Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) is an ornamental grass variety that is prized for the blue-green color of its leaves but it can also look appealing during winter when the gasses transform into golden hues.
The vivid foliage color and delicate flowering plumes are great for adding lots of texture and contrast to your garden spaces. This warm-season grass is also easy to care for and it is functional as a garden filler plant, ground cover or to create showy hedges or borders in your garden.
The perennial grass isn’t listed as an invasive plant species but if you don’t monitor it, it can take over garden beds because the grass has a fast seeding rate and can spread quickly.
If you want to grow little bluestem to create showy spaces filled with lush little bluestem grasses then you should take good care of this interesting plant.
Let’s take a look at the best ways to grow and care for these grasses.
|Scientific name||Schizachyrium scoparium|
|Common names||Little Bluestem, Prairie Beardgrass, Prairie Beard Grass|
|Plant Type||Ornamental Grass|
|Height and Width||2–4 ft. tall, 1–3 ft. wide|
|Origin||Eastern North America|
|Flower colors||Purple/ Lavender racemes or plumes with gold/yellow seed heads|
|Foliage color||Blue, green, orange, or gold/yellow depending on the season|
|Sun Exposure||Full Sun with 6+ hours of direct sun|
|Soil Type & pH||Well-drained, neutral to alkaline soil and any soil type including clay, loam, sand, or rocky|
|Special features||Low Maintenance, suitable for containers, meadows, ponds, borders, or mass planting|
What Does Little Bluestem Look Like?
Little bluestem is a deciduous perennial grass which means the foliage and appearance of the plant can change throughout the different seasons.
The ornamental grasses will start to sprout new growth in spring and will quickly produce clumps of deep blue foliage with a height of 1 – 2 feet throughout summer. The stems of this grass can look coarse but the thin leaf blades will give the grass a soft and wavy appearance.
The grasses will produce long flowering stems that can be up to 5 feet tall during summer and the flowers are usually purple or golden colored.
The foliage will die in late fall when it becomes colder but the wheat-colored plumes with its wispy seed heads will still provide lots of winter interest since the bunches will stay upright.
Where Does Little Bluestem Grow?
The clumping grass originates from Northern America and is frequently seen in Canada and through all states of the U.S. with acceptance to Nevada and Washington.
The hardy grasses can grow almost anywhere and are often used for mass planting in wild meadows, on the edge of woodlands, and in prairies, and it takes well to rocky scapes.
The grasses are also frequently used in cottage gardens because they can grow well in garden beds and are excellent container plants.
How to Grow Little Bluestem
Little bluestem is one of the easier grasses to grow because it is very flexible and hardy. Here is a quick look at the best way to plant and grow this interesting medium-maintenance grass.
The bunch of grass is pretty easy to grow from seeds but it can also be propagated by dividing the clumps.
To grow this grass variety from seed, you can plant the seeds 1/4 inch deep in soil during spring. The seedlings are pretty resilient and you shouldn’t have a tough time growing them. Mature grasses can also self-sow all over the garden bed through seeding.
The grass will also spread through its rhizomes and will form thick bunches. These bunches can be extracted during early spring so you can divide them. After dividing the clumping grass, you can simply plant it again in well-drained soil and keep it moist for a few weeks so the roots can take well.
This flexible grass can grow well in any soil condition including poor soils. They take well to heavy clay soils, sandy soils, and loam soils, and can even grow well in rocky soil.
Because these grasses form a deep root system, they are often used as erosion control on banks and slopes.
The grass will also grow well in acidic, neutral, or alkaline soil conditions.
Gardeners often prune back the dead foliage and stem because this will promote new growth. It is best to wait until late winter or early spring before you prune the grass because clumps will still offer lots of winter interest even in the dormancy stage and it acts as a food source for animals like birds.
If it is time for pruning, you can simply gather the tall dead grass in your hand and cut the dead leaves 3 – 4 inches above ground level.
How to Care for Little Bluestem
These native plants are pretty easy to care for because they can self-sow, they are hardy and they don’t require a lot of special care.
It is, however, considered a medium maintenance ornamental plant because you will need to prune it in early spring and the plants need to be monitored so they don’t take over.
Let’s take a look at how to care for this grass if you want to keep it healthy and strong.
