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Connecticut Garden Journal: The plant of the year is bluestem grass. Here’s how to grow it

Little bluestem
Mike McKinne
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Getty Images / iStockphoto
Little bluestem, also known as Schizachyrium scoparium or beard grass, is a North American prairie grass native to most of the United States.

Each year the Perennial Plant Association chooses a perennial plant of the year to highlight and encourage gardeners to grow. This year they chose a beauty. Little bluestem grass is a hardy, clumping grass native to the prairies that has visual interest from summer through winter. Unlike other ornamental grasses where the show really starts in fall, little bluestem has attractive blue gray, spiky leaves all summer that turn an orange-red color in autumn. It produces white, dainty flowers and seed heads for winter interest and is a good source of food for birds as well. The leaves also can host native butterfly larvae. Depending on the selection, little bluestem can grow 2- to 4-feet tall. Varieties best adapted to Connecticut include ''Standing Ovation' and 'The Blues'.

Little bluestem grows well when paired with a variety of perennial flowers. Grow it next to asters, cat mint, lamb's ears and butterfly weed. You can also grow little bluestem in large groups. Plant them where you can enjoy the plants and seed heads in winter from indoors.

Little bluestem grows best in full sun. Once established, it can resist drought and grow in less than perfect soils. It also tolerates heat and humidity well. It does like well-drained soils. Too much moisture and fertilizer and a lack of sunlight can cause the flower stalks to flop over.

This ornamental grass needs little maintenance to keep looking good. Let the seed heads and leaves persist over winter for the beneficial insects and for an added visual appeal. Cut back the plant in spring after a series of 50 degree days.

Charlie Nardozzi is a regional Emmy® Award winning garden writer, speaker, radio, and television personality. He has worked for more than 30 years bringing expert information to home gardeners.
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