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Little bluestem is a tough, easy-care ornamental grass that’s most beautiful in the fall when its tufts of slim, ¼-inch-wide blue-green leaves turn from rust to wine red and its thin 2- to 3-inch clusters of fuzzy flower spikelets glisten silvery-white in the sun. (They dry well, by the way.)
This warm-season grass’ native prairie habitat has almost disappeared, but don’t worry. You’ll still find it growing wild in meadows and woodland edges from Alberta south to Arizona and Florida. It also thrives in residential settings. Call upon little bluestem to add vertical interest to a border, perennial garden, or foundation planting. Create a contemporary landscape with a stand of little bluestem; its narrow stems subtly change color every few weeks, adding drama to the scene. Employ this grass on slopes and ravines where its extensive deep root system will hold soil in place. Use it to screen an unattractive view. But keep in mind it can be invasive, so choose a planting spot where spreading will not become an issue.
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From 1 to 8 feet
1 1/2 to 2 feet
garden plans for Little bluestem
Birds, insects, and small animals use little bluestem for food and shelter. (Deer like it, too.) Pair it with other regional natives for an even more inviting retreat. Some suitable planting partners include coneflower (Echinacea), black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia), culver's root (Veronicastrum virginicum), sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula), and prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis).
Little Bluestem Care Must-Knows
This ornamental grass is most commonly started from transplants purchased at the garden center. Don't be surprised by the bedraggled appearance of the container-grown plants. Little bluestem thrives in deep soil and dry environments, and nursery sites rarely provide those conditions.
Plant little bluestem in full sun and moist, well-drained soil, where its growth will be spreading and sodlike. In dry soil, this slow-growing, warm-season grass forms clumps. Once established, little bluestem clumps will slowly emerge in spring and grow 1 to 2 feet high. In late summer the stems elongate into flowering stems that sometimes reach 5 feet tall.
Leave this perennial grass in the garden through winter where it will serve as a food source and shelter for wildlife. In early spring use hedge shears to cut it back to about three inches above the soil. Be patient; little bluestem won't send up new foliage until late spring.
More Varieties of Little Bluestem
'The Blues' little bluestem
Schizachyrium scoparium 'The Blues' is a newer selection that offers grass blades that are more blue than the wild species. In autumn, it turns burgundy purple. 'The Blues' grows 4 feet tall and 2 feet wide. Zones 3-9.