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Planting and maintaining a fine fescue lawn

Quick facts

  • Strong creeping red fescue, slender creeping red fescue, Chewings fescue, hard fescue and sheep fescue are often grouped together and are called fine fescues.
  • Fine fescues need very little irrigation in Minnesota.
  • Mow fine fescues at 2.5 to 4 inches. 
  • Mow more often during cool, wet weather. Mow less often during hot or dry weather. 
  • Leave mowing clippings on the lawn.
  • Practice a low to moderate nitrogen fertilization program, mostly applied in the fall.
  • A higher mowing height and proper fertilization will help reduce weeds and the need for pesticides.

Fine fescues

Bare soil with tiny green turfgrass seedlings.
Mixture of strong creeping red fescue, slender creeping red fescue, Chewings fescue, and hard fescue seedlings at six days after seeding

Are you interested in doing less work on your lawn? You might want to consider using more fine fescues in your yard. The fine fescues are turfgrasses that:

  • Have lower maintenance requirements (less mowing, watering and fertilizer) compared to more commonly grown Kentucky bluegrass.
  • Tolerate shade better than other cool-season turfgrasses.
  • Are well-adapted to most growing conditions in Minnesota.

Fine fescue turfgrasses are grouped together because their narrow leaves look similar. In fact, they can be challenging to tell apart. The fine fescues include these five turfgrasses:

  • Strong creeping red fescue 
  • Slender creeping red fescue 
  • Chewings fescue
  • Hard fescue 
  • Sheep fescue 

Fine fescues can be grown in a blend with each other or as a mixture with other cool-season turfgrasses in home lawns with full sun to shaded conditions throughout Minnesota. One benefit of these turfgrasses is their excellent shade tolerance. 

Although these five turfgrasses are often grouped together, there are differences among them, such as in growth habit, color and shade tolerance. There are a few differences in managing them (mowing, fertilization, irrigation and pest control) as well. 

Understanding the subtle differences among these five turfgrasses and their management practices will help you use fine fescues to improve your lawn's overall quality and sustainability.

Characteristics of the five fine fescues

Fine fescue Growth habit Color Shade tolerance
Strong creeping red Rhizomes Medium green Good to excellent
Slender creeping red Rhizomes Light to medium green Good to excellent
Chewings Bunch; rarely has rhizomes Medium green Excellent
Hard Bunch Dark gray-green to blue-green Good
Sheep Bunch Powdery blue-green Fair to good

Color differences of the fine fescues

Establishing a fine fescue lawn

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Managing a fine fescue lawn

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No-mow and low-mow lawns

A no-mow lawn that has grown so tall that the grass blades have fallen over.
A mixture of strong creeping red fescue, slender creeping red fescue, Chewings fescue, and hard fescue maintained as a "minimal-to-no mow" low-input turfgrass site

You may have been intrigued by the thought of a lawn that doesn’t need mowing. A no-mow or reduced-mow lawn is a low-input lawn that is allowed to grow to a higher height than normal. Fine fescues are the kind of turfgrasses that are used in no-mow and reduced-mow lawns. No-mow seed mixtures generally contain several of the fine fescues and may or may not be much different than fine fescue seed mixtures intended for general lawn uses.

Some mowing required

No-mow may be misleading, as you would typically mow this type of lawn to remove dead foliage at least once in the fall to maintain a neater appearance, reduce snow mold damage, and promote spring green-up. You also can mow in the late spring to remove the seed heads if you don't like how they look.

For more on mowing requirements of a no-mow lawn, see Mow the no-mow?

Planting a no-mow lawn

A fine fescue seed mixture for minimal-to-no mow lawns will depend on if your site is sunny or shady.

  • For sunny sites, the mixture should have a higher ratio of hard, sheep, and/or Chewings fescue. These are the bunch type fine fescues.
  • For shady sites, the mixture should have more strong creeping red fescue, slender creeping red fescue or Chewings fescue than hard fescue or sheep fescue.

The seeding rate for no-mow lawns is 3 to 5 pounds per 1,000 square feet. These lawns are otherwise established the same as a regular fine fescue lawn.

Another type of low-input fine fescue lawn that may be mowed less often is a bee lawn. For more information on bee lawns, see Planting and maintaining a bee lawn.

Authors: Eric Watkins, turfgrass professor, CFANS; Kristine Moncada, turfgrass scientist, CFANS

The original fact sheet "Management of Fine Fescues" by Ross Braun and Aaron Patton, Purdue University was modified for Minnesota residents. The images in this article are courtesy of Ross Braun and Sam Bauer. This publication was developed with funding support by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Specialty Crop Research Initiative under award number 2017-51181-27222.

Reviewed in 2022

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