A key player in the Midwestern tallgrass prairie, Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) is a warm season grass with ornamental qualities fit for the garden, windbreak, pollinator plantings and even the landscape. The remarkable foliage changes color from green to blue-green in summer, to a deep red-bronze in the fall and provides interest well into the winter. The growth stays compact until midsummer and compliments other perennials without overpowering them in the early season. The late summer heat brings a dramatic increase in height, along with the iconic and distinctive three-parted seed heads – said to resemble a turkey’s foot.
Drought tolerant and easy to maintain, Big Bluestem is a top choice for naturalistic plantings that need to be filled in. Plant it in groups as a border or screen, or individually as a tall accent plant. The deep root system can be slow to develop, but once established, this grass is very drought tolerant. It will grow in almost any soil, from wet clay to dry sand. This native grass does need full sun to look its best.
An important member of the prairie ecosystem Big Bluestem was largely responsible for the formation of the famous prairie sod. The grass is a host plant for numerous Skippers including the Arogos Skipper, Delaware Skipper, and Dusted Skipper, and it provides shelter and food for songbirds. Big bluestem is an excellent native alternative to invasive ornamental grasses.