Why plant Audubon® Native Big Bluestem?
For those looking to recreate an authentic tallgrass-prairie ecosystem on their property, here is your key plant. Big Bluestem is a stately native Fringe that epitomizes the prairie aesthetic while also benefiting wildlife. The foliage feeds a variety of skipper butterfly larva, which in turn—along with katydids and leafhoppers that munch on the foliage—feed insectivorous songbirds. In fall and winter, several species of sparrows consume the seeds, and in rural areas on the Great Plains, prairie chickens eat them, too. The dense clumps of foliage also serve as good cover and nesting sites for ground-dwelling birds.
Before the Midwestern landscape was covered with condos and cornfields, Big Bluestem grew wild all over our nation’s heartland. It was an important component of the American tallgrass prairie, its deep, fibrous roots (they can go down ten feet!) binding and enriching the soil and its soaring plumes standing shoulder-to-shoulder with native wildflowers. Besides benefitting birds, butterflies, and countless other animals, this dominant prairie grass also once served as a favorite fodder for roaming herds of bison. Today, cattle ranchers call it “ice cream for cows.” Here’s hoping you don’t have livestock grazing your garden!
How to use Audubon® Native Big Bluestem in the landscape?
Big Bluestem sometimes goes by the nickname “Turkey Toes,” because the plumes end in three-parted seedheads that look like turkey feet. The delicate plumes catch the light in magical ways. Plant Big Bluestem where the sun will shine through it in the evening and treat yourself to a dazzling late summer scene as you relax on your porch or patio.
Hardiness Zone: 4-9
How To Plant Audubon® Native Big Bluestem
All-day sun is a must for Big Bluestem. It tends to get floppy in low-light conditions. This adaptable Fringe is suitable for dry or moist (not wet) soils. It’s long-lived, easy to grow, and not affected by any major insect pests or diseases. It thrives in hot-summer climates, but it also withstands temperatures down to -40ºF in winter! Leave the plant standing for winter interest, cutting it back to the ground in early spring. Big Bluestem is a warm-season grower, which means that it needs some heat in order to break dormancy in spring. Be patient.
How To Water
Water twice weekly for the first 3-5 weeks; then water weekly for the remainder of the year until winter. When you water, water slowly and thoroughly. Watering needs may be altered due to extreme weather conditions.
How To Fertilize
Incorporate Elements Starter Plant food granular form into the soil when planting. If planting in spring or summer start fertilizing late fall using Elements Starter Plant food granular form on an annual basis each late year. Continue this for three years to get your plant well established.
How To Prune
Each fall, just before winter sets in clean up the previous years foliage and compost it. Be sure your perennials are mulched well for winter protection. Two inches of an organic mulch will do the job. Consider leaving the plant debris in place through the winter and doing your clean up on the weather warms in the spring. While it doesn't make things neat and tidy, the debris provides overwintering protection for insects, their eggs and pupae including our native Viceroy butterfly.