Culture Report: Schizachyrium scoparium ‘Shining Star’
Little bluestems, along with being North American natives, are a
favorite around our greenhouse, and this one strikes a chord for its
big impact — it’s variegated! ‘Shining Star’ stood out immediately
in our in-house variety field trials. It was one of those unquestionable
selections, and one that helps put some cool into a native grass. It starts
out sneakily subtle in the classic schizachyrium mounding habit, but then
its fine, delicate foliage starts to surprise — and keeps the color coming.
Pretty with its variegated cream and green blades at emergence and
into summer, it becomes truly striking with age and maturity. Cooler
temperatures bring a deepening and blushing of pink and darker pink,
starting at the leaf tip and progressing to stun into autumn. Small, puffy
flowers on upright, variegated stems join the party in mid- to late summer
to keep things even more interesting and textural.
Not familiar with the new schizachyriums? Get to know them for their
ease of production and equally great ornamental value. They’re one of those
underutilized grasses that can do just about anything. Often with the species
schizachyrium, we’d see issues with sprawl or lodging. This can happen with
many grasses as a result of over-fertilization but also as a characteristic of
the specific selection. Making new, improved selections based on an upright
strong habit that is resistant to lodging gets rid of this problem for grower
— and ultimately the end consumer. This cultivar checks that box and gives
us lasting winter interest we didn’t know we were missing.
Added to that, the species did great on the prairie or in masses, where
‘Shining Star’ hits that perfect size range that makes it suitable for
landscapes and containers alike. It works great in borders, as a screen or
as the “thriller” in a great combination planter. Foliage reaches 15 to 18
inches; the plant tops 30 inches in bloom. Spread is about 30 inches as
well, and ‘Shining Star’ stays sturdy, keeping a nice, compact form without
lodging in foul weather. A couple added benefits: deer resistance and
drought tolerance once it’s established.
TRANSPLANT AND GROWING ON
Production-wise, schizachyrium is all about moderation — moderate
fertility, nutrition, and temperature water. The only thing it likes a lot of is
light. Like most schizachyriums, ‘Shining Star’ suits a 1-gallon pot well.
Plant one 38-cell liner per pot. You could go bigger if you have a market for
the increasingly popular robust showstopper pots. If you bump up to a 2-
or even 3-gallon container, you’ll want to increase to two and three plants
per gallon respectively.
Choose a well-draining commercial media. Your optimum pH level is 5.8
to 6.2 — schizachyrium can tolerate an alkaline soil, but prefers a little
acid. Your electrical conductivity (EC) level should be between 0.8 and 1.2
using the 2:1 extraction method. Consider a preventive fungicide drench at
liner transplant. Plants should finish for spring sales in approximately eight
to 10 weeks.
This little bluestem doesn’t love to have its feet wet. Let plants dry
between ample watering. Avoid over-irrigation. Using a well-draining mix
will make this less of an issue.
Maintain greenhouse temperatures at 65 to 75° F during the day. At
night, temperatures should be in the range of 55 to 65° F. Watch humidity
levels. No vernalization necessary.
‘Shining Star’ likes high light — aim for light intensity at 5,000 footcandles
or more. You may want to add supplemental lighting as well,
depending on time of year and greenhouse conditions.
Like many warm-season grasses, schizachyrium likes a moderate fertility
level. Start with mid-range levels of nitrogen in a constant liquid feed at
100 to 150 ppm, and continue through finishing. For periodic fertilization,
go with a nitrogen level of 250 to 300 ppm, and apply as needed. Err on
the side of less fertilizer when in doubt, to avoid stretching and increased
Follow a monthly broad spectrum fungicide control program to keep the
foliage clean. With proper sanitation and prevention protocols in place, pest
and disease should not be an issue. Scout and monitor carefully for the
usual pests. Keep foliage as dry as is practical, and do not over water.
Provide proper spacing and ventilation. This, along with managing water
and fertilizer levels, should be enough to help manage plant height to
maximize shipping efficiency. (Plant growth regulators generally aren’t
needed on schizachyrium.) If you’re going to be overwintering or holding
Schizachyrium for an extended time, you may consider adding a little bit of
bark to the mix to help balance water holding and drainage.