We are currently growing 14 different cultivars of little bluestem at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. One of the new forms is called Smoke Signal, with blue and red foliage in the summer and dark red foliage in the fall. Smoke Signal is 34-42 inches in height, and 25 inches wide…a nice size!
Along with Blue Heaven® the 45-55 inch tall Minnesota selection….these two cultivars are both upright, have good fall color and are the best of the 14 at the Arboretum for 2016. Many of the other cultivars have lodged or fallen over, have little or poor foliage color, or show little vigor.
Smoke Signal little bluestem, October 2016
Blue Heaven® October 2016
Ornamental grass sales in the U. S. were up 27% according to the 2014 Census of Agriculture to $158,061,021 from $124, 261, 118 in 2009. In Minnesota gains were more modest, but were still up 12% to $1,956,265 from $1,740, 455 in 2009 (National Agricultural Statistics Service, 2014). Top 10 states with grass sales were:
October 11, 2016 giant miscanthus is in full flower. Note the adult person on the left. No frost yet at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. Oaks in left background show little fall color.
Hercules, right, is very similar to Miscanthus purpurescens, both have great orange fall color. Miscanthus sinensis‘Gracillimus’ back left of Hercules has late red flowers, shown here on October 12, 2016.
Purple or dark red selections of big bluestem seem to be more susceptible to leaf rust, which shows up as orange or rust colored blotches on the leaf blade and sheath, and turns brown with age. Red October, shown below has quite a lot of rust. This is not fatal and is somewhat hidden in the darker foliage of these cultivars. Leaf moisture contributes to rust, so keeping the foliage dry does help.
Apache Rose is a new mid-height switchgrass with soft rose flowers and green foliage, below right. On the left is Blue Fountain switchgrass which is a taller form, with showy white flowers amid the very blue, fairly wide foliage. Both of these look good as 1 year old plants (planted in fall 2015). One of the Blue Fountain has been slow to grow (front plant). There are 4 of each of these plants in the Grass Collection at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.
‘Cape Breeze’ switchgrass is much shorter than most cultivars, full of flowers here at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum on July 26, 2016. It is about 30 inches in height, note the ‘Ruby Ribbons’ label to the left, and the ‘Cape Breeze’ label hidden in the foliage. There is a market and need for mid sized grasses that have good plant form. ‘Cape Breeze’ was discovered on Martha’s Vineyard, MA and is known for being a shorter plant.