Friday, December 8, 2023

Plant Little Bluestem Grassy blues (schizachyrium scoparium)


Final week, I taught a course on backyard and planting design at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. It was good for me to return and re-learn all the components of design and the way backyard design has developed over the ages. By making ready for this class, I started to see how trendy designers resembling Piet Oudolf experiment with what I’ll name “fusion design” to make their gardens profitable and approachable.

little bluetem grass
Little bluestem within the decorative grass backyard on the Denver Botanic Backyard by ceramicscapes.

What Oudolf does is he takes components of classical design (steadiness, symmetry, and proportion) after which softens the inflexible strains with lush plantings. The plantings typically circulate by means of the panorama just like the raked gravel of a Japanese meditation backyard. The wind causes taller perennials and grasses to sway, which provides the component of motion to the panorama. 

I’d enterprise to say that a lot of his designs wouldn’t work with out grasses and sedges. Of all the grasses that we develop at CMBG, the one which has impressed me essentially the most has been Schizachyrium scoparium, ‘The Blues.’ This implausible grass, recognized by the frequent title of “little bluestem,” is native to the prairies of North America.

Schizachyrium scoparium - little bluestem native grass
A closeup of the silvery-blue little bluestem ‘the blues’ foliage in the summertime. Picture by Quinn Dombrowski

Schizachyrium scoparium ‘The Blues’

The Blues differ from the straight species due to the clumping, upright kind of the flowers. The grass blades are gently arching to about 2′ in top by July. It’s a lovely heat season grass.  

Then, in August, the flowering spikes shoot out from the foliage to about 4′ in top. Planted en masse, this grass makes a robust assertion with its upright kind. When the wind blows, these grasses perform the motion that you just see in an Oudolf panorama design.

a clump of little blutem in the garden
A clump of Little Bluestem within the backyard displaying its fall colours by jacki-dee

All Schizachyrium scoparium respect full solar and well-drained soil. In the event that they get an excessive amount of shade or are too moist, they are going to flop or start to skinny out. Within the fall, the grasses keep upright however change colour to a lightweight wheat brown.

The grass blades and flower stalks will keep upright till snow and ice bend them all the way down to the bottom. By late winter, you may be bored with their messiness – so you’ll be able to minimize it again in early spring earlier than the brand new foliage emerges from the bottom.

Leaving native grasses by means of the winter will present a host plant for a wide range of animals and bugs, together with the ottoe skipper, the dusted skipper, small mammals, and upland gamebirds. These species have seen a lot of their habitat. (tallgrass prairies filled with native vegetation) misplaced to improvement and farming.  

Are you rising little bluestem? In that case, what do you concentrate on it?


liatris and little bluestem grass
Liatris and little bluestem by aecole2010

A number of different Little Bluestem rising notes – (from Rochelle) 

  • I’ve been rising little bluestem in my backyard in New England for just a few years. It’s remarkably adaptable to the intermittent pockets of clay soils that I encounter in my yard.  This grass actually does appear to thrive in a wide selection of soil circumstances. 
  • I’ve been experimenting with Large Bluestem as effectively to see if I desire one over the opposite and to determine firsthand which is best in a wide range of purposes and circumstances.  (I’ll replace this put up as I’ve extra conclusions). 
  • In case you are aiming for the Piet Oudolf look – you might be in all probability going to want to plant extra grasses than you suppose.  You’ll possible must go larger – however begin with 50% of your vegetation being grasses – even in a small backyard. 
  • Schizachyrium scoparium ‘Standing Ovation’ is a more moderen number of little bluestem that was chosen for its larger, extra upright behavior. Standing Ovation stays just a little cleaner and extra uniform than the straight selection and is likely to be a more sensible choice if you would like a extra formal look.
little bluestem grass in the fall with reddish color
The silver and blue of Schizachyrium scoparium fade to crimson and copper hues within the fall. Picture by Drew Avery.

Extra Grass and native plant posts:


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