Hard Fescue/Sheep Fescue

Percy Folkard
Scientific name: 

Festuca trachyphylla (Hack.) Kraj.

Agronomic Grass
Annual precip. min (mm): 
Annual precip. max (mm): 
Seed size: 
Seeds per kg: 
PR Suitability note: 
Hard fescue and sheep fescue are adapted to the Peace region, and are grown for seed production in the area.
Key considerations: 
Hard and sheep fescue are are occasionally used for forage, but are most commonly used for erosion control and invasive plant suppression especially along roadsides. These species are relatively short, do not produce much above-ground biomass making them suitable where fire hazard is a concern. There may be some concern about the persistence of hard fescue on some sites, especially when there is a desire to shift to a native plant community over time.
General Description: 

Hard fescue is an introduced, cool season bunchgrass with fibrous roots. Hard fescue is not native to North America and was introduced from Europe. There is some confusion about the scientific naming of the species, mostly because in older works it was considered a subspecies of sheep fescue (Festuca ovina var. duriscula). Sheep fescue is also introduced from Europe, but is closely related to the red fescue (F. rubra) complex, which is native to North America.

As of 2007, over 90 cultivars of hard fescue have been released. “Durar” hard fescue is a common variety that was released in 1949. It serves as a reference type for hard fescue. Similarly, “Covar” serves as a reference type for sheep fescue and was introduced from Konya, Turkey. Recently Covar has been re-identified as F. valesiaca (false sheep fescue); it is almost impossible to distinguish Covar from native fescues and potential naturalization is considered a threat. Covar is more drought tolerant than Durar, and Durar is more drought tolerant than Chewings (red) fescue.

Stems of hard fescue are from 30 to 75 cm (12 to 30 in.). Nodes are exposed. Leaves are narrow (0.4 to 0.6 mm) and mostly from the base. The leaves of hard fescue are somewhat wider than the leaves of sheep fescue.

Europe and Eurasia
Through seeding and hybridization, hard fescue is now distributed throughout much of North America.
Habitat and climate: 
Hard fescue is found on dry to moderately moist, disturbed sites.
Hard fescue is used primarily for erosion control, stabilization of roadsides and skid trails, weed and invasive plant suppression, and groundcover in orchards. It is sometimes used in forage applications although less preferred than other species. Hard fescue is also grown for seed production in the Peace River Region.
Optimal time of grazing use: 
Hard fescue remains green though the growing season, and may be used in spring, summer and fall. Hard fescue should not be grazed in the year of establishment.
Recovery after use (rating): 
Forage yield (rating): 
Forage yield: 
Forage yield will depend on site conditions and precipitation.
Palatability/Nutritional Value: 
Considered by itself, hard fescue is considered good forage for cattle, sheep, and wildlife. When compared with other species, it might be considered only fair forage. Forage quality is typically better on more moist sites and can be improved with fertilization.
Longevity (rating): 
Hard fescue is long lived.
Persistence (rating): 
Once established on very dry sites, hard fescue is very persistent, sometimes remaining up to 50 years and often becoming a monoculture. However, after 20 years “Durar” hard fescue plots seeded on Douglas-fir sites in the Pacific Northwest were invaded and completely taken over by pinegrass and elk sedge (Harrison et al.). It appears to be more persistent on drier sites. (see manual page 97).
Hard fescue is not considered invasive, but its ability to spread into adjacent areas appears site specific.
Competitiveness (rating): 
Hard fescue is very competitive, and can increase and become dominant once established.
Weed resistance (rating): 
Weed resistance: 
Hard fescue has been noted for its weed resistance, particularly against cheatgrass and other annuals. Weed resistance is related to the extensive root systems that develop in established stands.
Erosion control (rating): 
Erosion control: 
Hard fescue is highly suitable for erosion control because of its extensive root system once it is established.
Drought tolerance (rating): 
Drought tolerance: 
Hard fescue “Durar” has moderate drought tolerance, but is less drought tolerant than sheep fescue.
Winter hardiness (rating): 
Winter hardiness: 
Hard fescue has moderate winter hardiness and cold tolerance.
Soil texture preference (rating): 
Soil texture preference: 
Hard fescue prefers fine to medium textured soils that are well drained.
Flooding tolerance (rating): 
Acidity tolerance (rating): 
Acidity tolerance : 
Prefers pH levels of 6.0 to 8.0.
Shade tolerance: 
Has medium shade tolerance, and is adapted to forest margins and openings.
Pests and/or disease threats: 
No significant insect or disease threats noted.
Ease of establishment (rating): 
Ease of establishment: 
Seedlings are delicate and may be susceptible to soil crusting. Spring seeding may be preferable. Plants remain small in the first year. Typically cover increases substantially in the second year of establishment.
Application requirements: 
Suitable for broadcast applications.
Suggested mixtures: 
Other species may be included depending on management objectives.
Management considerations: 
Fertilization may help maintain stands on heavily used areas.