Late fall is prime season for ornamental grasses to shine. Most fall foliage is gone by mid-November, but some ornamental grasses keep touches of color and a harvest-time feel in contract to the solidity of evergreens. Little bluestem is one of my favorites for that late fall feeling.
Little bluestem is a hardy, adaptable native prairie grass that can grow anywhere in the continental U.S. and much of Canada. They can take heat, cold, drought, sandy soils, clay soils - just about anything except marshy conditions. Earlier in the season before the seedheads emerge, the foliage grows in a clump with thin, upright to arching leaves. Some varieties have a bluish hue, which is where the common name comes from. Later in the summer, the seed stalks shoot up straight with feathery seed heads. By fall, streaks of red show up on the stems and foliage, and in late fall into winter the leaves and stems settle into a light, reddish-orange hue through the winter.
Common Name: little bluestem
Scientific Name: Schizachyrium scoparium
Notable Varieties: ‘Prairie Blues’ (strong bluish color), ‘Standing Ovation’ (strong red fall color, long-lasting fall color)
Light: full sun
Size: 24-36” tall with seed heads (foliage closer to 12”), 12-16” wide
Soil: tolerates a wide range of soil types as long as soil isn’t marshy
Other Notes: native species, low-maintenance, few insect and disease problems, good fall and winter color