Festuca arundinacea: characteristic and caring tips

Today we have to talk about the Festuca arundinacea . Recently we spoke of Festuca glauca , blue in color, with a very ornamental character and with slight application for forage crops. Today’s species began as a plant with forage interest. However, the “new” commercial varieties applied to ornamentals were gaining momentum and it is a species that has been offered for lawn mixes for a long time. What or who made a forage species an alternative for sports, recreational and domestic lawns? And because?


We already said in its day that the genus Festuca contains more than 600 species. Among them, this is perhaps one of the most famous for its attractive forage in the past and in recent times as an alternative for low maintenance lawns. Now we will see these two very different uses and the qualities of this species. Recently we were talking about another species of the genus, Festuca glauca , with more bluish colors, longer and thinner leaves forming very attractive bulges as individual groups or pompoms within a rockery garden.

Read more >> Festuca glauca for the rockery garden

The genus Festuca are species of grasses that are spread throughout the world. Specifically, Festuca arundinacea is of European originalthough it already extends through the US and areas of South Africa and Asia, although in much lesser profusion. It is a kind of cold season as it grows during winter and spring. Withstands the rigors of winter well. In a natural way, we can see how towards the south of the Iberian Peninsula its presence is decreasing and it has a high density in central Europe and the United Kingdom. In any case, its great rusticity in dry environments means that it is also used in Mediterranean areas and the new commercial varieties have very good aptitudes for drier regions. On the map we always show the samplings of the wild species, which is found naturally (for the most part).

Distribution of Festuca arundinacea . Extracted from GBIF.org


The Festuca arundinacea is a widely used as forage grass for both fresh consumption and for henificado since their productions are very high. The Argentine pampa is characterized by being one of the areas of the world where this species is most used in pasture meadows for domestic herbivores. It is usually mixed with other species such as clover, dactyl or alfalfa and some legumes to obtain balanced pastures.

The yields are very high. We are talking about 10 tons / ha and year in almost any climate. In the studies and trials consulted, yields in Argentina of up to 14 tons are obtained according to varieties (and duly fertilized). In the Nordic countries of northern Europe, with varieties more adapted to their thermal and light conditions, they are around 8-9 tons / ha per year.

The cuts as fodder are usually between 2 and 4 a year depending on the climate, and up to 6 cuts can even be made.

The varieties differ greatly between countries and continents. There are dozens of them. Some extracted from the articles consulted are:

  • Retu, Boris, Casper, Kalevi, Salten… (essay in Nordic countries),
  • Rocío, Glorica, Barcet, Kentucky 31 , Conway, Aprilia, Baralta, Royal Q 100, Tatum, Quantum… (trials in America)
  • Manade, Clarine, S-170 of cold climate and but resistance to drought and other Mediterranean with better tolerance to drought such as Maris Kashba, Gloria or Jebel. Tima and Emerita are Spanish varieties for example.

It is considered a high-yield forage but poor palatability . This means that the animals that graze it, do not usually like its texture in the mouth, especially if it forms cane and hardens (it usually happens). The herbivores that best tolerate it are cattle.


Not everything could be wonders and advantages and we have a “big but” that became known over time but today it is controlled in most places and especially with new varieties and genetic improvement both in the plant species and in animal breeds. The Festuca arundinacea , in general including the famous KY-31 variety and many others… had a symbiont-mutualistic endophyte fungus. This fungus benefits from the plant and the plant from it in an almost inseparable relationship. The benefits that each get from the other are:


  • They get nutrients
  • They achieve greater dispersion

These are usually the benefits of almost every fungus-plant association, including much-needed mycorrhizae .


  • Increased growth rate
  • Greater tolerance to frost and drought
  • Resistance to stress due to lack of nitrogen and phosphorus
  • Greater resistance to nematodes
  • Greater resistance to “attack” by herbivores (understood as attack than the simple fact that they eat it). For the plant it is a problem!

Sometimes this symbiotic relationship can harm but generally benefits.

The problem is that the by-products of the metabolism of these fungi produce a series of chemicals from the group of alkaloids that are toxic to livestock, particularly ungulates.


The alkaloid involved is called Lolina and which in turn generates other derivative compounds in the stomach of ruminants such as ergovaline. The high concentration of these compounds causes serious disorders in cattle, being classified as a disease called festsucosis . The disorders that it produces greatly lower the quality and production of the animals and it has been a real problem in many farmers who have used this species as forage.

The disorders it produces are various, some severe if the intake of the alkaloid is high such as sensitivity and / or swelling around the fetlock on the hoof causing lameness, dry gangrene of the tips of the ears and the tail, sometimes with loss of the tail, Fat necrosis, vasoconstriction, clot formation and increased body temperature, difficulty in dissipating body heat in summer and all this causes:

  • Low growth or fattening rate
  • Excessive salivation
  • Reduction of milk production or even production stop (more frequent in horses).
  • Rough fur
  • Elevated body temperature

Neothypodium coenophialum fungus of the Festuca. Photo by Mizzou CAFNR

Animal behavior also changes and they seek shade , they tend to wallow near watering holes and shady areas graze for fewer hours than unaffected animals.

