Ornamental Grass Spectacular: Standing Ovation Little Bluestem Grass

by David Salman

Standing Ovation Little Bluestem Ornamental Grass Throughout the Seasons

Standing Ovation Little Bluestem Ornamental Grass Throughout the Seasons

High Country Gardens 2018 Plant of the Year: Standing Ovation Little Bluestem Grass (Schizachyrium scoparium)

'Standing Ovation' Little Bluestem grass (Schizachyrium scoparium) (Hardy in zones 3-8) is an exceptional native ornamental grass and has four seasons of beauty. Most notably it has outstanding blue summer foliage that's followed by attractive vertical flowers and seedheads in late summer. Then begins the marvelous transition into fall when the stems and leaves color up in shades of red, orange, yellow and purple. And true to its name, 'Standing Ovation' is strongly upright and maintains its tidy form through heavy rain and snow providing invaluable winter interest.

Amenable to most any soil type including clay, 'Standing Ovation' is also not sensitive to soil pH and can grow with equal ease in acidic or alkaline conditions. Interestingly, because Little Bluestem is native to 46 of our 50 states, this selection can be planted successfully across most of country. And once established, it needs little supplemental watering except in the driest of climates.

With all these wonderful attributes, 'Standing Ovation' embodies all that High Country Gardens values in a new plant and so we have made it our 2018 Plant of Year.

Going to The Source

To learn more about this very recent Little Bluestem introduction, I contacted the nursery that selected and brought it into cultivation, North Creek Nurseries of Landenberg, PA. Owner Steve Castorani provided me with some details. Discovered as a noteworthy seedling of the renowned variety, 'The Blues' on the greenhouse property, it was propagated and replanted back into its original spot. There it grew happily for a few years, but went unnoticed until one of their customers made note of its color and outstanding upright habit.

Over the next 5 years it was more extensively tested and evaluated until Steve made the decision to introduce it as a new Little Bluestem cultivar. The name is a nod to the plant's strongly vertical stature as being worthy of applause.

The Benefits of Native Grasses

Taking a step back to look more broadly at the accelerating popularity of native ornamental grasses, it's important to point out that this plant category also plays an essential ecological role in our landscapes and gardens.

  • Native grasses are essential for providing habitat for beneficial insects, larval food for butterflies as well as seeds and shelter for numerous bird species.
  • Native grass also offer gardeners and landscapers alternative to some species of Old World grasses that have become troublesomely weedy or invasive. By selecting and planting comparable native ornamental grasses, we can protect wild areas and the wildlife that live there from habitat-destroying invasives like Plume Grass (Saccharum or Erianthus ravenae), Pampas grass (Cortaderia), some Chinese Maiden Hair grass cultivars (Miscanthus sinensis) and others.
  • And just as importantly, we must also utilize the amazing root systems of our native ornamental grasses. These extensive and often deep reaching roots protect soils from wind and water erosion while helping to filter and purify rainwater and snowmelt as it moves through the soil down into our precious aquifers. And these deep-reaching roots help to build the soil by improving aeration and providing organic material to decompose into humus.

Standing Ovation High Country Gardens 2018 Plant of the Year

Standing Ovation Little Bluestem Grass has an outstanding upright habit and four-season interest.

Companion Plants

'Standing Ovation' is an outstanding companion plant to combine with other ornamental grasses and flowering perennials.

Other grasses that look great with it include 'Blonde Ambtion' Blue Grama grass (Bouteloua gracilis), various Prairie Switch Grasses and Muhly grass (Muhlenbergia).

Perennials that make nice companions include many late summer and fall blooming selections such as Texas Bush Sages (Salvia greggii and hybrids),Hummingbird Mints (Agastache)Prairie Coneflower (Ratibida) and Blazing Star (Liatris).

Take advantage of their many benefits by planting more native ornamental grasses like 'Standing Ovation' and the many other native cultivars that we offer.

The visual beauty and beneficial value of these plants combine to make our gardens and landscapes more resilient and greatly increase the well being of our planet, now and in the future.

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Text and Photos by Founder and Chief Horticulturist David Salman. 

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