Fuzzy blue balls of fescue add texture interest to drought prone gardens.
Blue fescue is a small bunch grass that grows in a neat cushion-like clump 6-12" tall with a similar spread. The fine, wiry leaves are erect or arching, slightly rolled, and less than a foot long. The leaves are coated with a grayish, powdery bloom that is easily rubbed off. This condition is called "glaucus", and is responsible for the blue-gray sheen, and for the Latin name. In summer, flowering stems stand above the tuft of threadlike foliage and carry little flattened spikelets (flowers) that nod in the breeze. The inflorescence is not particularly showy and actually detracts from the handsome blue-gray foliage. Fescue is a clump-forming grass and does not spread by runners as do turf-forming grasses. The similar Festuca cinerea is often confused with blue fescue, and descriptions as well as cultivars for sale may be listed under Festuca cinerea, F. glauca or F. ovina. Several named cultivars of blue fescue have been selected for ornamental use. 'Blaufink' ('Blue Finch') is small, to 6" tall with dull blue foliage. 'Blauglut' ('Blue Glow') has intense blue-gray foliage. 'Blaufuchs' ('Blue Fox') is a brighter steel-blue. Seeigel ('Sea Urchin') has thin, hairlike leaves. 'Daeumling' (Tom Thumb') is tiny, to 4" tall. 'Harz' has dark olive green leaves tinted with purple. 'Caesia' has intense vivid blue foliage. 'Elijah Blue' has silver-blue foliage and may be more vigorous and longer lived than other cultivars.
Blue fescue is native to Europe. Many of the horticultural cultivars were selected in German nurseries.
Blue fescue is a short-lived clump grass that tends to die out in the center after a couple years. When this happens, the clumps should be dug up and divided, and the divisions replanted.
Light: Fescue develops deeper foliage color when grown in full sun, but it can tolerate partial shade, and should be grown in part shade in areas with hot summers. Moisture: Blue fescue is drought tolerant, and grows best in poor, sandy, well drained soils. It cannot tolerate heavy, wet soils or constant high humidity. Hardiness: USDA Zones 4 - 8. Blue fescue does best in cool, dry climates, and usually goes dormant in the summer. Blue fescue will not survive very warm and wet summers. Propagation: Blue fescue, the species, is easily grown from seed. To insure the same traits as the parent, cultivars should be propagated by dividing the root clump, and this should be done in spring or autumn every 2-3 years to maintain vigor.
Blue fescue usually is grown as a border or edging plant. Its fine texture and neat, compact shape make it well suited to line a path or mark the front of a perennial border. Use groups of blue fescue in the flower bed, and let the silvery blue-gray foliage intensify white and pastel colors, and cool down the reds and oranges. Planted close together in masses, clump-forming blue fescue makes a striking ground cover, although the tussocks have a tendency to die out in the center if not divided often enough. Tolerant of salty soil and coastal conditions, blue fescue is a good choice for seaside gardens. Blue fescue thrives in dry, sandy soils. Use it in rock or cactus gardens to provide textural diversity. Even under the best of conditions, blue fescue is usually short-lived. Divide often and plan on replacing every few years.
Blue fescue is a pretty little blue-gray cushion in mixed borders or in rock gardens, but it really shines in groups. When other grasses have turned straw-brown in winter, blue fescue remains steely blue. There are some 300 species of fescue grasses; all are perennial, and some are turf-forming and used in pastures and in cool-season lawn grass mixtures.