Little Bluestem Grass

By Dr. William C. Welch, Professor and Extension Horticulturist,
Texas Cooperative Extension, Texas A&M System


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Little Bluestem

Grasses that are perennial and ornamental are enjoying new popularity in Texas gardens. Little Bluestem grass (Schizachyrium scoparium) is a Texas native which has moved from the pasture into the home landscape in recent years. Once established, it is a drought-resistant, easy-care clumping grass that is attractive at any season. Little bluestem grass performs well as an accent in the garden, and is also a very good choice for natural settings or wildscapes in the home landscape. It provides interest when planted in random patches on slopes and dry areas associated with post oak and yaupon landscapes, and grows either in full sun or partial shade.

Masses of Little Bluestem may be combined with flowering perennials such as rudbeckias, salvias, daylilies and daisies as a effective transition zone between the well watered and cultivated garden area and a surrounding wildscape which blends into woods or pasture at the back of the home landscape.

Commercial sources of little bluestem are now available, both as grass seed mixtures and as plugs or small plants. Nurseries that specialize in native plants often sell them. The plants do not grow into a solid sheet of grass but have a clumping habit, although they may increase through rhizomes in good growing conditions. When well established these may be cut free from the parent plant and transplanted. If sowing seed, use 1/2 to 2 pounds of pure live seed (PLS) per 1,000 square feet, or space plugs or small plants l 1/2 feet apart.

Little Bluestem is reported to have been the most common grass present in the original Post Oak Savannah and Cross Timbers parts of Texas, and is still a major feature of the tallgrass, midgrass and shortgrass prairies of Texas. It is suitable for planting throughout most of Texas, except for the very western portions of the state. It prefers well-drained soil and is commonly found in waste places, rocky or rough areas difficult for cattle to reach, or at the edge of woods and pastures.

Along the highway rights-of-way where it is mowed down periodically, Little Bluestem is very noticeable for its distinct, silvery-blue clumps which are usually from 1 to 2 feet in height. As the late summer and early fall approach the clusters heighten into flowering stems which may reach 5 feet, and the blue effect is even more noticeable. The flowering spikelets which appear from August to December range in color from bluegreen to silvery gold in color. After frosts in the late fall, plants turn to a reddish or coppery color through the winter.

Little Bluestem is an excellent addition to a mixture of plants supportive of wildlife. Numerous birds and small mammals utilize the dried stems for cover and for nesting materials, and the small seeds as a good source of food. According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Program, many butterflies utilize Little Bluestem as a host plant: Dusted skipper, Delaware skipper, Dixie skipper, cross-line skipper and Cobweb skipper.

 
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