Blue Fescue

Blue Fescue

A truly versatile perennial grass, blue fescue has a wonderful blue color that lasts all year. It can be used as an accent plant, in mass plantings, containers, crevices—the list is endless! With its clump-forming habit, blue fescue forms uniform balls of foliage topped with feathery straw bloom stalks in the summer. Blue fescue is also very drought tolerant, making it a great choice for rock gardens.

genus name
  • Festuca glauca
light
  • Part Sun,
  • Sun
plant type
  • Perennial
height
  • 6 to 12 inches,
  • 1 to 3 feet
width
  • 6-18 inches wide
flower color
  • Green
foliage color
  • Blue/Green
season features
  • Spring Bloom,
  • Summer Bloom,
  • Winter Interest
problem solvers
  • Deer Resistant,
  • Groundcover,
  • Drought Tolerant
special features
  • Low Maintenance,
  • Attracts Birds,
  • Good for Containers
zones
  • 4,
  • 5,
  • 6,
  • 7,
  • 8
propagation
  • Division,
  • Seed

Colorful Combinations

With its compact habit and blue foliage, blue fescue works well in many settings. The classic blue color of the foliage accents most colors and makes a cool statement in a mass planting. Blue fescue’s uniform habit adds both texture and color when used in mixed containers. Its noninvasive trait also means it works well as an edging plant because it won’t leave its bounds. If you plan on using these plants in masses, select the same variety to ensure same-color foliage.

See more ways to use ornamental grass in your landscape.

Blue Fescue Care Must-Knows

Blue fescue is a great multitasker that can handle varying conditions. Thanks to its drought tolerance, blue fescue works well in rock gardens in average garden soil. Ideally, these plants like well-drained and evenly moist soils for a consistent blue color. They also appreciate supplemental watering while establishing themselves.

Planting blue fescue in full sun will help the plant achieve bright blue colors. In part sun, leaves tend to be more on the green side. It is important to remember that blue fescue is a cool-season grass; in warmer climates, there is a chance that plants will die back and go dormant through the heat of the summer. If they do, you can simply cut the foliage back and wait. Blue fescue does most of its growing in the spring and fall, so once the weather starts to cool off again, the plant will reflush with bright, new growth. You can put the plants in part sun in warmer climates to keep them cooler and prevent summer dormancy.

Keeping these plants happy is a fairly easy job. In climates where blue fescue is evergreen, you don’t need to cut them back in the spring. Everywhere else, the plants should be sheared back to a few inches from the ground to allow plenty of room for fresh new foliage to grow. Blue fescue can be a fairly short-lived perennial. You can alleviate this by regularly dividing plants. Dig them up and cut them into smaller pieces, making sure that all of them have a good amount of foliage and roots. This prevents plants from dying out in the middle and looking unsightly.

New Innovations

Because blue fescue is propagated by seed, the quality of the blue foliage is often inconsistent. As time has passed, researchers have created seedling selections that have a stronger, bolder blue color. These seed selections are what you see today in commercial blue fescue varieties. Along with color, researchers are working to create varieties of blue fescue that are more heat tolerant.

See the best grasses for birds.

Garden Plans For Blue Fescue

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More Varieties of Blue Fescue

‘Elijah Blue’ blue fescue

Festuca glauca ‘Elijah Blue’ forms a compact 8- to 10-inch-tall tuft of fine bluish-green leaves. Zones 4-8

‘Sea Urchin’ blue fescue

Festuca glauca ‘Sea Urchin’ is also sometimes listed by its official name ‘Seeigel’. It forms a dense 10-inch-tall mound. Zones 4-8

Plant Blue Fescue With:

The quintessential cottage flower, pinks are treasured for their grasslike blue-green foliage and abundant starry flowers, which are often spicily fragrant. Depending on the type of pink, flowers appear in spring or summer and tend to be pink, red, white, rose, or lavender—nearly all shades except true blue. Plants range from tiny creeping groundcovers to 30-inch-tall cut flowers, which are a favorite with florists. Foliage is blue-green. Shown above: ‘Firewitch’ dianthus

Blanket flowers are wonderfully cheerful, long-blooming plants for hot, sunny gardens. They produce single or double daisy flowers through most of the summer and well into fall. The light brick red flowers are tipped with yellow. Blanket flowers tolerate light frost and are seldom eaten by deer. Deadhead the flowers to keep them blooming consistently through the summer and into fall. Some species tend to be short-lived, especially if the soil is not well drained.