From a livestock point of view, it is a disorder that affects yields and production that has been tried to alleviate with diets, supplements and in the best of cases, gradually replacing the pastures with varieties of tall Fescue free of endophytic fungi. This problem has been very pressing in the intensive production systems of the US and South America, mainly Argentina.

In Spain this type of incidence is practically non-existent. Our pastures are characterized by species such as the one known as Ray-grass, dactyl, barley, oats and mainly mixed with legumes such as alfalfa, clover and vetch.


Although the species is of European origin, it was brought to American pastures in the 19th century. In America the plant material or variety developed by a professor at the University of Kentucky called Kentucky-31 or abbreviated as KY-31 was very famous. Investigating the grasses that had tall Fescue, this professor observed how this species had a greener color during the winter period and withstands drought well in the warm months. These qualities were very advantageous compared to native grasses. This happened in 1931, hence the name.

From there and until 1942 this species was investigated until it was launched on the market that year as an improved forage species. It was years later, in the 1950s, when it became popular and thanks to its properties, the Brooks Pennington, Jr. house, which was making its way into the commercial world of herbaceous species for home lawns, decided to include it in its R&D plan. D. At the end of the 60’s they developed a patented seed treatment (Penkote Seed Technology) that notably improved the establishment, accelerating initial growth and health of the later lawn against diseases. It was this process that led to the Festuca arundinacea becoming a grass species coming from a species that had only been considered forage.


In addition to forage varieties, specific varieties have been developed for grass as it has very good conditions thanks, above all, to its wide leaf and deep root system. Here we list some characteristics that make it ideal for the garden.

The advantages that Festuca arundinacea has as a lawn are:

  • Deep root system , which implies much lower frequencies of irrigation and greater tolerance to drought than other varieties of grass.
  • It maintains a green coloration all year round. It can yellow in very extreme climates, both from cold and heat.
  • Tread resistance .
  • It supports cold climates well .
  • Ideal for climates with great contrast between winter and summer. (Mountain areas in Spain for example).
  • Thanks to its root system, it controls erosion very well and is very beneficial on slopes to hold them.

As it is a low-maintenance grass, it is also used in specific sectors of golf courses, usually off the fairways, since these require a finer-bladed grass with a much closer cut. This species is usually planted in sloping and rough areas.

Widely used in the high grass sectors of golf courses (rough) and sports grass. Photo by: One Tree Hill Studios

For lawns, each commercial house has its own varieties. We can mention some like:

  • Titan : With a temperate climate with great horizontal expansion thanks to its lateral stems.
  • Bizem : For sports grass. Very resistant to trampling and with the possibility of cutting up to 1 cm.
  • Fesnova : Drought tolerant. For hot summers. Slow growth Fine compared to other varieties.
  • Pattern : Resistant to brown patch, broad leaf. Tolerant to saline soils and strong heat.
  • Firaces : Tolerant to trampling and with few fertilization needs.
  • Olympus, Rendition, Asterix… The list of seed houses and varieties is endless.


We are going to detail the general care of this species although today, the varieties are so many and so different and developed for each type of climate, soil, type of cut, resistance, tolerance to drought, etc. that each one will have its own particular care. Even so, in a general way we can say that you need:


As is evident, it is a grass that grows well in full light, although it is also tolerant of semi-shaded areas . In warmer climates, where temperatures and exposure can damage the leaf, it should be planted in areas with partial shade or at least have watering assured . When we talk about warm they have to be in very extreme areas since it is a species that is planted in gardens in the Mediterranean region (Spanish Levante) and here it was hot for a while. In shady areas with high humidity and rainfall it also thrives.

Its real value is that it is a very cold resistant species compared to other grasses. It supports the rigors of winter well without fading too much, with few exceptions where there are very persistent frosts.


They adapt to many types of soil. It is a very tolerant species in this regard. It can even grow in heavy soils since it has a very deep root system and manages to break through to get water and nutrients quite easily. For this reason it is considered low maintenance as a garden lawn. Even so, clay soil is not recommended, the most common being a loamy or somewhat sandy soil .

It is the species of Festuca with the most developed and deep root system. Therefore, the only limiting factor may be precisely that the soil is shallow. Unlike Festuca glauca for example, which can grow well in shallow soil areas or in rockery gardens. The pH range is very wide and supports basic, even coastal saline, neutral soils and even soils with high acidity (up to 5.5).


