Creeping Red Fescue

Creeping Red Fescue Grass (when, where & how to grow it)

Need a grass type that does well in shade? Creeping red fescue grass is great for this purpose. It thrives in partial and heavy shade, quickly spreads out, and will promptly fill in bare spots. Creeping red fescue also develops deep roots, and because it doesn’t have the sun requirements that some other grasses need to thrive, it’s a great option for those troublesome areas under trees with a dense canopy.

In my experience (I live in New England), creeping red fescue is a natural choice in shady areas where other grasses refuse to grow. We all have those stubborn shady areas in our landscape – they’re popular with kiddos and pets in the heat of summer, and any grass that does hang on there takes a beating and is soon smothered by the heavy traffic.

Today, I’ll share some details about this type of lawn grass, explaining where you should plant it, and how to care for it once established.

Trust and Accuracy Information

This article was last updated on by Lawn Chick Owner Sarah Jameson
Article content reviewed for accuracy by Certified Horticulturist Nicole Forsyth, M.S.

What is Creeping Red Fescue Grass?

Creeping red fescue is a low-maintenance, cool-season type of grass that has fine blades and a deep green color. It spreads laterally via short rhizomes and thrives in shade.

What is Creeping Red Fescue Grass

The low-maintenance nature and its ability to thrive in tough lawn areas with low light are some of the reasons why it’s becoming increasingly popular with homeowners.

You’ll often see red fescue included in grass seed mixes you’ll find sold at your local box or hardware store because it helps ensure germination and growth in areas where other grass varieties will die out due to lack of light.

It’s a perennial grass variety suitable for several USDA planting zones, specifically 1 though 7. It will behave as an annual grass if you use it in zone 8, 9, or 10.

Creeping red fescue is a cool-season grass that originally came from Europe. If you’re planting red fescue, the soil must be kept moist until the grass is well-established.

One of creeping red fescue’s perks is how hardy it is once it’s established. It is able to deal with drought and heavy traffic, partly because of its unusually deep root system, something common in many different types of fescue grass.

This grass has extremely fine blades and it is a beautiful shade of emerald green. is reader supported. If you make a purchase after clicking a link, I may earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

The Best Regions to Plant and Grow Red Fescue Grass

States where red fescue grows well include Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, New York, and the states of New England. This grass doesn’t do well in places where it’s too hot or where there is excessive humidity.

Red fescue may quickly go dormant in these conditions, turning brown in color. When the weather gets cooler and there is more rain in the fall, however, this grass will probably go back to its original green shade.

How to Plant Red Fescue Grass

You’ll need about four or five pounds of red fescue grass seed for each 1000 square feet of space if you’re creating a new lawn (you can use my grass seed calculator, or lawn measuring tool to dial in your seeding rate).

How to Plant Red Fescue Grass

In my experience you’ll see the best germination if you plant the seeds about 1/8 of an inch deep (just barely covered with compost, soil, or peat moss.

Most homeowners choose to mix red fescue with other grass seed, or they buy it already mixed with a different grass variety.

That’s because it tends to perform best when you use it in a mix. Turf Type Tall Fescue and Kentucky Bluegrass are often included, and Perennial Ryegrass with Kentucky Bluegrass are also popular combinations to pair with Red Fescue.

You can use a good starter fertilizer when planting your grass, but you may not need one if your soil already has sufficient plant-accessible Nitrogen and Phosphorus, so testing your soil first may save you some money.

One quick note on the use of lawn fertilizer containing phosphorus – some states and communities have passed legislation which bans or limits the use of phosphorus fertilizer due to eutrophication of ponds and streams. For example, in my state (Maine), you are allowed to use it when establishing a new lawn or re-seeding/overseeding an existing lawn, or when a lab-based soil test indicates that phosphorus is needed, but are not allowed to use it outside of these circumstances. I recommend that you check for local restrictions and consider a phosphorus free lawn fertilizer like this one from Jonathan Green.

Expert Perspective

The Lawn Chick editorial team regularly interviews industry experts to bring our readers the latest science and expert recommendations to complement our own hands-on lawn care experience. 

We Asked: What strategies can homeowners use to avoid nutrient runoff and the eutrophication of local waterways while fertilizing their lawns?

Will Answered:  “Phosphorus from fertilizer is known for its negative effects on water health. When applied in excess it can run off into water bodies and cause eutrophication, or excessive nutrients in a body of water. Eutrophication leads to low oxygen levels and can result in dead zones that can no longer support life.”