Young plants might need regular watering but once the grasses have matured or are fully established, they can be very drought tolerant.
There is no need to water this prairie grass because it can survive on just rainfall alone. You only need to water it during extreme dry spells or if the weather is particularly warm.
Little bluestem can grow in various conditions. You can plant it in a partial shade position with a minimum of 6 hours of direct sun but the foliage will lose its blue hue and might appear green.
The grass grows best in full sun and it also appears more appealing in a full sun position because the foliage appears bluer and the grass produces a lot more flowers or seeds when it receives more direct sun.
Temperature and Humidity
This is one of the few ornamental grasses that tolerates high heat. The warm season grass can grow well at temperatures above 80 degrees F or even higher. Because this grass dies back for winter, it will also survive freezing cold temperatures so there is no need to worry about transplanting the rhizomes.
Schizachyrium species can also tolerate a wide range of moisture levels. They will survive in dry conditions but can also grow when there is lots of humidity in the air.
There is no need to fertilize this grass variety because it can grow well in poor soils. If possible, you should try to avoid fertilizers because the grass variety is known to flop over if it is grown in rich and fertile soil types.
Pests and Diseases
These grasses are also eco-friendly since they aren’t vulnerable to pests or diseases and don’t require pesticides. You only have to look out for the following issues with this deer-resistant grass.
Caterpillars can feed on the foliage of this plant species. These pests can usually be cleared by picking them off by hand.
Leaf spot isn’t very common on little bluestem but this type of fungi can show up on the surface of your leaves if your garden becomes infested. Leaf spot is usually treated by removing affected leaves and by applying a fungicide to your plants.
Little Bluestem Companion Plants
This ornamental grass can add lots of contrast to ornamental gardens and can look striking if you pair it with complimentary little bluestem companion plants.
Gardeners love to pair this plant with other ornamental grass species like leadplants, silky asters, purple prairie clovers, butterfly weed, brought blazing star, wild lupine, or showy goldenrod.
The combination of florals, shrubs, and grasses is great for creating spaces filled with color and interest.
Little Bluestem Landscaping Ideas
This showy grass variety has a very flexible growing nature. Because of its flexibility, you can use it in many different ways to perk up garden spaces. Let’s explore some of the most creative ways to use this charming plant in your garden.
This drought-tolerant plant is ideal for rain gardens or xeriscape gardens because it is incredibly water efficient. You hardly ever have to water it which makes it an ideal bunch of grass for lawn-free or rocky garden spaces.
Prairies or Meadows
Because the plant self-sows and grows so easily, it is often used to restore prairies or meadows. It is water efficient and can help combat erosion in these wide-open spaces. In mass planting, these wonderful grasses will create a very beautiful wavy savannah effect.
Little bluestem can grow well in containers and clumps of this grass in tall containers can help you create a very attractive focal point in ornamental gardens. You can also combine it with other drought-tolerant plants like lavender to create showy mixed containers.
Common Varieties and Cultivars
There are quite a few varieties of little bluestem and some varieties are more suited as pasture grass while others are better for ornamental gardens. Here is a quick look at some of the most common cultivars.
- ‘The Blues’
When you consider all the features of the little bluestem grass, it becomes pretty clear why so many people love to use it in their gardens.
This beautiful plant species is a good food source for birds and small mammals yet is beautiful enough to use in ornamental spaces. The grasses can grow well in natural spaces but they will also add lots of interest if you grow them in containers or use them as hedges or garden fillers.
Now that you know how to properly grow and care for your little bluestem, it is time to get your hands dirty and start creating your own creative grassy landscapes. With these tips, we are certain that your ornamental grass will grow healthy and strong.
North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox – Schizachyrium scoparium – https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/schizachyrium-scoparium/
Wisconsin Horticulture – Little Bluestem, Schizachyrium scoparium – https://hort.extension.wisc.edu/articles/little-bluestem-schizachyrium-scoparium/
University of Maryland Extension – Little bluestem – https://extension.umd.edu/resource/little-bluestem
OSU Extension – Little Bluestem – https://extension.okstate.edu/programs/plant-id/plant-profiles/little-bluestem/
E.P. Bicknell – USDA – Plant Guide – Shore Little Bluestem – https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/plantmaterials/njpmcpg13947.pdf
*image by baon85/depositphotos