If you admire the rustle and sway of ornamental grasses, but don’t have the space for stalks 5 or 6 feet tall, consider blue grama grass (Bouteloua gracilis). The seed heads of this prairie native top out at about 2 feet; the gray-green foliage clump is less than half that. Reddish-purple blooms show up in late summer. Birds love the seeds that follow, which are borne in a crescent shape at the tip of a slender stalk. In the fall, blades turn purple and then soft yellow. Blue grama grass is the state grass of Colorado and New Mexico.
Common name: Blue grama grass, mosquito grass
Botanical name: Bouteloua gracilis
Plant type: Perennial grass
Zones: 3 to 9
Height: About 2 feet
· Sun: Full sun
· Soil: Average to poor; well-drained
· Moisture: Average to dry. Drought-tolerant when established.
· Mulch: None needed.
· Pruning: Cut back last year’s foliage in the spring.
· Fertilizer: None needed.
· By seed or division
Pests and diseases
· Vulnerable to root rots and fungal leaf spots
· Blue grama grass spreads by seeds and rhizomes, but it’s a slow grower and isn’t considered invasive.
· Use it in rock gardens, prairie settings, and meadows, or even as a turf grass.
· Useful for hot, dry spots.
· ‘Hachita’ (pictured) is said to be the most drought-tolerant cultivar of blue grama. It was developed from plants growing near Hachita, New Mexico.
All in the family
· Two cousins of blue grama grass are popular ornamentals: side oats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula) and hairy grama (Bouteloua hirsuta). Both grow 2 to 3 feet tall and prefer dry soil in full sun.
· Poaceae, the grass family, also contains bamboo, rice, corn, wheat, and millet—some of the world’s most important food crops.
Blackfoot Native Plants, 406-880-8809
High Country Gardens, 800-925-9387
(Text by Elizabeth Noll, photo of Bouteloua gracilis ‘Hachita’ courtesy of High Country Gardens, www.highcountrygardens.com)