Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Not all Bluestem are Blue Ribbon Winners

One would think with a name like King Ranch Bluestem that this plant would be a Texan through and through. Not so however, aka KR Bluestem, this grass was introduced as forage for livestock. Now it is considered an invasive plant that is detrimental to many native species, not blue ribbon winner behavior. The bluestem portion of the name is also somewhat misleading. While it is considered a clumping grass, it does not tend to form the nice tight bunches or clumps of the native little or big bluestem grasses.

Native bluestems make great additions to the landscape. I first fell in love with little bluestem, Schizachyrium scoparium, seeing it along roadsides. I love the blue green foliage that persists throughout the summer. I have added some clumps to my garden in order to incorporate that lovely color. The seed heads are interesting and once bitten by winter freezes, the grass makes a nice ornamental focal point in rusty browns. I don’t cut the clumps back until just before new growth starts in the spring.

Big bluestem, Andropogon gerardii, is not quite as pretty year round as little bluestem but it has its place in the garden. Big bluestem is late to get growing in the spring and I find its foliage to be a bit coarse. Where it really shines though is in its stand out fall bloom period. The three fingered “turkey foot” seed heads grow very tall and are striking to look at. I plant mine so that other plants around it take center stage until the big bluestem puts on its show late summer or early fall.

Consider adding these two native ornamental grasses to your landscape. They are very drought tolerant. In fact, if you are too generous with the water you will encourage too much growth and the plants will get floppy on you come late summer or fall when they elongate and put out their seed heads. Little and big bluestem ARE blue ribbon winners in my book.

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