Shrub roses take the best of the hardiest rose species, and combine those traits with modern repeat blooming and diverse flower forms, colors and fragrances. Some shrub roses may grow tall with vigorous, far-reaching canes; others stay compact. Recent rose breeding has focused on developing hardier shrub roses for landscaping that needs little to no maintenance.

How to grow Blue fescue

Other forms with good colour – which becomes even more intense during the summer months – include ‘Blauglut’ (Blueglow) and ‘Blaufuchs’ (Blue Fox).

Festuca glauca is not a showy specimen plant but in a minimalist scheme, against a backing of slate and red chippings, it adds texture, colour and interest. These fescues look terrific planted in a silver-blue swathe among taller grasses: weave them through dark carexes or plant them around the base of deschampsias, molinias or miscanthus.

Growing tips

An open, sunny site on well-drained but poor soil suits Festuca glauca best. All forms produce straight, slender stems topped by grassy heads that hang to one side, rather like wild bluebells. These mature to make coppery highlights, which some gardeners remove.

Mature clumps need to be divided every two to three years because they have a tendency to die away at the centre. Lift, pull away the dead material and separate the healthy pieces. Repot each piece individually, using gritty compost. These divisions usually measure 3cm across; don’t make them any smaller. Once rooted, they can be replanted.

Propagation

All named varieties need to be propagated by division, which can be done from midsummer until early September.

Festuca glauca germinates easily from seed sown in spring, but the plants will be variable. Take a small clump of seedlings and put them all in a one-litre pot of gritty compost. They will form a bushy plant and be ready to go into the garden in summer.

Good companions

Small, sun-loving plants such as rock roses, thymes, smaller erodiums and single, low-growing pinks, mingle well with this grass on a scree or slope. Alternatively, dark-leaved sedums (‘Vera Jameson’ and ‘Bertram Anderson ‘) and the strappy-leaved black Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’ provide a strong contrast to the clumps of vibrant-blue spikes.

Dark-purple lavenders of every type, the large-leaved sage (Salvia officinalis ‘Berggarten’ ), lamb’s ears (Stachys byzantina) and the ponytail grass (Stipa tenuissima) make good companions in a sunny border of silvers.

For a striking spring partnership, team blue fescue with Crocus chrysantha ‘Blue Pearl’ and ‘Ladykiller’, pink and red species tulips or deep-blue scillas.

Where to buy

  • Knoll Gardens, Hampreston, nr Wimborne, Dorset BH217ND (01202 873931; www.knollgardens.co.uk). Mail order available – send nine 2nd-class stamps for a catalogue. Open Wednesday to Sunday, 10am to 5pm.
  • Hoecroft Plants, Severals Grange, Holt Road, Wood Norton, Dereham, Norfolk NR20 5BL (01362 684206; www.hoecroft.co.uk). Mail order available – send five 2nd-class stamps for a catalogue. Open April 1 to October 1, Thursday to Sunday, 10am to 4pm, or by appointment.
  • Sonia Wright, Buckerfields Nursery, Ogbourne St George, Marlborough SN8 1SG (01672 841065). No mail order for festuca and no catalogue. Open Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 6pm.

Reader offer

Gardening readers can buy five Festuca glauca ‘Elijah Blue’ for £12.95 or 10 for £19.90 saving £36. Please send cheques/postal orders to Telegraph Garden Service, Dept TL551, 452 Chester Road, Manchester M16 9HL. Or call 0161 848 1106 for credit/debit card orders, quoting ref TL551. Offer ends October 25, 2004. Delivery in September. We regret we are unable to despatch our goods to the Channel Islands or the Republic of Ireland.

