Virtues: Once the iconic, dominant grass of the tallgrass prairie but now all too rare, big bluestem can offer a strong sense of place in planted landscapes. It can grow to 8 feet in moist soils, but it develops slowly in spring, complementing other grasses, forbs and perennials and giving them their day in the sun.
Common name: Big bluestem
Botanical name: Andropogon gerardii
Foliage: This important native grass emerges gray to blue green in spring, matures to green with red tinges in summer and turns coppery red with lavender highlights after frost.
Habit: Upright grass that can reach 8 feet tall, but usually tops out at 4 to 6 feet in gardens. It is half as wide as it is tall.
Season: Spring through fall, for foliage.
Exposure: Full sun.
How to grow big bluestem: Its extensive root system makes it somewhat slow to establish, but then Andropogon gerardii is drought-tolerant and easy to maintain. Site in full sun. Cut back in early spring. Divide in spring if needed. USDA Zones 4–9.
Image by Matt Lavin from Bozeman, Montana, USA – Andropogon gerardii, CC BY-SA 2.0