October Flora Focus
I have been increasingly fascinated by our native, ornamental, fall-blooming grass, Little Bluestem, Schizachyrium scoparium, which has several cultivated varieties that show off its amazing colors. The ‘Standing Ovation’ variety has shown itself to be an upright force of nature with its tidy, upright habit and it’s amazing variety of color as the weather gets cooler in autumn.
Little Bluestem is a tough plant that can withstand roadside conditions which generally require salt- and drought-tolerance. Though it is considered a groundcover, some landscape designers will interplant it with faster-growing groundcovers since it is a bit of a slow-grower. But once it gets going, it really shines.
This grass is an important part of our native ecosystem providing cover for wildlife year-round and is a host plant for pollinators, including several butterfly and moth species.
Aside from the straight species which is beautiful itself, there are several cultivated varieties available. I’ve highlighted “Standing Ovation’ here but there are also other varieties. I’ve just planted a plug tray of ‘Twilight Zone’ which boasts silver and mauve colors rising out of the characteristic blueish-green blades. Purples should emerge in fall as midsummer colors intensify. I haven’t seen it reach maturity yet, but I can’t wait to photograph it when it does.
Other varieties include: ‘Carousel’, ‘The Blues’, ‘Chameleon’ which is variegated, ‘Blaze’, Prairie Blues’ among others. Hoffman Nursery (a wholesale nursery that specializes in native grasses) has a chart of Little Bluestem varieties, which is linked here: Little Bluestem Comparison Chart.
And here is some more interesting information on Little Bluestem also provided by Hoffman Nursery: Schizachyrium.
LIGHT full sun
WATER Dry to Medium
SOIL adaptable, tolerates poor soils, tough sites
SOIL PH adaptable
HARDINESS zones 3 – 9
HEIGHT 2 – 4 ft
SPACING 16 – 30 inches
BLOOM TIMES Late Summer through Fall
BLOOM COLOR purple/bronze
BENEFITS Great for erosion-control, problem, sunny sites. Salt-tolerant, drought-tolerant, deer resistant perennial grass that provides food and shelter for birds, pollinators and other wildlife. Useful in roadside and driveway beds, pollinator gardens, fall and winter gardens, native gardens.