Sarah Browning: Little bluestem is perennial of the year | Home & Garden

SARAH BROWNING For the Lincoln Journal Star

The Perennial Plant Association is a professional horticultural trade organization dedicated to improving the perennial industry by providing training to improve the production, promotion and use of perennials.

The 2022 Perennial of the Year is the small bluestem, Schizachyrium scoparium, and its ornamental varieties.

For those who enjoy the subtle beauty of Nebraska’s native grasses, we know that they are beautiful in the spring and summer, painting our landscapes with a variety of shades of green, but put on their best show in the fall. Night frost causes color changes in leaves and stems, resulting in a beautiful collage of yellow, orange, and red as you drive through the landscape.

Grasses also add a sense of movement to a landscape as the foliage and flower heads dance in the wind. Their foliage is retained throughout the winter months to add additional interest to the winter landscape.

Growing small bluestalk

Little Bluestem is a warm season weed that starts growing in late spring and stops growing in early fall. The plants grow most actively during the hot summer days and once established are quite drought tolerant. It is native to much of North America and was one of the main components of the tall grass prairie. They are robust to zone 3.

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The upright nature of the Lesser Bluestem makes it a great addition to many flowering perennials such as coneflowers, stonecrop, coreopsis, blanket flower, asters and many more. It is also a larval food source for a variety of butterflies and moths, including several species of skippers.

To maintain an upright habit, Little Bluestem requires full sun, well-drained soil (loam or sand), and dry growing conditions (once plants are well established).

Loosen up heavy or compacted soil before planting to allow the young plants to develop their roots better. They perform well in poor soil, and it is important to keep soil nitrogen levels low to prevent lodging, flops, or the need for staking. Cut back clumps in late winter or early spring before new growth appears.

Plants grow 2 to 3 feet tall, depending on the variety. Foliage is mid-green to bluish-green in summer, changing to reddish-bronze or orange in fall. The seed heads are produced in late summer to early fall and consist of fluffy, beige feathers.

If small blue stems tend to fall to the ground in your gardens, they are either getting too much shade, too much water, or too much nitrogen.

This week we take a look at the seven winners of the Vegetable Award – six national winners and one regional winner.

varieties to consider

Great strains to consider include Blaze, Blue Heaven, and The Blues.

• Blaze Little Bluestem leaves appear light blue in spring, darkening to grey-green in summer and finally exploding shades of pink-orange, red-purple or bright red in fall. Upright, broom-like habit. Height 2-3 feet.

• Jazz The silvery blue summer foliage gives way to a rich purple to deep bronze fall color. Discovered as a sport for The Blues, it is shorter at just 2 to 2.5 feet tall.

• Blue Heaven is a 2013 selection from the University of Minnesota. Touted for its very upright, broom-like habit and beautiful blue-grey foliage that turns crimson in fall. Height 2 to 4 feet.

• ‘The Blues’ forms an upright, upright clump of slender, greenish-blue leaves tinged with pink and purple. The leaves develop burgundy and orange tones in fall. Height 2-4 feet.

• Standing Ovation is another popular strain with a tightly upright habit. It stays in a uniform clump in the garden. Foliage is blue-green in summer, with purple tint at the stem bases, changing to red and orange in fall. Height 2 to 3 feet.

Native grasses like Little Bluestem are an important part of the flora of the Great Plains and a wonderful addition to a landscape. They are very well adapted to Nebraska’s challenging growing conditions and tolerate drought and fluctuating winter temperatures very well. Consider planting little bluestalks in your garden this summer!

Sarah Browning: Blossoms and Big Winners

All-America Selections announced six flower award winners this year, including two gold medalists and four national winners.

Choice of perennial of the year

Each year, PPA chooses and promotes the Perennial Plant of the Year. Plant selection is easy. PPA members nominate plants for consideration and then vote for the best plant, usually with three or four plants on the ballot. Plants are nominated based on several criteria such as: B. Suitability to a variety of climates, multiple seasons of ornamental interest, low maintenance, pest resistance, availability and ease of propagation.

Sarah Browning is an extension educator at Nebraska Extension. To ask a question or reach her, call 402-441-7180 ​​or email or 444 Cherrycreek Road, Lincoln, NE 68528.


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