Sheep fescue, or festuca ovina, is a European native that is frequently planted in North America. It is an essential feature of the wild grass plains and serves as cattle fodder.
Like other fescues, this plant is a tufted perennial with a high degree of adaptability. It is a versatile, hardy grass that can tolerate a broad range of conditions and demands. Sheep fescue is particularly drought-tolerant and slow-growing and flourishes on barren soil. It is the grass equivalent of the Swiss Army knife. It might, in fact, be the answer to your landscaping problems.
Doesn’t it sound fascinating? Continue reading to learn more about this versatile plant.
Even though this cool-season grass native to Europe, it has been planted from Alaska to North Dakota, and south to Arizona and New Mexico. It flourishes in open forests and mountain and foothill slopes.
Sheep fescue can grow in regions with only 12 inches of annual precipitation. It can with less moisture than Idaho fescue and hard fescue. In addition to its drought tolerance, it has a high resistance to cold and a moderate tolerance to shade. It can survive in weakly saline to alkaline and acidic soils, but not in areas with high water tables or those prone to flooding. While it can tolerate fire, it takes 2 to 3 years to recover completely after being burned.
Sheep fescue is a low-growing grass with thin, stiff, semi-erect, leaves that create a densely tufted mound. It is hardy in Zones 4 to 8 and is used as an ornamental for its lovely color.
Because fescues are cool-season grasses, they are most attractive in the spring and fall. Early in the season, the leaves have a light blue-silver color that change to a brighter blue-green color in the summer. They turn a deeper speckled green in the fall. The grass will remain evergreen in moderate temperatures.
Airy inflorescences emerge in early summer, rising to a height of 14 to 18 inches above the leaves. The purple-tinged light green blooms appear in terminal panicles that gradually develop a buff tint. These wispy flower spikes aren’t particularly attractive, and the stalks can be sheared off to improve the plant’s look.
Care and Maintenance
Sheep fescue thrives in full sun and prefers well-drained soil, but it can adapt to different climates. In moist soils and areas with high humidity and temperatures, it can be short-lived.
Early in the spring, cut the plant down to 3 to 4 inches to allow new growth to sprout and to remove the unsightly dead foliage remaining after a harsh winter. Otherwise, this hardy plant needs little attention. Because the plant self-seeds, the panicles may need to be removed before seed crack and distribution.
It is resistant to most turf grass fungal infections; the only pest that bothers it is the grasshopper.
How to Use in Landscape
Sheep fescue’s large root system makes it ideal for stabilizing disturbed soils, preventing erosion, and controlling weeds. This plant works well as a groundcover and is helpful in informal grassland with poor soil. It may also be sown as a low-maintenance lawn or planted in individual clumps as an ornamental grass. Overall, it is easy to cultivate.
This fescue looks particularly attractive when paired with plants that complement its color and form. With that in mind, here is a selection of flowers that provide an exquisite contrast.
1. Allium Hollandicum (Purple Sensation)
Allium hollandicum is a member of the allium family. On tall, strong branches, ‘Purple Sensation’ displays enormous, spherical heads of deep violet, star-shaped blooms. ‘Purple Sensation’ is a shapely perennial with small base leaves that die away before flowering.
This plant prefers full light and healthy, well-drained soil. In the autumn, plant bulbs grow up to three times in diameter. It is not entirely hardy and in colder climates, it should be mulched or transferred to a pot or frost-free area in the fall.
Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ is well-known for attracting pollinators such as bees, butterflies, and moths. It is beautiful in flowerbeds, borders, and cottage gardens. For maximum visual impact, plant both allium and fescue in groups.
2. Stachys Byzantina (Lamb’s Dars)
Lamb’s ear is a lamiaceae (mint) family herbaceous perennial ground cover. It’s a Middle Eastern plant with thick, smooth, velvety silver-gray leaves that form a quickly spreading groundcover.
In warmer areas, it is evergreen. In the summer, small purplish-pink flowers develop. You can clip these to highlight the plant’s leaves, which are fluffy and release a nice scent when crushed. Lamb’s ear is deer-resistant and relatively drought-tolerant.
Lamb’s ear thrives in full sun to partial shade and ordinary, dry to medium, well-drained soils. Avoid overwatering since damp leaves, as well as high humidity, attract illness. It spreads by stem roots at nodes and, in favorable conditions, can be vigorous.
Lamb’s ear has a variety of purposes in the garden, although it is most commonly planted for its leaves. The plant’s mat-forming leaves and modest growth rate make it excellent for use as a ground cover. It may be grown in pots or in open borders among other perennials.
3. Achillea Millefolium (White Yarrow)
Achillea millefolium, often known as white yarrow, is a rhizomatous, spreading, upright perennial. This plant is known for its finely dissected, fern-like, fragrant medium-green leaves and small, long-lasting white flowers that occur in dense, flattened, compound 2- to 4-inch-wide corymbs on stems that normally grow to be 2 to 3 feet tall during the summer.
In full sun, it grows best in lean, dry to medium, well-drained sandy loams. The white yarrow thrives in normal garden soils and tolerates poor soils if the drainage is adequate. It can also withstand hot, humid summers and drought, but should be planted in areas that are shielded from severe winds.
White yarrow looks great in cottage gardens, beach gardens, rock gardens, meadows, prairies, and naturalized regions. It is a versatile cut flower that releases a pleasant, long-lasting scent if dried.