Most of us have been wilting during the recent period of high temperatures as have many of our plants if they were not watered but the blue grasses have not been fazed. Therefore, I am advocating their more extensive use in the landscape.
In addition, blue brings smiles to people’s faces. Why? Perhaps because the color blue makes them think of blue skies or swimming in a lake or the ocean or canoeing on a river. It is, therefore, a blessing when plants with blue foliage can be integrated into the landscape. I am a great fan of ornamental grasses and there are two with blue foliage that are not only very drought tolerant but require dry, well-drained soil.
Schizachyrium scoparium (Little Bluestem) is happiest in very dry soil in full sun. In rich and moist soil or in shade, it tends to resemble the Leaning Tower of Pisa although it is not nearly that tall. It usually grows two to four feet tall but not as wide. Most of the cultivars I have grown stay at two feet, a very useful size.
The narrow, relatively stiff blades are steel blue in spring and early summer but in late summer and early fall, they develop reddish purple tints that soon evolve to a bronzy orange.
And unlike most ornamental grasses that are beige during the winter, Schizachyrium scoparium is distinguished by its copper color that enlivens those dull gray days when the sun’s rays can’t penetrate the cloud cover. It remains undismayed by snow, perhaps because its slender stems allow the snowflakes to drift through them rather than weight them down.
Little Bluestem does not bloom until late summer or early fall. The inflorescence is very fragile and somewhat inconspicuous until it dries at which point it becomes a mass of fluffy, silvery seedheads that are held well above the foliage. Watching the panicles dance in the wind is an entrancing experience. Like many grasses, Little Bluestem requires very little maintenance beyond an annual scything in early spring. It also provides food and shelter for wildlife.
Helictotrichon sempervirens (Blue Oat Grass) is like a Fescue on steroids. The stiff-leafed foliage will grow eighteen inches high and wide but the inflorescences will reach two to two and a half feet high. One Helictotrichon has enough presence to be used as a specimen. While some of the leaves turn brown during the winter, many retain their blue color. In the spring, for the best appearance, deadleaf the plant; it takes a bit of time to finger through the leaves (wear gloves) but the result is worth it. Never cut it back like you do with other grasses.
Wouldn’t you like to have beautiful but tough grasses that give you color all year round?