Stalking out

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Little bluestem (Schizachrium scoparium) in late July, when the flowering stalks reach above the leaves.

Little bluestem is the dominant grass of much of North America; it’s also one of the best native grasses for the average home garden. It’s a nice compact size, never reaching much above 3 feet tall, and for most of the growing season it forms a neat and beautiful mound shape. Individual plants show a great deal of color variation, ranging from deep green to subtle blue-grey. This time of year, it begins to stalk out, or send up flowering stems. The inconspicuous flowers are gentle shades of tan, green, purple, and blue, and the seedheads are golden. In fall, the plant turns first russet and then tan, and it glows in the sun. And the birds eat the seeds as fast as they ripen.

Little bluestem just stalking out.

Individual plants of little bluestem show a great deal of color variation. The plant on the right shows how the species got its common name.

The current hot, dry weather doesn’t bother this plant–in fact, it prefers it. It thrives in dry sites. If your soil is very rich or tends to be moist, choose a different prairie grass, such as prairie dropseed (Sporobulus heterolepsis). Prairie dropseed is finer-textured than little bluestem, but it is about the same height and forms a similarly attractive mound shape.When I plant prairie dropseed in my sandy soil, I mix in a scoop of compost.

Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis)

Prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepsis). Photo taken from prairienursery.com.

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