Creating harmony, simplicity and peace in the landscape......

"Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help.

Gardening is an instrument of grace. "

May Sarton
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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Singing the Praises of the tough but beautiful Little Bluestem

Photo Courtesy of Lazy S'S Farm

When the American Horticultural Society decided to create a large meadow at their headquarters, River Farm, in Virginia the first plant they seeded was Little Bluestem.

 They applied 100 pounds of Bluestem seed. The Latin name is Schizachyrium scoparium or skiz-ah-KEER-ee-um sko-PAR-ee-um.

Why was this the first plant they seeded? Because Little Bluestem is a wonderful, durable, upright, clump forming grass that is eminently suitable for 'meadow making'.
taken by Andy Wasowski, and Sally Wasowski


Little Bluestem is native to almost all of the United States and parts of Canada. It is found in  45 of the 50 states, making it the most abundant of all native grasses.

It is drought and flood-tolerant, can grow in light shade and thrives in relatively poor, sharply drained soil. It is found in woodland glades and both upland and lowland prairies.
 

The most thrilling aspect to me about this plant is the unusual depth of its dense, fine and fibrous roots.

Little Bluestem's roots grow almost vertically downward to depths comparable to shade trees!

This is why it is drought tolerant, why it needs no fertilization and why it is often used for erosion control on slopes.  
 
Little Bluestem is extremely cold hardy, deer resistant and is an excellent grass for the garden.

It's slender blue-green foliage grows from 18 inches to 3 feet tall. Its stems are purplish at the base and the foliage turns a striking russet red in the fall. The soft wispy silvery seed heads bloom in late summer through early fall and are ornamental through winter, making it perfect for the native winter landscape.

Arogos Skipper Butterfly (birdsofoklahoma.net)


It is also a fabulous plant for wildlife, being a host plant for the Dusted, Arogos, Meske's, Cobweb and Crossline Skipper Butterflies.

Its fine clumping foliage provides protective cover and nest sites for many birds and its seed heads supply them with food.

It is one of the plants in the National Wildlife Federation's BIRD GARDEN (click here) landscape plan.


'The Blues'

'The Blues' variety is a spectacular Blue form of Little Bluestem.

 It thrives in heat and humidity and looks excellent in massed plantings, as a groundcover or mixed with other native grasses and perennials. It adds a fine, delicate texture to plantings.  The Blues Bluestem will grow to be about 24 inches tall at maturity extending to 32 inches tall with the flowers, with a spread of 18 inches. It grows at a medium rate, and can be expected to live for approximately 10 years.
Here is a small Songbird garden developed by Johnson's Gardens. It contains Dwarf Pavement Shrub Rose, The Blues Little Bluestem Grass, October Skies Aster, Kobold Blazing Star, Magnus Purple Coneflower, Viette's Little Suzy Rudbeckia, Zagreb Coreopsis, Prairie Dropseed Grass

You can use Little Bluestem as a lawn replacement. It is common in many low maintenance seed mixtures combined with other lower growing natives. You can spread these seeds in open recreational areas,  along roadsides and in wildlife habitats. But do not despair the first year after seeding - these deep rooted grasses grow down, not up, during the establishment year. This means that the top growth may be nothing more than a narrow, straight leaf until late in the summer. It can be hard to see and many people are almost always convinced they failed. Patience! The second year is the reward. 

Once established, Make sure to cut it to the ground in late winter before active growth resumes.
Of course you can also buy them as small plants....

River Farm Meadow - photo by Tristan-NC

By the way, the Horticultural Society's meadow at River Farm is called The AndrĂ© Bluemel Meadow and is four acres of many species of native grasses and wildflowers.  Go visit!

It was seeded with Stocks Wildflower Mixture from Stock Seed Farm, Murdock, NE. The mixture included; dwarf red coreopsis, blanket flower, grayhead prairiecone, purple prairieclover, blue flax, plains coreopsis, upright prairiecone, cornflower, scarlet flax, shasta daisy, smooth penstemon, dames rocket, partridgepea, perennial lupine, spiked gayfeather, red yarrow, purple coneflower, California poppy, lemon mint, lance-leaved coreopsis, Indian blanket, blackeyed susan, white yarrow, Mexican red hat, false sunflower, new England Aster, and corn poppy.






8 comments:

  1. It looks like a spray of water from a sprinkler in your first photo. I adore blue/silver grasses.

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  2. and this one doesn't 'melt' in the heat like the others - it is a warm season grass.

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  3. What a wonderful, informative post!

    I planted a few Little Bluestem in my unirrigated, deer infested garden last summer. We had the driest summer I can remember, and of all the plants I planted, the Little Bluestem was the one I could neglect with the least adverse effect. Any plant that doesn't require me to haul the hose over to water it is welcome in my garden. It's good to know next year it will look even better!

    Of course, I do love blue grasses, and the fact that it is a native and good for wildlife is a wonderful bonus.

    One note, I try to find native plants such as this in local nurseries, often to no avail. I was able to find Little Bluestem in the Bluestone Perennials catalog. Although many people would be impatient with the tiny size of mail-order plants, I actually love working with plants that take a while to become established.

    I do wish that plant nurseries would make native plants more widely available.

    Thanks for another great post!

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  4. I had not seen this grass before, it looks beautiful. I love blue foliage in the garden, but whenever I've seen blue fescue, it usually looks ratty to my eye. This looks so much nicer than fescue, do you agree?

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  5. Oh yes. I agree. But it is harder to find..perhaps that will change soon as native plants become more well known.

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  6. OH my!!! I am so excited you popped by my blog because now I have found your fantastic space here!!! What a lovely blog you have! I can tell already that I will be learning so much from you!!! You have a lovely weekend lady and I look forward to following along!!!

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    Replies
    1. thank you for such great compliments! and I love you blog too!

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