Little Bluestem Chosen 2022 Perennial Plant of the Year

      A plant native to eastern North America, Little Bluestem, Schizachyrium scoparium, and its cultivars have been named by the Perennial Plant Association as their Perennial Plant of the Year for 2022.

      Here is the description from the PPA:

       “Summer through fall, the slender leaves and stems of little bluestem are an ever-changing kaleidoscope of gray-green, blue, pink, purple, copper, mahogany, red, and orange tones. Wispy silver-white seed heads sparkle in autumn sunlight and coppery brown leaves persist through winter.

      “Little Bluestem is a tough and dependable clumping grass that blends well with perennials such as asters, sedums, coneflowers, and other grasses. Native grasses play their part in the pollinator story too. Little bluestem is a larval host for a variety of butterflies and moths such as crossline skipper, Dakota skipper, and Ottoe skipper.

Little Bluestem was one of the dominant grasses of the vast tallgrass prairies. In average to lean, well-drained soils, stems will remain upright but can flop easily if conditions are too rich or moist. Cultivars have been selected for shorter plants, enhanced leaf colors, and stronger stems.

      Little bluestem’s spikiness complements native and non-native perennials alike. An easy fit for mass plantings or meadows, it is just as brilliant in traditional borders, gravel gardens, and green roofs.”

      While it is always best for wildlife purposes to grow the pure native plant rather than its cultivars for wildlife and ecological purposes, there are a few cultivars that have been selected for our area.  They include Schizachyrium scoparium ‘Jazz’ and ‘The Blues.’  At 36 inches tall and 30 inches wide, ‘Jazz’ is a foot shorter than ‘The Blues’ and has sturdier stems. ‘Jazz’ was upright at all times including winter during the Chicago Botanic Garden’s trial, whereas ‘The Blues’ usually flopped over early in the summer. The late-season silvery seed heads are followed by a strong purple to deep bronze fall color.

      Also appropriate for our area is Schizachyrium scoparium ‘Carousel.’   Here is the description from PPA:  “This uniquely mounded selection forms a wide clump of blue-green foliage that emerges nearly horizontal and matures into strong, upright stems that remain standing through inclement weather and winter. Takes on pink, copper and orange-red tones in fall topped with tiny seed tufts.”

      Little Bluestem prefers full sun and dry to medium well-drained soils.  It adapts to clay and poor soils, but does not like soggy conditions.

      Little Bluestem is a low maintenance plant, requiring only cutting back in late winter or early spring.  It has good drought resistance once established.  Overwatering and too much nitrogen will cause the stems to flop over and increase the probability of root and foliar pathogens, so keep it dry!  The only pest issues are aphids and spider mites. 

      Are you wondering how a plant gets to be chosen Perennial Plant of the Year?  Perennial Plant Association members vote each summer on the following year’s plant.  At that time, each member is allowed to nominate two plants for future consideration.  A committee reviews the nominated plants, which may number 400, and narrows the field to three or four to be placed on the ballot.

      Plant nominees need to satisfy the following criteria:  suitable for a wide range of climates, low-maintenance, relatively pest-free and disease resistant, multiple seasons of ornamental interest, and be readily available at garden centers the year it is elected.  Look for Little Bluestem at your local garden center this spring!

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