Blue and gold aren’t just colors on a Notre Dame football jersey. They describe the fall garment of blue oat grass, a sedate beauty with thin, narrow, blue-gray leaves that grow in a rounded tuft. Imagine a mound of blue fescue, but twice as big, with tall, nodding spikelets that bloom in early summer. Blue oat grass is a well-behaved clump-forming grass, so it won’t take over your flowerbed, and it tolerates heat and drought once established. Gold comes into play in autumn, when the flower spikes mature to the color of wheat.
Common name: Blue oat grass
Botanical name: Helictotrichon sempervirens
Plant type: Perennial grass
Zones: 4 to 9
Height: 3 to 4 feet (in flower)
• Sun: Full sun
• Soil: Average, well-drained
• Moisture: Average to dry
• Mulch: None needed.
• Pruning: Cut back last year’s foliage in early spring.
• Fertilizer: None needed.
• By seed or division
Pests and diseases
• Vulnerable to rust
• Blue oat grass is a clump-forming grass that generally stays put. Under ideal conditions, it may spread by seed, but it doesn’t spread by rhizome and it’s not considered aggressive.
• Use blue oat grass in rock gardens or borders, as a ground cover or a specimen plant.
• The bluish foliage can be used as a background for spring bulbs, or as a companion for plants with blue, silver, or purple. It’s also good in the fall garden, where the mature flower plumes add a touch of gold.
All in the family
• Blue fescue (Festuca glauca) is a smaller lookalike of blue oat grass. This member of the grass family does well under similar conditions—dryish soil in full sun—but stays less than half the size of blue oat grass.
• Poaceae, the grass family, also contains bamboo, rice, corn, wheat, and millet—some of the world’s most important food crops.
Where to buy
• Bluestone Perennials, Madison, OH, 800-852-5243, www.bluestoneperennials.com
• High Country Gardens, Santa Fe, NM, 800-925-9387, www.highcountrygardens.com
• Joy Creek Gardens, Scappoose, OR, 503-543-7474, www.joycreek.com
(Text by Elizabeth Noll, photo of Helictotrichon sempervirens courtesy of Walters Gardens Inc.)