Its deep root system allows waterings to be spaced since with its deep roots, the plant is capable of obtaining water for relatively long periods. For this reason, the more than frequent waterings must be copious so that the soil soaks to a depth of 15-20 cm . Irrigation, like any lawn, must be by sprinkling. In areas of low humidity where we do not apply frequent waterings, the tips of the leaves may turn yellow.


It is sown during the spring or fall to achieve greater roots and rapid growth. These are the times of greatest growth. In the germination and implantation periods, higher risks are required. You have to be aware of reseeding as it tends to form bumps, since it is a tufted species. The Festuca glauca is a clear example of this.

Lawnmower Guides

Regarding the mowing, it does not admit very very close cuts and as it is not very dense it is better to leave cuts of between 5 and 8 cm . You can rush a little more if it is mixed with other varieties that are somewhat denser, but it is not advisable to lower than 4 cm. In addition, this mowing must be frequent.

  • The sowing dose for grass ranges between 30-50g / m2 depending on the variety . In forage the sowing doses range between 20-25kg of seed per hectare of pasture.
  • It is a large seed and the sowing depth is around 2cm.
  • It takes between one and two weeks to germinate depending on the season and climate
  • The current varieties offer a germination power greater than 80-90% of the seeds.
  • They have a moderate-fast growth (the wild one is considered slow growing) and it must be taken into account that it can grow up to 1m in height. (Notice in case it is a second home in which there may be periods of absence).
  • Although it resists the cold well, it is not recommended to plant it more than 1000m above sea level.


Tall Fescue is often mixed with other grasses with somewhat different characteristics. It is a grass that we could call coarse and not very dense. The mix with Ray-grass, Dactyl ( Cynodon dactylon ) or the famous Poa pratensis , ensure more density and quality to the mix. In all the mixtures in which Festuca arundinacea is put, a minimum of 70% of this species must be put . If it is in less quantity, it competes poorly with the rest of the species. Common mixes with Tall Fescue as the dominant species are:

  • 80% F. arundinacea – 20% Poa pratensis
  • 80% F. arundinacea – 10% Cynodon dactylon – 10% Lolium perenne
  • 70% F. arundinacea – 30% Poa pratensis

Then we already have mixtures virguerías within the Festuca . 25% of that variety, 25% of another variety, 30% of another variety, and then the usual Poa and Dactyl. It’s a whole world of alchemy!


It depends on the type of soil, the climate and whether it is mixed with other lawns (which is usually the case).

In hot climates it is usually paid in early spring . In colder climates during the fall. These are the best times, although if 2, 3 or even 4 applications are made annually, we will not always apply in the best months. Fertilization frequencies depend on the type of soil. In the sandy ones, the nutrients percolate more and a few more doses will be necessary. The usual is usually between 1 and 3 applications per year .

It is not advisable to use underripe manures as they can burn the lawn. If commercial fertilizers are used, we can use NPK formulations with a contribution of magnesium and iron or magnesium and sulfur. Formulations with a good proportion of nitrogen are the most suitable for vegetative growth. Let’s take an example of 2 fertilizer applications. Approximate or similar formulations to NPK 20-5-10 are suitable and if they have iron and magnesium supplements better . We could establish a fertilization schedule on:

  • First application March-April: 30-40 mg / m2
  • Second application October-November: 30-50 mg / m2

More applications could be made by lowering the amounts of each application a little between 20 and 30 mg / m2.

Fertilizers – Spring-Summer Grass Fertilizer 4kg Bag – Batlle

  • Bonus in the form of controlled release micro granules
  • Provides an ideal nutritional balance in a way that maintains the greenery with a controlled growth and 100 days of duration
  • Ideal to apply at the time of grass growth


It is generally very resistant to fungal diseases although it can be affected by fungi of the genus Rhizoctonia , which is known in English as brown patch or brown patch . They are usually circles or rings, ultimately patches that turn yellow and end up drying. The best way to eradicate patches is to completely lift them up and replant. It is somewhat drastic but it is the best way.

They can also suffer from black rust ( Puccinia graminis ), mildew ( Scleropthora macrospora ) or red thread ( Corticium fusiforme ). The latter is very characteristic for its pinkish spots of 20-30 cm.

Many of the commercial varieties are already quite resistant to several of these diseases. They can still attack but it is a grass that recovers quite well from fungal attacks.

Black rust ( Puccinia graminis ) on tall fescue leaf. Photo by Björn S…


In view of the information collected, we can deduce that the presence or absence of the endophytic symbiont fungus determines the fate of each variety of Festuca arundinacea according to its use.

  • For forage species, we will want those varieties free of the endophytic fungus, which, although less resistant to drought or other conditions, do not harm the livestock that consume it.
  • For species intended for sports or domestic grass, we have no problem with this fungus being present as it gives it many resistance characteristics and it is a grass that will not consume any animal (unless you have a crazy goat loose at home).

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