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Schizachyrium scoparium ‘Smoke Signal’ (Little Bluestem)

Little Bluestem 'Smoke Signal', Blue Stem 'Smoke Signal', Prairie Beardgrass 'Smoke Signal', Prairie Beard Grass 'Smoke Signal'

Schizachyrium scoparium Smoke Signal, Little Bluestem Smoke Signal, Blue Stem Smoke Signal, Broom Grass Smoke Signal, Native Grass
Schizachyrium scoparium Smoke Signal, Little Bluestem Smoke Signal, Blue Stem Smoke Signal, Broom Grass Smoke Signal, Native Grass
Schizachyrium scoparium Smoke Signal, Little Bluestem Smoke Signal, Blue Stem Smoke Signal, Broom Grass Smoke Signal, Native Grass

Schizachyrium scoparium ‘Smoke Signal’ is a captivating cultivar of the Little Bluestem grass, celebrated for its colorful foliage and adaptability to various landscape settings.

Schizachyrium scoparium ‘Smoke Signal’: An In-depth Look

‘Smoke Signal’ is known for its upright, columnar form and the striking color transformation of its foliage. The leaves start as a deep blue-green in spring, gradually turning to a smoky purple and then to a vibrant red in the fall.

Native: This cultivar, like its parent species, is native to North America, flourishing in prairies and open woodlands.

Plant Type and Habit: It is a perennial grass that maintains an upright and compact growth habit, making it suitable for a variety of garden styles.

Size: ‘Smoke Signal’ reaches about 3-4 feet in height (90-120 cm) and 1.5-2 feet (45-60 cm) in width, making it a medium-sized ornamental grass.

Flowers: The grass produces airy, delicate flowers in late summer that add a fine-textured visual interest to the plant. Post-flowering, it develops small seed heads that persist through the winter, adding seasonal interest and providing food for wildlife.

Bloom Time: Flowering occurs in late summer to early fall.

Foliage: The foliage is a defining feature of this Little Bluestem cultivar, known for its dynamic color transitions throughout the growing season. Initially in the spring, the leaves emerge with a deep blue-green hue, setting a lush and vibrant tone in the landscape.

As the season progresses into summer, the foliage begins to transform, taking on smoky purple overtones. This unique color shift adds a layer of visual interest and sets ‘Smoke Signal’ apart from other grasses, with the smoky hue lending a sense of depth and richness to the plant’s appearance.

The most dramatic change occurs in late summer and early fall, when the foliage turns to a bright, scarlet red, then a deeper red-purple. This vivid red coloration is particularly striking, providing a bold contrast to the more muted tones often found in autumn landscapes. The intensity of this red hue can be influenced by environmental factors such as temperature and sunlight, often becoming more pronounced with cooler temperatures.

This seasonal progression from blue-green to smoky purple and then to bright red allows ‘Smoke Signal’ to provide continual interest throughout the year. The fine, linear leaves of the grass contribute not only these spectacular colors but also texture and movement to garden settings. This changing palette of colors is a key reason why ‘Smoke Signal’ is highly prized for adding visual appeal and dynamism to gardens and landscapes.

Uses: Ideal for borders, native gardens, mass plantings, and as a specimen plant, offering both aesthetic and ecological benefits.

Hardiness: Little Bluestem is hardy in USDA zones 3 through 9, showcasing its adaptability to a wide range of climates.

Wildlife: Little Bluestem acts as a larval host to nine skipper species, including the common wood nymph (Cercyonis pegala), Dakota skipper (Hesperia dacotae), Leonard’s skipper (Hesperia leonardus), and more. It also offers overwintering shelter for various insects and wildlife. Female bumblebee queens nest at the base of these grasses for protection until spring emergence. Its seeds are especially attractive to songbirds in the winter.

Toxicity: It is not known to be toxic to humans or pets, making it a safe choice for gardens.

Deer and Rabbit: This grass is generally resistant to deer and rabbits, which tend to avoid it due to its texture and taste.

Drought: Little Bluestem is highly drought-tolerant once established, making it an excellent choice for xeriscaping and water-conserving landscapes.

Invasiveness: This cultivar is not considered invasive and is well-behaved in garden settings.

