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Spiky fescue, how to care for Festuca gautieri

Festuca gautieri

In spring, spiky fescue has an acidic green color that matures to emerald green.

Key spiky fescue facts

Name: Festuca gautieri (syn. F. scopari)
Common: spiky fescue, bearskin fescue
Type: perennial grass

Height: 15 cm
Exposure: full sun, partial shade
Soil: well-drained, dry, poor

Foliage: evergreen – Flowering: end of spring

This little perennial grass forms a dense, round cushion with evergreen foliage.  Resistant to both drought and frost, this fescue is perfect for filling rock gardens, slopes, and even the foreground of flower beds or borders. Spiky fescue is an excellent ground cover plant that thrives in the most challenging soils.

Planting spiky fescue

This smallish fescue, sometimes called Gautier’s fescue, can be planted either in autumn or spring.

How to plant spiky fescueIt is not a fidgety plant, it’ll thrive equally well in full sun or partial shade.

As for the soil, the poorer, the better! In fact, this little fescue looks its best in a dry, rocky, or sandy soil that is not overly chalky. So not ideal for limestone. However, it must be well-drained as excess moisture can hinder its growth.

Given these growing conditions, this fescue can easily find its place in a rock garden or on a slope with poor soil, as well as along a border. Whether planted individually or “en masse” with 5 to 7 plants per square meter to cover the ground, the dense tuft of leaves is a definite eye-catcher.

Growing spiky fescue in a potFestuca gautieri can even be planted in a pot with a light substrate mixed with coarse sand. Place it on a sunny terrace or balcony.

Spiky fescue can be planted anywhere in temperate climates, as it can withstand drying winds and salt spray. The key is to ensure the soil is well-drained.

Caring for Festuca gautieri

Spiky fescue is perfect for low-maintenance, dry gardens. It doesn’t require much attention:

  • No watering at all, as this fescue is highly resistant to heat and drought, unless you are growing it in a pot. In that case, you will need to water it and let the soil dry between waterings.
  • No fertilization is required either since spiky fescue prefers poor soils.
  • Remove faded flower spikes to prevent the grass from self-seeding.
  • In late winter, from February to March, trim the clump to help the fescue maintain a dense, compact, and rounded shape.
  • Clumps of bearskin fescue should be divided often and replanted elsewhere to prevent thinning in the center of the clump.

Charming features of spiky fescue

Undoubtedly, among the large family of fescues, this variety is full of charm and deserves a place in any garden:

  • Spiky fescue landscapingIts evergreen foliage decorates flower beds, rockeries, and slopes throughout the year.
  • It forms a perfect cushion of foliage, symmetrical and round, compact, and dense, with a spreading turf-like habit. When planted great numbers, it serves as an alternative to lawn on a slope or on rock-studded patches.
  • Its slender, stiff, and slightly prickly leaves display a highly appealing vivid green color throughout the seasons.
  • Between May and June, slender spikes emerge from the clump, transitioning from yellowish-green to straw yellow in autumn. These spikes release numerous seeds that easily self-sow.
  • It is hardy down to 5°F/-15 °C.
  • With a height of only 6 inches (15 cm), it easily spreads thanks to its short rhizomes without becoming invasive. A single clump usually reaches a width of up to 10 inches (25 cm).

What to pair with this fescue?

With its vibrant green foliage, spiky fescue looks great alongside blue fescue (Festuca glauca) and light gray fescue (Festuca mairei) to create a unique yet aesthetic contrast.

Persistent foliage brings lightness to flowerbeds and rock gardens, whether in a Mediterranean garden or a contemporary garden with clean lines, in the company of baby’s breath, or other frugal plants like lavenders, cotton lavenders, and agastaches.

Bearskin fescue also finds its place at the base of roses or peonies, or surrounded by flowering perennials such as echinaceas and helenium. Its vibrant green color pairs well with the green of rosemary and lemon thyme on light gravel. You could also associate it with agave.

Also, consider planting spring bulbs nearby: they’ll sprout between clumps with elegance.

Images: CC BY-NC 4.0: Jorge Calvo Yuste, Ricardo Ibáñez, CC BY-SA 4.0: Krzysztof Ziarnek; dreamstime: Elena Rostunova

Written by Pascale Bigay | Writing is woven into Pascale's life, the threads of which also include nature, botany, gardening... That's why her words share such an immersive experience, a fascination with the simple discoveries of garden life, wonderful ornamental plants, tasty veggie-patch fresh recipes and the occasional squabble with her chickens...
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