red fescue is sometimes used in orchards to keep weeds down.
Red fescue is usually grown from seed. The plant prefers full sun but will tolerate partial shade. It germinates and becomes established slowly. The grass should be mowed to a height of 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 inches or can be left unmowed as a cover plant. Fertilizer should be applied in spring and fall. Red fescue needs nitrogen to grow well and should be fed 1 to 2 pounds of a nitrogen-based fertilizer for every 1,000 square feet of turf. Watering requirements are moderate once the grass is established. Watering once or twice a week during the growing season should be sufficient to keep red fescue healthy.