Ornamental Grasses – Learn About Blue Fescue Growing Tips

Slender, wiry blades of blue characterize blue fescue plants. The ornamental grass is a tidy evergreen that is very tolerant of a wide range of sites and conditions. This plant is one of the “no fuss” plants perfect for the low maintenance garden. Choose a sunny location when planting blue fescue. Follow a few blue fescue growing tips for a brightly colored, mounding accent plant for borders, rockeries or even containers.

About Blue Fescue Grass

Blue fescue plants are evergreen but they do lose some of the older blades and grow new fresh deep blue leaves in spring. The older leaves adhere to the plant and spoil the bright coloration. However, you can simply comb them out with your fingers.

The grass forms low tight mounds and produces tall flower tipped stems in May to June. A key fact about blue fescue would be its zonal tolerance. It is suitable for USDA zones 4 to 9 but prefers areas without blistering hot summers. Extreme heat causes the plant to die back.

There

are several varieties of blue fescue grass for the garden. The large blue fescue (Festuca amethystine) is hardier than the regular blue fescue (Festuca glauca). The plant also has several cultivars, such as the popular Elijah Blue. There is even a golden colored blue fescue.

Planting Blue Fescue

Place blue fescue grass in clusters along a border as a bright accent to other perennials. The grass is also an attractive foil for wide, leafy plants and provides contrasting texture. Wherever you decide to put the plant, it must have well-drained moist soil in a full sun position for best growth.

The roots are not deep on this grass and they perform well for many seasons in containers, too, with Golden Barberry or other yellow or variegated plants.

Care of Blue Fescue Grass

Caring for blue fescue ornamental grass isn’t difficult. Blue fescue grass needs average moisture, and will require supplemental water in summer. The plant may die back if the soils are too heavy and full of clay, so amend the area prior to planting with plenty of compost.

Blue fescue plants do not need fertilization as long as an organic mulch is used around the base of the grass.

Keep the foliage looking its best by hand combing out the dead blades of grass and removing the flower heads. Remove the flower heads to help promote the tight mound shape of the plant. If you choose to leave the flowers, be aware the plant may produce some seedlings.

Blue Fescue Growing Tips

Older blue fescue plants tend to die out a bit in the center. One of the useful blue fescue growing tips is division. The dying plant simply needs to be dug up and cut in half. The center part will pull out by hand, leaving you with two plants full of healthy foliage. Division can be done every three to five years or as the plant begins to slow blade production in the center.

Blue fescue is a clumping ornamental grass.

Blue fescue (Festuca ovina glauca), also commonly called sheep fescue and sometimes mistakenly classified as F. cinerea, is a small semi-evergreen grass native to Europe. Grown as an ornamental for its attractive foliage color, it is hardy in zones 4-8. Fescues are cool season grasses so they look their best in spring and fall.

The foliage of this species is a light blue-silver early in the season, turning to more blue-green in the summer. In fall it turns a darker mottled green. In mild climates it will remain evergreen

The foliage is blue in spring (T) and turns more blue-green in summer (B).

through the winter, but may turn brown in harsher winters. The linear leaves, up to 10″ long, radiate outward from the crown to form a dense clump of foliage with a very fine texture. The clumps grow 10-12 inches high with a similar spread, only very slowly expanding outward. Even in the snow the foliage remains mostly upright, providing winter interest.

The inflorescences eventually turn a tan or buff color.

In early summer airy inflorescences develop, growing above the foliage to 14-18″ tall. The light green flowers with a purple tinge occur in terminal panicles that eventually turn a buff color. These wispy flower spikes are not highly ornamental, and the stalks can be sheared off if desired to improve the appearance of the plant. If the flower spikes are not deadheaded, brown seed heads will form. It easily self-sows and can become weedy.

