How to Grow Blue Fescue Ornamental Grass

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

Blue fescue grass (Festuca glauca 'Elijah Blue') is a colorful ornamental grass with icy blue foliage and pale yellow flowers. It is drought-tolerant and grows in USDA plant hardiness zones 4 through 8. Gardeners like its ease of care and its fine texture, which makes it a good companion plant for heavier or more dramatic plantings.

Taxonomy and Plant Type of Blue Fescue

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 similar uses to many Poaceae plants: Black Mondo grass (Ophiopogon) and Liriope, which belong to another family. Blue fescue grass is a clumping ornamental grass. Another species of this genus commonly used in landscaping is F. amethystina.

Do not confuse blue fescue 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 lawns. Blue fescue cultivars other than 'Elijah Blue' include:

  • 'Blue Finch'
  • 'Blue Fox'
  • 'Blue Glow'
  • 'Caesia'
  • '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.

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 makes it a good companion to other plants with silvery foliage, such as lamb’s ear.

Once mature, blue fescue is also somewhat drought-tolerant, but be sure to water new plants adequately to get them established. It has a mounded shape and stays relatively short, reaching a bit less than 1 foot tall and wide.

Growing Blue Fescue

Plant Elijah Blue in full sun and in well-drained soil, although it will tolerate poor soils. 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 and will 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.

Gardeners in warm climates may experience a different problem with blue fescue. Aboveground growth may die back during the summer, due to excessive heat and humidity. When this happens, give the plant a "haircut," 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. Mulch helps to conserve moisture in the soil and suppress weed growth. It eventually decomposes and releases 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 shading or obscuring your view of the plants further back in the bed. For the same reason, blue fescue also makes a good edging plant.

The fine texture of blue fescue provides a nice contrast to plants with coarser textures, such as 'Chocolate Drop' sedum. Planted in masses, Elijah Blue can be used as a ground cover, and you can 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 stalks that emerge out of clumps of blue fescue grass in summer bear buff-colored or 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.