“Being mindful of both the type of fertilizer you’re using, and the timing of its application can greatly minimize nutrient runoff. Sunday’s lawn plan fertilizers typically exclude phosphorus, helping to reduce runoff and lessen eutrophication concerns. We only include our phosphorus fertilizer pouch if soil tests indicate a deficiency. Our extensive soil test database shows that most lawns aren’t lacking in phosphorus. Additionally, following fertilizer blackout dates, often during the rainy season in coastal states, is another effective way to minimize runoff.”

Will Seip, Expert Lawn Advisor at Sunday

Will Seip

Expert Lawn Advisor at Sunday

Born and raised just south of Buffalo, NY, it has been quite a journey for Will getting to explore warm-season grasses after having a hodgepodge of fescue, bluegrass and rye in his lawn growing up. Will graduated from Cornell with a B.S. in Environmental and Sustainability Sciences, with a concentration in Land, Air and Water Resources.

How to Care for Red Fescue Grass

Once your red fescue grass has become established and grown to about four inches tall, you’ll have to start mowing it. You should keep red fescue grass mowed to a height of between three and four inches.

My rule of thumb is that when you mow you should never cut more than 1/3 of the grass blade at any one time. Doing so and you can damage the grass.

If your region gets less than 18 inches of rain each year, you will have to do some irrigation for your red fescue to have ideal growth.

How to Maintain Red Fescue Grass

The good news is that you won’t need to irrigate if your lawn gets a minimum of 18 inches of rain annually.

One of the most convenient aspects of red fescue is the fact that it doesn’t tend to have pest problems.

Growing Creeping Red Fescue in Northern and Transition Regions

This type of grass is popular in northern, cool-season regions of the United States. It is also used in the transition region.

Map of Grass Growing Zones in the United States

If it gets very cold where you live, be aware that creeping red fescue doesn’t tolerate the cold as well as Creeping Bentgrass or Kentucky Bluegrass.

It’s most popular as grass grown in shaded areas. Red Fescue is a versatile grass, as you can use it in shade and in sunny areas as well.

If you have creeping red fescue in full sun, just be aware that you will have to give it more frequent watering.

How to Care for Red Fescue Grass

Some of the places you’ll find creeping red fescue include lawns, parks, roadsides, and even fairways and airfields. It’s used in other kinds of spaces, too.

Using Creeping Red Fescue to Overseed Southern Lawns

If you live in a warm-season grass area, you can use creeping red fescue for overseeding your existing lawn. This is especially useful if you have Bermudagrass in your lawn, though many homeowners with Bermuda prefer to overseed with a quality Ryegrass which will germinate and grow in faster.

Overseeding Lawn with Creeping Red Fescue Seed

Creeping red fescue does well in infertile soils and areas of drought – just make sure the soil is well-drained.

It sounds odd, but creeping red fescue usually won’t thrive in soils that have high fertilization rates or that are too wet.

Different Varieties of Creeping Red Fescue

There are two varieties of creeping red fescue. These are Festuca Rubra trichophylla and Festuca Rubra rubra.

Different Varieties of Creeping Red Fescue

The former creates shorter rhizomes, and the rhizomes repair more slowly.

There are sub-varieties of Rubra trichophylla, and these are called Pernille, Evergreen, and Boreal. Festuca Rubra rubra is referred to as “strong creeping.”

This variety of the grass has 56 chromosomes, while Festuca Rubra trichophylla only has 42. Festuca Rubra rubra creeping red fescue reproduces by way of stolons and rhizomes.

What is Lustrous Creeping Red Fescue?

Lustrous creeping red fescue is a newer and improved type of creeping red fescue. It’s even more shade tolerant than other kinds of creeping red fescue.

What is Lustrous Creeping Red Fescue

It is low growing and the blades have a fine texture. Lustrous creeping red fescue features an eye-catching shade of dark green, adding to its popularity with homeowners.

Grass seed producers continue developing new types of creeping red fescue, working on improving features such as salt tolerance.

What Kinds of Soil and Fertilizer Do You Need for Red Fescue Grass?

Red fescue grass enjoys its best performance in well-drained soil with a pH between 5.5 and 8.0.

When the grass is in active growth (this is usually between March and June and then October to December), you should fertilize using between one and two pounds of nitrogen.

What Kinds of Soil Fertilizer Do You Need for Red Fescue Grass

As this grass has high drought tolerance, it only needs a limited to moderate level of irrigation (watering).

I recommend that you water between once and twice a week in warm weather if you aren’t getting any rainfall.

While I generally advise homeowners to reduce their water usage and irrigation whenever possible, adequate water is important for your lawn’s health and performance. If your grass doesn’t get adequate irrigation, your red fescue may go dormant in the summer weather.

In my view, this is ok and natural, but if you’re looking for your lawn to stay green during the summer, then you should plan on providing some supplemental water at this time of year.

