Our October plant of the month is Little Bluestem – Schizachyrium scoparium. It’s an ornamental bunch grass that forms dense mounds that grow to 18-24 inches tall when established. It’s native to Virginia, does well in sun or part shade, and can assist in erosion control.
You can learn a lot about this plant from the name itself. The “Bluestem” in Little Bluestem references the lavender-blue color that can be seen at the base of the stems when the grass first starts shooting up in the spring. And scoparium means “broomlike” and references that the grass looks like the bristles of a broom.
Maybe you’re familiar with the turfgrass in your lawn, or the commonly planted “monkey grass” but this ornamental grass is anything but boring or ordinary. It emerges from the ground in late spring, continues to grow through the summer, and begins to transform its appearance in the fall into the winter. This change in appearance from season to season is part of what makes it such an interesting plant in the garden. In the fall, the grass takes on a red color and the stalks grow white seed heads, and the bronze/red color persists throughout the winter when there’s little color elsewhere in the garden. The white seed heads are not only interesting to look at, but they provide food to small songbirds and mammals in the winter. The grass also serves as shelter for native bees, dusky skipper butterfly caterpillars, and small wildlife.
And as the cherry on top – it’s pretty low maintenance once established. If you’re looking for a grass for your garden space, you can check out Little Bluestem – Schizachyrium scoparium at the Low Line Gardens to see how Capital Trees uses it as part of our urban landscape.