Big bluestem grass (Andropogon gerardii), also known as Broomsedge or turkeyfoot, is one of the best ornamental grasses to grow if you live in a warm, dry, and sunny area. This “King of the Prairie” naturally grows in fields, prairies, and savannas and it is often used in ornamental gardens to create a sense of movement and to soften up garden spaces.
This perennial grass is great for adding year-round interest to your garden spaces. It sprouts vivid green to blueish-green stems and leaves in spring. In summer, the grasses bloom to produce red tinges and in winter it turns into a coppery color that will add lots of warmth and contrast to your landscapes.
Big bluestem looks particularly nice if you pair it with companion plants like other ornamental grasses like little bluestem, switchgrass, or prairie dropseed or if you grow lots of wildflowers like shooting star, showy sunflowers, blazing stars, smooth asters, or butterfly weed along with it.
In this guide, we are going to take a closer look at these companions and we share some great ways to combine them in your garden.
What to Grow with Big Bluestem
Big bluestem will flourish if you grow it in full sun and in well-drained soil. This prairie grass prefers lean soil types and it shouldn’t be watered too often since it is drought tolerant and can survive long dry spells. If the soil has too many nutrients or is too wet, this grass variety will topple over.
Because this plant depends on dry and sunny conditions to survive, you should be careful to combine it with plant species that can also tolerate these harsh conditions.
Here is a quick look at some of the best big bluestem companions to include in your gardens or prairies if you want to create low-maintenance spaces with lots of lush growth.
Other Ornamental Grasses
If you want to create texture-rich spaces with lots of layering and depth then you can combine big bluestem with other ornamental grass varieties like Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), prairie dropseed (Sporbolus heterolepis), and tufted hairgrass (Deschampsia cespitosa).
A mixture of ornamental grasses will create a lush and full garden appearance and is especially charming for wide open spaces like prairies or roadsides.
When you are doing companion planting with different ornamental grasses, you should be careful to select varieties that are just as drought tolerant and hardy as big bluestem.
It is also good to position taller varieties toward the back with shorter varieties in the front so you can create a sense of height and create lots of layering for enhanced visual appeal.
Shooting star (Primula sect. Dodecatheon) works well in wildflower gardens and can be excellent companion plants for big bluestem if you want to add a dash of color to your spaces.
These hardy plants produce leafless flowers on tall spikes in colors that range from white to dark pink or purple.
These wildflowers can be planted in partial shade to full sun and it prefers well-drained rocky or sandy soil but can also tolerate moist clay soils. Shooting stars are pretty drought tolerant but they can also grow well in damp conditions.
You can plant these beautiful flowers next to clumps of big bluestem or grow them in the front with ornamental grasses mass planted in the background.
Showy sunflowers (Helianthus niveus) or snowy sunflowers will add plenty of contrast to your garden with their vivid yellow flowers. These vivid bloomers are sure to brighten up any dull area in your garden when it blooms from late summer to fall.
This variety of sunflowers needs plenty of sunlight to flower. They should be planted in well-drained soil and have long roots that can draw moisture from deep in the ground.
You can easily mix these tall flowers in the same garden spaces as big bluestem because they are rather tall with a maximum height of 6 feet tall.
Rough blazing star (Liatris) will add lots of vertical interest to your garden spaces because it produces vivid purple flowers on tall spikes.
These flowers need to be planted in full sun or they won’t flower. They should also be grown in well-drained soil that is nice and light or the root systems may start to rot. They can grow well in dry regions and only need occasional watering.
Blazing stars will only grow up to 3 feet tall which means it is best to grow them towards the front of your garden so they won’t be hidden away by the thick base of your big blue grasses.
Smooth aster (Symphyotrichum laeve) is also a great companion species to grow with big bluestem because it will add lots of texture to your garden with its delicate star-shaped purple flowers.
These charming flowers can be grown almost anywhere because they adapt well to any soil type and to most moisture levels. The only requirement they have is that they need lots of direct sun or they won’t flower.
For a cottage garden effect, you can grow these striking bushy flowers in front of large clumps or borders of big bluestem.
Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), also known as Canada root, chigger flower, fluxroot, or Indian posy, is the perfect wildflower to include in your garden spaces if you want to lure plenty of hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies to your garden. The vivid orange flowers of this bushy plant will also add lots of contrast to your garden.
Butterfly weed can grow well in just about any soil type that drains well. These hardy flowers can be drought and heat tolerant and they will produce large masses of blooms if they are planted in full sun.
Because this bushy plant is a little bit shorter than a big bluestem, it is usually best to grow it towards the front of your garden bed.
What NOT to Grow with Big Bluestem
Big bluestem grass depends on the direct sun and dry conditions for survival. This plant cannot tolerate too much moisture or shade.
It is best not to grow any shade and moisture-dependent plant species like ferns, begonias, coral bells, elephant ears, or hostas alongside big bluestem because these other plants will only die in the harsh conditions that big bluestem loves so much.
Landscaping Ideas for Big Bluestem and Companions
Gardeners and landscape designers love big bluestem grass because it has so many uses. These grass varieties are especially helpful in wide open spaces or large landscape projects.
Here is a quick look at some of the best ways to use big bluestem and companion species in your garden.
Rocky Garden Beds
Big bluestem will add lots of movement in rocky garden beds. You can pair it with other grass varieties of flowering plants like sunflowers, butterfly weed, shooting asters, or blazing stars along with large rocky boulders to create a very interesting rocky garden feature.
Big Bluestem is a great plant to use for naturalized borders alongside roads, next to walkways, or along walls or fences.
This grass is an ideal backdrop for wildflowers because it will make your flowering species stand out a lot more. It is best to plant wildflowers with vivid blooms like sunflowers, blazing stars, and butterfly weeds in front of the ornamental grasses so you can create charming natural borders.
Water Wise Landscapes / Rain gardens
All of the plants we included in this guide are drought tolerant and perfect for water-wise landscapes, rain gardens, prairies, or even xeriscape gardens.
A combination of different grasses and striking flowers will help you create wonderful texture and color-rich environments that don’t require a lot of care.
Big Bluestem is one of the best ornamental grasses to use if you want to create showy landscapes filled with movement. You can pair these grasses with other ornamental grasses to add depth and dimension to your garden. Or you can combine it with beautiful flowering species like shooting stars, showy sunflowers, blazing stars, smooth asters, or butterfly weed for a wildflower effect.
We hope that our guide gave you plenty of inspiration so you can get the most out of your big bluestem grasses and that you will have lots of fun experimenting with these different species.
*image by YK1500/depositphotos