Caring For Schizachyrium Scoparium

Schizachyrium scoparium [ski-za-KRY-ee-um, sko-PAIR-ee-um], is a type of prairie grass found throughout most of the United States except for parts of the West Coast. 

It’s most common in the prairies of the Midwest.

Schizachyrium Scoparium (Little Bluestem Grass)

Commonly called little bluestem or beard grass, Schizachyrium scoparium is part of the Poaceae family (grass). 

It’s an easy-to-grow ornamental grass performing in a variety of settings.

Schizachyrium Scoparium Care

Size and Growth

  • Little bluestem grass produces clumps of slender green leaves. 
  • The leaves are linear and reach up to 2′ to 4′ feet tall. 
  • The mounds typically spread about 1.5′ to 2′ feet wide.
  • The leaves are primarily green with a hint of blue near the base, leading to the common name “little bluestem.”
  • In the fall, the tint of the leaves change. 
  • The color slowly fades from green to copper or orange. 
  • It may also develop touches of red or purple.

Flowering and Fragrance

The flowers are insignificant. The stalks appear in the middle of summer, rising above the foliage.

The stalks reach 4′ to 5′ feet tall with small flowers containing purplish-bronze petals.

Fluffy seed heads follow the flowers. 

The silver-white seed heads cover the tops of the plant and last into the colder seasons, adding winter interest to the landscape.

Light and Temperature

To bring out the color in the leaves, plant Schizachyrium scoparium in full sun. 

If grown as a houseplant, place it near a window receiving direct sunlight for part of the day.

Little bluestem grass is winter hardy in USDA hardiness zones 3 to 9. 

It grows well in most regions throughout North America as it’s found from Arizona to Florida and Alberta to Quebec.

Watering and Feeding

Water young plants when the soil is completely dry, typically once per week during the summer and once every two or three weeks during the winter.

If the region receives significant rainfall, it may not need water at all. Overwatering may kill the plant.

Once established, mature plants become drought resistant. 

It also tolerates high heat, limiting the need for frequent watering.

Use diluted fertilizer to promote taller growth unless the little bluestem grass is planted in rich, fertile soil.

Soil and Transplanting

  • Schizachyrium scoparium tolerates a variety of soil conditions. 
  • It even grows well in poor soil and clay soil.
  • If grown in fertile soil, the plant tends to produce taller leaves.
  • Transplant mature plants as needed in the spring. 
  • The plant needs time to develop its roots before winter weather arrives.

Grooming

Trim back the foliage in the winter or the start of spring. 

As the temperatures rise, new growth appears.

How to Propagate Little Bluestem Grass

Propagate Schizachyrium scoparium from seed or divisions. 

As with transplanting, the division is best performed in the spring.

  • Carefully dig up the soil around the plant and lift the entire mound from the ground. 
  • Place on a clear surface to get a better look at the roots.
  • Gently pull the mound into two to four sections. 
  • Plant each section in regular potting soil or garden soil.
  • Water the plants thoroughly and allow the soil to dry before watering again.

Harvest seeds from the plant between September and October. 

  • Collect the seed heads after the flowering season.
  • Store the seed heads in envelopes, allowing them to dry completely. 
  • After drying, separate the seeds from the debris.
  • Sow the seeds indoors just before the start of spring or outdoors after the last threat of frost. 
  • However, the seeds require stratification.
  • One month before sowing, place the seeds in a Ziploc bag with about a quarter cup of sand. 
  • Store the bag in the refrigerator until time to sow the seeds.
  • Scatter the seeds over thoroughly moistened soil. 
  • Add a light layer of soil on top.
  • Keep the seeds in a bright spot and ensure the soil remains moist. 
  • After the seedlings appear, only water when the top few inches of soil are dry. 
  • Transplant the following spring.

Little Bluestem Grass Pest or Disease Problems

Schizachyrium scoparium doesn’t suffer from major pest or disease problems. 

Most insects leave the plant alone. However, caterpillars may feed on the foliage.

Get rid of caterpillars by hand and drop them in a bucket of soapy water. Consider adding a barrier of mulch around the base of the plant.

While the plant is virtually disease-free once established, overwatering is a common problem as little bluestem rarely needs watering. 

If the leaves start to lose their color or slump to the ground, it’s likely overwatered.

If overwatering occurs late in the season, stop watering and wait until the spring to trim back the foliage, allowing new leaves to grow from the mound.

The plant isn’t listed as invasive but may become invasive in some environments, such as areas with warm and humid summers.

Suggested Schizachyrium Scoparium Uses

Little bluestem grass is frequently cultivated as an ornamental grass for raised gardens, borders, or prairie-like environments. 

It grows well in groups, creating a mass of tall, colorful grass.

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