Blue fescue can be used as a specimen plant or in a mass planting, and makes a good filler plant as it is not as showy as some other grasses. It can be grown in beds and borders mixed with herbaceous perennials, as an edging plant,

Blue fescue in bloom.

in the rock garden among stones or boulders, or even in rain gardens. It can be used in containers or troughs to provide a vertical element. Because this is a clumping grass that will not get much larger with age, it should be planted densely (8-10″ apart) if used as a ground cover. The blue color blends well with cool-colored flowers and softens brightly colored flowers.

Blue fescue grows best in full sun, preferring moist, well-drained soil, but is tolerant of a wide range of conditions. The blue color will not develop as well in partial shade, however. It can be short-lived in wet soils and in areas with high humidity and temperatures.

Blue fescue ‘Blauglut’ in midsummer.

Plants should be sheared back in early spring to 3-4″ to allow the new growth to emerge (and to remove the unsightly dead foliage remaining after a harsh winter). As the clumps age the center tends to become crowded and may die, so plants should be dug and divided every 2-3 years, discarding the centers and replanting the more vigorous portions.

It does not have any significant insect or disease problems, and is tolerant of salt spray in the winter, but deer and rabbits may graze the foliage. It can be grown from seed (realizing that there is a lot of variation in coloration in seed-grown plants), or from clump divisions taken in early spring.

The most common cultivar of blue fescue, ‘Elijah Blue’.

There are a number cultivars of this species, although some are not widely available. ‘Elijah Blue’ is the most common one offered, although there are actually several strains marketed under this name which vary in the intensity and persistence of the blue color. This cultivar is supposed to have more silvery or sky-blue foliage in spring than the species, with the blue color persisting longer into the growing season. ‘Sea Urchin’ is a more compact selection with bright steel blue foliage, while ‘Boulder Blue’ is more stiff and upright than ‘Elijah Blue’ with slate blue leaves, and more tolerant of heat and humidity.
– Susan Mahr, University of Wisconsin – Madison


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Festuca glauca

Festuca glauca

Position: full sun
Soil: well-drained soil
Flowering period: May to June
Height: 20-40cm
Foliage: evergreen
Hardiness: fully hardy

Festuca glauca is a low-growing, ornamental grass that provides excellent ground cover. It feels quite at home in a contemporary garden. This grass originates from Southern France, so likes well-drained soil in full sun.

Varieties

Festuca glauca ‘Elijah Blue’. Striking silvery-blue green leaves that remain evergreen throughout the winter. Produces flower spikes of green flowers in summer, gradually turning to a pale, yellowish-brown colour. Grows to a height of 40cm. Festuca glauca ‘Intense Blue’ is similar in size with steely, blue foliage. If you are looking for a very small variety Festuca glauca ‘Azurit’ is the one to choose. It is only 15cm in height.


The flowering spikes of Festuca glauca

Pruning

Pruning festuca glauca ( Blue fescue). Doesn’t need to be cut back in spring. Comb out the dead blades of grass with your fingers in March.

Plant spacing

Space blue fescue 20cm apart when using as ground cover.

Dividing

Festuca glauca benefits from dividing every two or three years because mature clumps tend to die away at the centre. Divide Festuca glauca in spring, just as new growth starts to emerge. Lift the clumps and cut them into smaller pieces with a sturdy knife. Replant the divided parts and water thoroughly.

Plant combination

Blue fescue goes well with well Thyme, Lavender, Stachys byzantina , Sedum en Acaena buchanaii


