Big Bluestem Growing Guide
Crop Rotation Group
Fertile, well-drained soil.
Established plants of big bluestem are winter hardy to -30°F (-34°C).
None needed. Plants that are too well fed or overwatered are prone to falling over.
Single Plants: 2' 11" (90cm) each way (minimum)
Rows: 2' 11" (90cm) with 2' 11" (90cm) row gap (minimum)
Sow and Plant
You can plant big bluestem from seed when sowing a wildflower meadow. Plant in fall or spring, barely covering the seeds with soil. For more managed areas, set out container-grown plants from spring to early summer in sunny, unimproved soil. Young plants need water their first year, but after that big bluestem becomes very drought tolerant. Big bluestem is a bit slow to establish, but should form a vigorous clump by its third year. You can increase your supply of plants by digging divisions from the outside of the clump in late spring and transplanting them to a new location.
Our Garden Planner can produce a personalized calendar of when to sow, plant and harvest for your area.
Big bluestem is native to much of eastern North America, and it is one of the dominant prairie grasses of the Midwest. Taller and showier than other native grasses, big bluestem makes a great backdrop for smaller wildflowers. Leaves of the species show a blue cast in spring. The divided seed heads that appear in late summer resemble a turkey’s foot. Several improved varieties are available, including ‘Blackhawks’ with leaves that start out green and darken to purple in response to warmth and sun. ‘Red October’ become redder as the season progresses. Shorter than big bluestem but equally useful in meadows, little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) grows to 3 feet (1 m) high, and makes a wonderful native grass for windswept hillsides. Its is grown just like big bluestem. Big bluestem leaves host several species of skipper and other small butterflies, and birds nest in the low foliage. Wait until late winter to cut old foliage to the ground.
Too much water and fertilizer can make big bluestem lose its stiffness and fall over. Deer and other animals may browse the foliage in spring.
Planting and Harvesting Calendar
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