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Synonymous with the Midwest’s vast prairies of old, the grass big bluestem looks good in modern landscapes, too. Call on this grass to add year-round color and texture to dry, lean soil because it changes color seasonally and bears interesting forked seed heads. Plus, its tall stature makes it a great plant for creating a living screen or masking a view. Big bluestem beckons birds, insects, and other wildlife that mine it for food and shelter.
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3 to 8 feet
2 to 3 feet
What to Plant With Big Bluestem
Pair big bluestem with other prairie favorites for an easy-care planting that erupts with color and wildlife-interest year-round. Great companions include purple coneflower, black-eyed Susan, Joe Pye weed, and false sunflower. Big bluestem is also striking when planted alongside other ornamental grasses that thrive in prairie environments: little bluestem, switchgrass, prairie dropseed, tufted hairgrass, and sideoats grama.
Growing Big Bluestem
Big bluestem grows best in full sun and well-drained soil. Like many prairie grasses, it thrives in lean, dry soil and once established tolerates long periods of dry conditions. It tends to topple over in moist soil and/or soil that is rich in nutrients. Big bluestem self-seeds freely in optimal growing conditions.
Plant big bluestem in spring and water it well. Continue to water every couple of weeks during the first growing season to encourage a deep root system. Flowering stems, which are topped with seed heads that resemble turkey feet (hence the common name turkeyfoot), emerge in late summer to bring the height closer to 8 feet.
Big bluestem is a warm-season grass, which means that most of its growth occurs during the warm summer months. This grass displays attractive fall color and stands tall through winter with its seed heads moving in the wind. Cut it back in early spring before new growth begins. Don't get discouraged if other plants put up new shoots and big bluestem is still dormant. It will send out new growth as soon as the temperatures moderate.
New Types of Big Bluestem
Plant breeders are developing some new cultivars that take on brilliant fall color and some that mature to a smaller size than is typical for the species. Look for these unique grasses at garden centers that specialize in North American native plants.
More Varieties of Big Bluestem
Andropogon glomeratus is an easy-to-grow species from North America that features fantastic copper fall color. It tolerates a range of soil types, from wet to dry. This fast spreader can be too aggressive for small gardens. Broomsedge bluestem grows 4 feet tall and 2 feet wide. Zones 5-8