Becca Dickstein / Native Roots

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Courtesy photo/Dorothy Thetford
Little bluestem is a mid-prairie bunchgrass native to a broad swath of eastern and central North America.

Little bluestem adds fall color

Little bluestem’s, Schizachyrium scoparium’s, late summer green foliage turns radiantly golden, then to a rosy color then to brownish mahogany red during the autumn through winter, making it strikingly attractive from late summer through winter.

It is also visually stunning planted en masse. It forms dense mounds growing 18 to 30 inches tall with finely textured alternate, simple, leaves.

Beginning in August, thin bluish-green stems appear, which give little bluestem its common name. The stems may reach as high as 3 feet tall in September and bear flower stalks.

The blooms are insignificant, but the white tufted seed heads that follow are quite pretty. Seeds may be collected after flowering.

Little bluestem is perennial and will enlarge every year. A number of cultivars are available, including several selected for smaller size and particular fall color.

It is the larval host for several butterflies, including the Indian Skippers, Crossline Skippers, Ottoe Skippers, Dixie Skippers and Cobweb Skippers. Its seeds are valuable for small birds.

Little bluestem is easily propagated by root division or by seed collected in the fall. Seed may need a cold treatment before germination.

Consider planting little bluestem instead of non-native grasses like fountain grass or Pampas grass, and using it in combination with other native grasses for a variety of color, texture and size.

Little bluestem is a mid-prairie bunchgrass native to a broad swath of eastern and central North America. Its native habitat includes prairies, meadows, pastures, hillsides and slopes and the edges of woodlands. It is an important species in the Tallgrass Prairie ecosystem.

Little bluestem thrives in full sun and partial shade and tolerates a range of soil pH.

It should be given supplemental water at the time that it is first planted. After it is established, it is extremely drought tolerant and should not need supplemental water.

It should have adequate drainage; it will not tolerate “wet feet.”

Look for the NICE! Plant of the Season signs and information sheets on your next visit to a participating North Texas nursery. Participating nurseries include Four Seasons Nursery, Meador Nursery and Painted Flower Farm, all in Denton; Shades of Green Nursery in Frisco and Schmitz Garden Center in Flower Mound. Thank you for using native plants in your landscapes.

BECCA DICKSTEIN, a member of the Trinity Forks Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas, is on the University of North Texas biological sciences faculty.

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