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Little bluestem is a warm season grass, good choice for soil stabilization. Drought tolerant.

Little bluestem is a warm season grass, good choice for soil stabilization. Drought tolerant. USDA, NRCS. 2012. The PLANTS Database (http://plants.usda.gov, 11 October 2012). National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA.

Schizachyrium scoparium

Little bluestem

FIRST IMPRESSIONS:  Schizachyrium scoparium is a mounding grass with narrow green or blue-green foliage.   In late summer inconspicuous flowers are held on branched stems above the leaves. Fluffy light catching seed clusters follow.  Foliage develops a coppery or amber hue in fall.  Erect stems usually maintain their upright stance and glowing color through most of the winter.  This handsome grass thrives in prairie type settings or in sunny gardens with mesic, average or dry soils. 

HABITAT & HARDINESS:  Schizachyrium scoparium ranges through most of the southern Canadian provinces and the contiguous United States. Distribution is sparse in the western states and the species is absent from Oregon and Nevada.

Plants are indigenous to prairies, barrens, sandy savannas, glades with limestone, sandstone or shale outcrops, thinly wooded rocky bluffs, open woods, sand dunes, dry roadsides, gravelly railroad right of ways and abandoned fields.

Schizachyrium scoparium is hardy from USDA Zones 4-10.

PLANT DESCRIPTION:  Schizachyrium scoparium is a durable warm season bunch grass.  Plants are upright or densely mounded with many vertical culms that grow from short rhizomes.  

Spring leaves and stems often display an intense electric blue color.  Mature blades have 1/4” width with green, gray-green or blue-green coloration and lavender tinged bases.

In late summer, branched flower stalks emerge and are held above the leaves.  The 3” flower racemes bear purplish-bronze spikelets.

Clusters of fluffy silver seed heads follow.  The spikelets are fairly inconspicuous but seedheads are showy especially when they glisten in the late afternoon sun.

Foliage develops lovely bronze, orange or reddish fall color.  Usually Schizachyrium scoparium maintains its stunning amber foliage, striking vertical stems and handsome upright growth habit through winter.

Plants are anchored by a vigorous root system while top growth reaches 2-4’ with 2-3’ spread.

CULTURAL & MAINTENANCE NEEDS:  Schizachyrium scoparium prospers in sunny sites with lean mesic to dry soils. 

Plants tolerate clay, gravel, sand, alkalinity, drought, heat, humidity and moderate salinity but will languish if exposed to poor drainage, over-irrigation or flooding. 

Avoid planting in shade or applying excessive fertilizer or water as these conditions promote weak sprawling stems. 

The only maintenance needed is to cut or burn this grass to the ground in late winter.

LANDSCAPE USES:  Schizachyrium scoparium is a striking vertical Accent or Mass Planting for Wildlife Gardens, Prairies or Meadows. This grass is a star of the Winter landscape.  It also provides Erosion Control, Fall Color and Showy Seedheads.  Plants are appropriate for Cottage Gardens, Low Maintenance Plantings, Water Wise Landscapes, Roadsides, Restoration Projects and Perennial Borders.  

COMPANION & UNDERSTUDY PLANTS:  Try pairing with Aster spectabilis, Chyrsopsis mariana, Coreopsis tripteris, Echinacea purpurea, Eupatorium hyssopifolium or Liatris microcephala.

Schizachyrium scoparium also mingles well with grasses like Andropogon gerardii, Bouteloua curtipendula, Danthonia spicata, Eragrostis spectabilis and Sporobolus heterolepis.

The cultivars ‘The Blues’ and ‘Standing Ovation’ have similar height, foliage and cultural needs and can be substituted if needed.

TRIVIA:  Schizachyrium scoparium is a dominant species of the Midwestern Tallgrass Prairies.  This grass along with Andropogon gerardii, Panicum virgatum and Sorghastrum nutans are sometimes called "The Four Horsemen of the Prairie". 

Plants host the caterpillars of at least 6 species of skippers.  The seed are eaten by a variety of small songbirds and young foliage is browsed by deer, bison and livestock.