Benefits: Offers a long season of visual interest with its changing foliage colors, is low maintenance, provides ecological benefits by supporting wildlife, and is suitable for various landscape designs.

Little Bluestem Growing Tips

Light: Prefers full sun for optimal growth and color. Can tolerate partial shade but with reduced vigor and color intensity.

Soil: Adapts to a wide range of soil types but thrives best in well-drained soil. Tolerates poor soils and clay. It does not persist in highly fertile soils or moist conditions.

Water: Once established, it is highly drought-tolerant. Water regularly during the first growing season to establish a deep, extensive root system, then reduce frequency.

Fertilizer: Generally does not require fertilization. If needed, apply a light amount of a balanced, slow-release fertilizer in early spring.

Pruning: Cut back old foliage in late winter or early spring before new growth begins to maintain a tidy appearance.

Propagation: Easily propagated by seed in spring or by division in spring or fall. Self-seeds in favorable conditions.

Pests and Diseases: Generally pest-free. May occasionally be affected by rust or fungal spots in very humid conditions, but these are rarely serious.

Requirements

Hardiness 3 - 9
Climate Zones 1, 1A, 1B, 2, 2A, 2B, 3, 3A, 3B, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24
Plant Type Ornamental Grasses
Plant Family Poaceae
Genus Schizachyrium
Common names Little Bluestem
Exposure Full Sun
Season of Interest Spring (Early, Mid, Late)
Summer (Early, Mid, Late)
Fall
Winter
Height 3' - 4'
(90cm - 120cm)
Spread 1' - 2'
(30cm - 60cm)
Spacing 18" - 24"
(50cm - 60cm)
Maintenance Low
Water Needs Low, Average
Soil Type Chalk, Loam, Sand
Soil pH Acid, Alkaline, Neutral
Soil Drainage Well-Drained
Characteristics Showy
Tolerance Drought, Deer, Rabbit, Dry Soil, Rocky Soil
Attracts Bees, Birds, Butterflies
Garden Uses Banks And Slopes, Beds And Borders
Garden Styles Prairie and Meadow, Informal and Cottage, Gravel and Rock Garden, City and Courtyard
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Alternative Plants to Consider

Schizachyrium scoparium ‘The Blues’ (Little Bluestem)
Schizachyrium scoparium ‘Prairie Blues’ (Little Bluestem)
Schizachyrium scoparium ‘Brush Strokes’ (Little Bluestem)
Schizachyrium scoparium BLUE HEAVEN® (Little Bluestem)
Schizachyrium scoparium ‘Twilight Zone’ (Little Bluestem)
Schizachyrium scoparium ‘Blue Paradise’ (Little Bluestem)

Recommended Companion Plants

Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’ (Witch Hazel)
Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly Weed)
Symphyotrichum oblongifolium (Aromatic Aster)
While every effort has been made to describe these plants accurately, please keep in mind that height, bloom time, and color may differ in various climates. The description of these plants has been written based on numerous outside resources.
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Requirements

Hardiness 3 - 9
Climate Zones 1, 1A, 1B, 2, 2A, 2B, 3, 3A, 3B, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24
Plant Type Ornamental Grasses
Plant Family Poaceae
Genus Schizachyrium
Common names Little Bluestem
Exposure Full Sun
Season of Interest Spring (Early, Mid, Late)
Summer (Early, Mid, Late)
Fall
Winter
Height 3' - 4'
(90cm - 120cm)
Spread 1' - 2'
(30cm - 60cm)
Spacing 18" - 24"
(50cm - 60cm)
Maintenance Low
Water Needs Low, Average
Soil Type Chalk, Loam, Sand
Soil pH Acid, Alkaline, Neutral
Soil Drainage Well-Drained
Characteristics Showy
Tolerance Drought, Deer, Rabbit, Dry Soil, Rocky Soil
Attracts Bees, Birds, Butterflies
Garden Uses Banks And Slopes, Beds And Borders
Garden Styles Prairie and Meadow, Informal and Cottage, Gravel and Rock Garden, City and Courtyard
How Many Plants
Do I Need?
Not sure which Schizachyrium (Little Bluestem) to pick?
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