I remember a few years back a buddy of mine had just finished leveling his yard at his new construction. I went by to help him frame up some forms for his concrete pour and we got to talking about landscaping.
He told me the soil in his area was really sandy and lousy for the buffalo grass he usually plants. “What do you suggest?” I recall him asking. Fine fescue popped into my head and I told him as much. From there the conversation quickly gravitated to creeping red fescue’s pros and cons.
An Overview of Creeping Red Fescue Pros and Cons
The main benefits of this turf variety are that it thrives in poor, sandy soil, as well as germinates quickly while creeping and spreading rapidly. Red fescue is drought, heat, and cold tolerant. It is a low-maintenance and low-cost grass to name just a few major advantages.
A huge drawback to creeping red fescue is that it can become waterlogged if exposed to excess water. During hot summers it can be crowded out by heat-loving weeds. Red fescue is a slow-growing grass and its slow healing can lead to brown patches during the summer. To compensate you may need to reseed and overseed periodically to keep a thick turf through all 4 seasons.
|Thrives in poor, sandy soils||Vulnerable to waterlogging|
|Germinates and spreads quickly||Slow grower|
|Drought, heat, and cold tolerant||Brown patches in summer|
|Low maintenance||Needs overseeding|
|Low-cost||Susceptible to summer weeds|
Advantages of Creeping Red Fescue
Most of the pros of red fescue center around its ability to cover a large area with little to no hassle in almost any climate. Not only that but it is also a low-cost seed that requires very little work to get established. Let’s go into detail to see if it is in fact the right grass for you!
Thrives in Poor, Sandy Soils
A lot of the drought and heat tolerant grasses people select require fertile and loamy soil. Creeping red fescue picks up the slack and relies on deep roots and single blades to thrive in unexpected places.
If there are areas of your lawn where other grass can’t seem to take hold, try throwing some red fescue seeds there. This grass’ ability to establish on undesirable soil can really come in handy if you are unable to afford soil amendments for a new lawn.
Germinates and Spreads Quickly
Within 12 to 24 days of sowing your red fescue seeds, you should begin seeing obvious signs of growth. Because of this rapid germination, it has been noted that you can enjoy a fescue lawn faster than other similarly priced turfs. This is great if you want grass fast!
This isn’t any fescue, it is creeping red fescue! The red comes from the dark color around the base of the stalk. The creeping describes how this grass spreads along the ground shooting up new stalks, whenever it roots at a node. This creeping habit combined with rapid sprouting makes it an ideal turf to fill in a lawn faster than most other options.
Drought, Heat, and Cold Tolerant
Red Fescue is a very climate-hardy turf. Classified as a cool-season grass, it can survive northern winters and frosts. It remains hardy throughout the winter, thriving with virtually no maintenance. In a temperate climate, you never have to worry about it.
If you live where the summers get hot and drought is common, this grass is still for you! Creeping red fescue has extremely deep roots that can find water. The grass blades are dark-green, single, and spaced apart allowing for better airflow and less build-up of dead plant material. With a bit of extra water and some TLC, this grass can survive southern summers.
Some yards are big and some of us are busy. Not everyone has the time to mow their grass once a week to keep it tip-top. Red fescue typically only needs to be mowed once a month. It is best kept between 3 and 4 inches for a manicured lawn, or let loose to grow longer if a prairie look is what you seek.
Even better, creeping red fescue rarely needs to be dethatched, which reduces healthy lawn maintenance time further still. Occasional watering during hot summer months and a light nitrogen feeding in fall should be all this plant needs to thrive year-round.
Red fescue allows a lawn owner to save across many areas. The cost of the seed is low compared to other cool season grasses and allows for purchasing extra which is a necessity.
Less mowing and routine lawn maintenance such as weeding and dethatching can save you additional time and money. Best of all, the minuscule amount of water and fertilizer you need to add to keep this grass chugging along adds up to big savings.
Disadvantages of Creeping Red Fescue
There are some disadvantages to creeping red fescue that could make it all wrong for your lawn. If you live in a climate that has poor draining soil and tons of rainfall then it might be more trouble than it’s worth.
I have also found that it is not a great grass if you actually do like taking care of your lawn. If a weekly mow session is your idea of a Saturday well spent, then creeping red fescue may lead to frustration. Let’s look at how these and other drawbacks might make you think twice before choosing red fescue.
Vulnerable to Water Logging
This turf prefers quick draining soils and likes its feet to stay dry. Too much water for too long will severely hamper red fescue’s ability to grow healthy and thick. Climates that create puddles and pools often can render red fescue vulnerable to certain pests and diseases.
Creeping red fescue germinates quickly and spreads via creepers, but it doesn’t grow vertically quickly. In an effort to form dense mats with deep roots, this turf will focus on lateral movement before shooting up.
If you like to mow and can’t imagine only doing it once a month, it might not be a great choice. Some weeds grow fast and need repeated cutting to control. If your lawn is susceptible to these types of weeds then red fescue might not be able to grow as fast as you need to mow.
Brown Patches in Summer
Despite its hot weather hardiness, creeping red fescue is a cool-season grass. During the heat and drought of the summer, there is always the possibility that red fescue will turn brown. It usually does this in patches as a blade and its runners will die off together, leaving a lattice of dead fescue strewn about the living grass.
Red fescue’s single stalk, gapped growth can lead to very thin areas after germination. In order to fill in the lawn adequately, multiple reseeding periods in specific areas may be needed.
If you are the kind of person that wants to seed once when the soil warms up and forget about it for the rest of the season, then red fescue might be a headache you just don’t need. This need for extra seeds cuts into the savings this grass usually provides.
Susceptible to Summer Weeds
Creeping red fescue can easily outcompete weeds through winters across the U.S. but during the summer it can have some trouble beating out summer weeds. Warm-season grasses, broadleaf weeds, and other invasive species take advantage of the slowed growth and gaps in red fescue’s runners to take off.
This is also a poor time to use herbicide since red fescue is weakened but not dormant. The only remaining option is to hand weed, during the peak of summer, which is understandably not everyone’s cup of tea.
Weighing Up Whether Creeping Red Fescue is Right for Your Yard
Having laid out creeping red fescue’s pros and cons and looked at what environments suit it best, we are given a better idea if it’s the right turf for us. Overall, this is the I-need-it-now-budget-friendly grass for any climate! But it might not be the best grass for every lawn due to its several disadvantages.
If you have poor soil, don’t like mowing often, need grass fast, and don’t have much to spend, creeping red fescue is an excellent choice.
If you have floods, like to take care of your lawn weekly, do not like weeding in the hot summer, and want to seed once and be done then avoid this turf.
If some of the pros of Creeping Red Fescue are attractive but the cons make it a no-go, check out some of the turf alternatives below:
Kentucky Blue Grass: Another drought tolerant cool-season grass, it is able to grow vigorously and requires little maintenance.
Tall Fescue: A cool-season grass that is very similar to creeping red fescue. It grows more quickly, vertically, and so may be a better fit for those who opt to mow regularly.
Perennial Rye: This is a warm-season grass that can handle winter and summer well. It is able to thrive with similar water and nutrient needs as red fescue, without browning during the summer.