Festuca in terracotta pot Lavender

Festuca glauca ‘Elijah Blue’ (Elijah Blue Fescue) – A cool-season grass. An evergreen clumping, soft silver-blue grass to 8 to 10 inches tall. Plant in moist, well-draining soil and full sun (coastal); should be protected from very hot, direct summer sun inland as it may burn, though this selection is noted as the most heat tolerant of the Blue Fescues. Avoid over watering during the growing season. Drought tolerant once established, but may turn brown in the hottest part of the summer. Festucas should be trimmed annually during cooler months to keep up a neater appearance. . It is a very hardy plant, tolerating to USDA zone 4. It is more silvery and smaller than the other Blue Fescue we grow, ‘Azurit’. This very nice grass was introduced by the late Lois Woodhull of The Plantage Nursery in Long Island, New York and was named after Elijah Lane, the street where her nursery was located. The information on this page is based on research conducted in our nursery library and from online sources as well as from observations made of this plant as it grows in our nursery, in the nursery’s garden and in other gardens that we have observed it in. We also will incorporate comments received from others and always appreciate getting feedback of any kind from those who have additional information, particularly if this information is contrary to what we have written or includes additional cultural tips that might aid others in growing Festuca glauca ‘Elijah Blue’.

Blue Fescue ‘Elijah Blue’ co-mingles wonderfully with creeping sedum in a rock garden border. Give it lots of sun and well-drained soil.

Blue Fescue ‘Elijah Blue’ has been greeting visitors at the front border of the Garden Drama test garden for over 10 years.

How does one make blue fescue (Festuca glauca ‘Elijah Blue’) happy? From my experience — sun, sun, sun. Bake it to get that great, matte-blue cast to its spiky blades. And really well-drained soil, almost sandy, adds to success. When establishing blue fescue, it likes supplemental watering, but past the first year, it is quite drought tolerant. They say deer will pass it by, as well.

It really adds to the landscape. As far as small grasses, this is where it is at and how else do you get this groovy pop of blue? Dot it around the front of your border, like music notes on a staff or clump it in waves of 3, 5 or 7 for a sea of texture and color. It looks right at home tucked among the rocks and clings happily to stepping stones along the garden path.

An old chef’s knife is the perfect tool to divide blue fescue.

Dividing blue fescue every few years keeps plants as tidy little tufts, like the above photo. I let mine go, with no dividing at all over the past decade. They still looked pretty good, but were getting overgrown, a little misshapen and several had dead centers. So, it was time to divide.

The task isn’t too bad. The grasses dig up pretty easily and the root balls hold the soil as you lift the plants. Search for a dead, hollow center and carve it out and divide the clump into 2 or 3 smaller clumps. Take the opportunity to cut off all dead grass from last season until you have little Chia-pet-like clumps. Replant and keep them constantly moist for a few weeks and supplement water regularly the whole first season to encourage roots to send themselves down deep.

Three large clumps of blue fescue can produce a dozen little plants.

Side note: It helps to cut your blue fescue back in either late fall or very early spring until you have less than an inch of growth. In essence, give it a buzz cut. If you don’t get it cut back in time and you have new growth sprouting, you can gently comb the dead grass out with your fingers and still get a pretty neat-looking plant.

How to Divide Propagating Blue Fescue

Blue fescue is an ornamental grass variety used in flower gardens for landscape design in USDA growing zones 4 through 8 where the summers are mild and not overly wet. The blue fescue plants die out in the middle, and you should divide the plants every two to three years to keep the grass clump growing. Plant blue fescue divisions in a well-draining soil that’s slightly sandy and has full sunlight conditions.

Prepare a new planting area for the blue fescue divisions. Work the soil by digging several inches of organic compost into the area with a shovel.

Dig up a clump of blue fescue, making sure to dig wide enough to include the entire root ball of the plant.

Divide the plant into smaller clumps by cutting the root sections apart with a sharp knife. Cut the division so there are at least two to three grass stems with each section. Don’t pull the clumps apart with your hands, as this may damage the root structure.

Divide the exterior circumference of the root ball in blue fescue clumps that have died out in the center. Choose growing stems and the accompanying root area for best results with growing the new division. Discard the dead center section of the plant.

Plant the divisions in their new location. Cover the entire root section with soil, and gently pack into place.

Water the grass divisions immediately after planting. Continue to water the plants to keep the soil moist for the first two weeks after planting. Don’t overwater the plants to cause standing water, as this contributes to root rot.

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