Like other grasses, creeping red fescue planted in areas with full sunlight will need more water than the same grass planted in areas with less sun.

Understanding Creeping Red Fescue Seed

Creeping red fescue seed has a thin and oblong shape. It is a bit pointy at the ends.

This seed is beige and has a smooth texture. Its length is a maximum of about five millimeters.

Using Creeping Red Fescue to Overseed

This grass flowers in its reproductive state (grass flowers are basically those seed heads you see in the extreme on beautiful ornamental grasses in the fall). During this time, the leaf sheaths of Red Fescue are tubular.

The rhizomes are long and tend to appear in thick patches.

This grass species tends to flower between June and July, so if you are late to mow at this time of year and see some seed-heads appearing, don’t sweat it – that’s normal!

Why It’s So Popular in Seed Blends

Creeping red fescue’s affordability and hardiness are two reasons for its popularity. It is also effective for mixing with other kinds of grass seed because it grows where they can’t, and blends well with many different grass textures.

In my experience it’s best to plant creeping red fescue seed when the soil is warm and has enough moisture. This will help ensure quick germination and establishment.

In my cool-season lawn I find late summer or early fall to be the best time of year to plant it, but if you plant in spring around the time when the Lilacs bloom in your area you’ll have good results.

Other Cool-Season Grasses

As we mentioned earlier, creeping red fescue is a cool-season variety of grass. This means it’s appropriate for the northern states of the United States and some areas of the transition grass-growing zone.

If you’re not sure yet whether creeping red fescue is right for you and thinking about other options, you are probably curious to find out about alternative cool-season grasses.

Examples of other popular cool-season grasses are traditional Fescue Grass (tall fescues, fine fescues), Kentucky Bluegrass, and Perennial Ryegrass.

Cool-Season Grasses

You will find many cool-season grass seed mixes that include two or more of these kinds of grass. This helps give homeowners all the benefits of each type of grass.

In my experience incorporating a well-blended seed mix into your lawn helps homeowners achieve superior results. We all have little pockets of full sun, part shade, full shade, etc. There are areas with high traffic, and those where the soil is more moist and others where it’s more dry.

Every species of grass has adapted to thrive and perform best in different conditions, and by using a blend of seed you allow your lawn to sort that out on its own – with the proper grass for each area becoming dominant.

More About Red Fescue’s Partners in Cool-Season Seed Blends

Perennial Ryegrass is a non-spreading grass, also referred to as a bunch-type grass. This is a cool-season variety of grass with quick germination.

If you have a lot of foot traffic on your lawn, you will find this one can deal with that kind of stress.

Perennial ryegrass has fine blades and you will probably notice after mowing the lawn that there is a white tint on the tips of the grass blades.

As I mentioned earlier, occasionally homeowners in southern states use perennial ryegrass when overseeding their existing warm-season grass during winter. This gives them the chance to keep their lawn lush and green even during the cool days of winter.

Kentucky Bluegrass has distinctly dark green blades and spreads quickly. It’s good with high traffic and has a moderate ability to thrive in shade.

This is a versatile grass, and it’s also able to live well with extreme heat (though it does go dormant in summer for many homeowners without adequate irrigation).

If you have any empty spots on your lawn, overseeding with Kentucky bluegrass is a great idea. It takes longer to germinate, but once it does it proliferates quickly and you will enjoy the look of your lawn sooner than you would with another kind of grass.

Incorporating Creeping Red Fescue in Your Lawn

I hope now you feel confident you’ve learned what you needed to know about creeping red fescue.

This cool season grass is low-maintenance and a real beast in shade. If you live in northern areas of the country, you should consider incorporating it in those trouble areas below big trees where you struggle to get grass to grow.

Since you’re still here, I’d like to invite you to learn all about other fescue grasses in my ultimate guide to fescue grasses for lawns.

My Favorite Grass Seed

Patented, Proven, Performance Grass Seed.

I use and recommend Jonathan Green’s elite grass seed product line. It’s the best choice for most northern and transitional zone lawns, and it’s what I overseed my lawn with every year.

TIP: Compare manufacturer’s price to Ace Hardware and Amazon pricing.


Sarah Jameson’s blog, Lawn Chick, is read by over 2 million homeowners each year and she is regularly cited as an expert source of lawn care knowledge by major publications. Her goal is to meet you where you are, and help you achieve a yard you’ll be proud of. Ready to take the next step toward improving your lawn? Grab her free lawn care cheat-sheet: What to Do When - Take the Guesswork Out of Lawn Care, or upgrade your garage by browsing her favorite DIY lawn care products.

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