Blue Fescue Grass

Growing Tips, Uses, Best Features

Blue fescue (image) is a small ornamental grass. This type is Elijah Blue.
David Beaulieu

Taxonomy, Plant Type for Blue Fescue Grass

Plant taxonomy classifies this type of blue fescue grass as Festuca glauca 'Elijah Blue.' Festuca is Latin for "stalk," while glauca is the Latin word for "bluish-gray." Elijah Blue is a cultivar name.

This plant is a true grass. That means it belongs to the Poaceae family, unlike two grass look-alikes that have uses similar to those of some members of the Poaceae family but actually belong to another family:

  1. Black Mondo grass (Ophiopogon)
  2. Liriope

Blue fescue grass is a clumping ornamental grass. Another species of this genus commonly used in landscaping is F. amethystina.

Plant Characteristics

As its Latin species name (glauca) suggests, blue fescue grass bears a bluish-gray or "glaucous" color. This color is its chief selling point, and it nicely complements the silvery foliage of a plant such as lamb’s ears.

It is also a somewhat drought-tolerant ornamental grass, once mature, but be sure to water new plants adequately to get them established. Bearing a mounded shape, it is a type of ornamental grass that stays shorter than many others. It usually reaches a bit less than 1 foot tall; it grows to be typically a little less than 1 foot wide.

Do not confuse this ornamental grass with tall fescue, which is often found in lawns. Older varieties of the latter are often regarded simply as common lawn weeds, while newer types are valued as low-care grasses for your lawn.

Cultivars other than 'Elijah Blue' include:

  1. 'Blue Finch'
  2. 'Blue Fox'
  3. 'Blue Glow'
  4. 'Caesia'
  5. 'Sea Urchin'

Two additional cultivars that stand out as being different from these are 'Tom Thumb' and 'Harz.' 'Tom Thumb' grows to be only 4 inches tall. 'Harz' has blades of an olive-green color, with a hint of purple at times.

Planting Zones, Sun and Soil Requirements, and Plant Care

Elijah Blue blue fescue grass can be grown in planting zones 4-8. Festuca glauca is native to Europe.

Plant Elijah Blue in full sun and in a well-drained soil. The plant tolerates poor soils. But the more sun this ornamental grass receives, the more likely it is to achieve its famous blue-gray color.

In cold climates, blue fescue grass often turns brown in winter, but many growers leave it standing, to help protect the roots from cold. Cut back the foliage in early spring to within a few inches of the ground. This will help make room for the new grass blades plus improve the look of the plant. Elijah Blue is often said to be "short-lived," but you can divide it every few years to keep rejuvenating it. By dividing this plant, you can beat that "short-lived" label.

Gardeners in warm climates may experience a different problem with it. Above-ground growth may die back during the summer, due to excessive heat and humidity. You might as well give the plant a "haircut" when this happens, since its appearance is temporarily spoiled. In many cases, the plant will recover when more moderate weather returns.

Mulching with a 3-inch layer of bark mulch or other organic material is advisable, especially when fostering the growth of young plants.

Such a mulch will:

  1. Conserve moisture in the soil.
  2. Suppress weed growth.
  3. Eventually decompose and release nutrients into the soil (at which time you can replace the old mulch with a new batch).

Uses for Blue Fescue Grass in Landscaping

Because it is a short ornamental grass, this plant can be used in the front rows of flower beds, without the risk of obscuring your views of the plants further back in the bed or of shading them. Further, it makes for a good edging plant.

Its fine plant texture provides a nice contrast to plants with coarser textures, such as 'Chocolate Drop' sedum. Its combination with 'Chocolate Chip,' which has dark purplish leaves, would also give you an interesting contrast in colors. Plant Elijah Blue in masses and use it as a ground cover. Add mulch for better weed control.

The drought tolerance of this ornamental grass makes it a popular plant for rock gardening. Finally, some people like to grow it in containers, taking advantage of its compact size.

The Flowers and Seeds

The stalks that emerge out of clumps of blue fescue grass in summer bear light green flowers that are insignificant. Some growers enjoy the seed heads that follow the flowers, but others remove the stalks, preferring their blue fescue grass to keep its "tufted" look. This gardener falls into the latter camp.

Another ground cover whose flowers you might wish to trim off (because they get in the way of admiring the plant's foliage, which is its chief selling point) is Angelina stonecrop. The latter would be another good companion for Elijah Blue if you like blue-and-gold color combinations. 

Note that blue fescue is not suitable as a turfgrass (that is, a type of grass recommended for use in a lawn), being used strictly as an ornamental grass.