Height:

2-4 ft

Spread:

2-3 ft

Spacing:

3-4 ft

USDA Hardiness Zone:

4-10

Bloom Color:

Green, Tan

Schizachyrium scoparium Characteristics

Exposure

  • Full Sun to Partial Shade

Attracts Wildlife

  • Songbirds
  • Pollinators
  • Butterflies

Soil Moisture Preference

  • Well-Drained
  • Dry

Attributes

  • Naturalizing
  • Drought Tolerant
  • Dried Flower
  • Clay Soil

Flowering Months

  • September

Foliage Color

  • Gray-Green
  • Blue-Green

Season of Interest (Foliage)

  • Fall
  • Summer
  • Spring
  • Winter

Growth Rate

  • Medium

Grass Season

  • Warm Season Grass

Salt Tolerance

  • High

Phytoremediation

  • Cu-Copper

Plants that work well with Schizachyrium scoparium ''

Big bluestem Big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii)
Showy aster Showy aster (Aster spectabilis)
Downy wood mint Downy wood mint (Blephilia ciliata)
Sideoats grama Sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula)
Wine cups Wine cups (Callirhoe involucrata)
Northern seaoates Northern seaoates (Chasmanthium latifolium)
Lanceleaf tickseed Lanceleaf tickseed (Coreopsis lanceolata)
Greater tickseed Greater tickseed (Coreopsis major)
Maryland golden star Maryland golden star (Chyrsopsis mariana)
Purple coneflower Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
Coneflower Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea 'PowWow Wild Berry')
White coneflower White coneflower (Echinacea purpurea 'White Swan')
Hyssop leaved boneset Hyssop leaved boneset (Eupatorium hyssopifolium)
Swamp sunflower Swamp sunflower (Helianthus angustifolia)
PowWow White coneflower PowWow White coneflower (Echinacea purpurea 'PowWow White')
Appalachian blazing star Appalachian blazing star (Liatris microcephala)
Poverty oat grass Poverty oat grass (Danthonia spicata)
Purple love grass Purple love grass (Eragrostis spectabilis)
Switch grass Switch grass (Panicum virgatum 'Cloud Nine')
Indian grass Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans)
Prairie dropseed Prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis)
Peter's bee balm Peter's bee balm (Monarda x 'Peter's Fancy Fuchsia')
Scarlet Bee Balm Scarlet Bee Balm (Monarda didyma)
Horsemint Horsemint (Monarda punctata)
Obedient plant Obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana)
Black-eyed Susan Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida v. deamii)
Hoary mountain mint Hoary mountain mint (Pycnanthemum incanum)
Short-toothed mountain mint Short-toothed mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum)
Obedient plant Obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana 'Vivid')
Wild petunia Wild petunia (Ruellia humilis)
Smalls ragwort Smalls ragwort (Senecio smalli)
Wild pink Wild pink (Silene caroliniana)
Royal Catchfly Royal Catchfly (Silene regia)
Prairie goldenrod Prairie goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis)
Stiff goldenrod Stiff goldenrod (Solidago rigida)
Ohio Spiderwort Ohio Spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis 'Mrs. Loewer')
Spider lily Spider lily (Tradescantia virginiana)
Spiderwort Spiderwort (Tradescantia x 'Sweet Kate')
Upland ironweed Upland ironweed (Vernonia glauca)
Anise Hyssop Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)
Ohio spiderwort Ohio spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis)
pearly everlasting pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea)
Buffalo Grass Buffalo Grass (Buchloe dactyloides)
Short and Sweet Wild pink Short and Sweet Wild pink (Silene caroliniana 'Short and Sweet')
Alkali Sacaton Alkali Sacaton (Sporobolus airoides)
Homestead purple verbena Homestead purple verbena (Verbena canadensis 'Homestead Purple')
Prairie Smoke Prairie Smoke (Geum triflorum)
Appalachian Mountain Mint Appalachian Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum flexuosum)
Switch Grass Switch Grass (Panicum virgatum 'Cape Breeze')

Substitutions for Schizachyrium scoparium

Poverty oat grass Poverty oat grass (Danthonia spicata)
Little bluestem Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium 'Standing Ovation PP 25202')
Little bluestem Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium 'Prairie Munchkin PP 26335')
Elliott's beard grass (No Advance Orders) Elliott's beard grass (No Advance Orders) (Andropogon gyrans)
Little bluestem Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium 'The Blues')