Big Blue Stem (Andropogon Gerardii ‘Dancing Wind’)

Plant: Table of Contents

Big Blue Stem (Andropogon gerardii ‘Dancing Wind’)

Big blue stem (Andropogon gerardii ‘Dancing Wind’) is a beautiful native grass that is celebrated for its ornamental value and low-maintenance nature. As a plant scientist, I am excited to share with you the magic of this grass and delve deep into its cultivation, care, and unique characteristics.

What is Big Blue Stem (Andropogon gerardii ‘Dancing Wind’)?

Big blue stem, scientifically known as Andropogon gerardii ‘Dancing Wind’, is a warm-season perennial grass that belongs to the Poaceae family. This native North American prairie grass is known for its towering height, attractive seed heads, and stunning blue-green foliage. It forms clumps of erect, sturdy stems that sway gracefully in the wind, adding beauty and movement to any landscape.

Key Takeaways

Before we dive into the details of cultivating and caring for big blue stem, here are some key takeaways about this remarkable grass:

  • Scientific Name: Andropogon gerardii ‘Dancing Wind’
  • Type: Warm-season perennial grass
  • Characteristics: Tolerant, ornamental, native
  • Growth Habit: Clump-forming, upright
  • Hardiness Zone: 3 – 9
  • Height: 4 – 8 feet
  • Sunlight: Full sun
  • Soil: Well-drained, adaptable
  • Water: Drought-tolerant once established
  • Uses: Ornamental, erosion control, wildlife habitat
  • Common Pests: Deer, rabbits

Now that we have an overview of big blue stem, let’s explore the specifics of its cultivation and care.


Cultivating big blue stem involves understanding its needs and preferences in terms of water, sunlight, soil, and maintenance. By providing the right cultural conditions, you can ensure the optimal growth and health of this stunning grass.


Big blue stem is well-adapted to dry, hot conditions, and it exhibits excellent drought tolerance once established. However, during the establishment phase (first year after planting), it’s important to provide regular watering to encourage root development. Once the plant has settled in, it will require minimal supplemental irrigation, relying on natural rainfall to meet its water needs.


This grass thrives in full sun, making it an excellent choice for open, sunny landscapes. Ensure that the planting location receives at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight daily to promote robust growth and the development of its characteristic blue-green foliage.


Big blue stem is a low-maintenance grass that typically does not require regular fertilization. In fertile soils, it can thrive without the need for additional nutrients. However, if you observe signs of nutrient deficiency or poor growth, a balanced slow-release fertilizer applied in spring can help support the plant’s vigor.


This grass is adaptable to a wide range of soil types, including clay, loam, and sandy soils, as long as they are well-drained. It is important to avoid consistently wet or waterlogged soil, as this can lead to root rot and other issues. Before planting, perform a soil test to assess the soil’s pH and nutrient levels, and make amendments as necessary to create an optimal growing environment.


One of the appealing aspects of big blue stem is its minimal pruning requirements. In late winter or early spring, before the new growth emerges, you can cut back the previous year’s growth to a height of 4 to 6 inches above ground level. This helps rejuvenate the plant and encourages fresh, healthy growth in the coming season.


Big blue stem can be propagated through both seeds and division. Here are the methods for each approach:

  • Seeds: Collect seeds from mature seed heads in the fall and sow them directly in the planting area. Alternatively, you can mimic natural conditions by cold-stratifying the seeds in the refrigerator for 4 to 6 weeks before sowing in the spring.

  • Division: In early spring, divide established clumps of big blue stem, ensuring that each division has a healthy portion of roots and shoots. Replant the divisions at the desired locations, keeping the soil consistently moist during the establishment phase.

Container Popularity

Although big blue stem is primarily grown in garden beds and naturalistic landscapes, it can also thrive in containers with the right care. Its striking appearance and adaptability make it an attractive addition to container gardens, providing height and visual interest.

Container Uses

  • Patio Gardens: Big blue stem can be featured in large containers on patios and balconies, adding a touch of natural beauty to outdoor living spaces.

  • Ornamental Displays: Pairing big blue stem with complementary flowering plants in containers creates eye-catching ornamental displays.

  • Seasonal Accents: Utilize containers of big blue stem to enhance the visual appeal of outdoor seasonal decorations, such as fall and winter displays.

Now that we have covered the cultural aspects of big blue stem’s cultivation, let’s turn our attention to its popularity, diseases, pests, and the botanist’s tips for successful growth.


Big blue stem, with its stunning appearance and ecological benefits, has gained popularity among gardeners, landscapers, and conservation enthusiasts. It is valued for its versatility, low maintenance requirements, and ability to support diverse wildlife.

Ecological Benefits

  • Wildlife Habitat: The dense clumps of big blue stem provide valuable cover and nesting sites for birds and small animals, contributing to the biodiversity of natural areas and gardens.

  • Erosion Control: The extensive root system of big blue stem helps stabilize soil, making it effective for controlling erosion on slopes and embankments.

  • Pollinator Support: The airy inflorescences of big blue stem attract a variety of pollinators, including bees and butterflies, offering essential forage and contributing to ecosystem health.

Landscaping Uses

  • Prairie Gardens: Big blue stem is a staple plant in naturalistic prairie gardens, where it adds an authentic and dynamic element to the landscape.

  • Rain Gardens: Due to its ability to withstand occasional flooding and drought, big blue stem is a valuable addition to rain gardens designed to manage stormwater.

  • Restoration Projects: Conservation organizations and land managers often include big blue stem in habitat restoration efforts, aiming to recreate or enhance native prairie ecosystems.

Common Diseases

Big blue stem is relatively resistant to diseases, especially when grown in favorable environmental conditions. However, it can occasionally encounter issues that warrant attention and proper management. Here are some common diseases that may affect big blue stem:

Fungal Diseases

  • Rust: The development of rust-colored spots on the foliage can indicate a fungal infection. Adequate air circulation and avoiding overhead watering can help prevent the spread of rust.

  • Anthracnose: This fungal disease can cause dark lesions on the leaves and stems. Pruning out affected plant parts and promoting good sanitation practices can aid in disease control.

Bacterial Diseases

  • Bacterial Blight: Symptoms of bacterial blight include water-soaked lesions on the leaves and stems. Maintaining proper plant spacing and minimizing excess moisture can reduce the risk of bacterial blight.

Disease Diagnosis

Detecting and identifying diseases in big blue stem is essential for implementing effective disease management strategies. Keep an eye out for the following signs that may indicate a disease issue:

  • Leaf Spots: Irregular or circular spots of discoloration on the foliage
  • Lesions: Any abnormal or discolored areas on the stems and leaves
  • Wilting: Sudden or persistent wilting of plant parts not related to drought or heat stress

When observing these symptoms, it’s important to accurately diagnose the underlying cause, which may involve consulting with a plant pathologist or local extension services for expert guidance.

Common Pests

While big blue stem is generally resistant to most pest pressures, it can occasionally encounter unwanted visitors that may require management. Here are some common pests that may affect this grass:


In areas with deer populations, it is not uncommon for big blue stem to be browsed or grazed. Implementing deer-resistant planting strategies and deterrent methods can help protect the grass from excessive deer damage.


Rabbits may nibble on the tender foliage of big blue stem, particularly in smaller gardens or open landscapes. Using physical barriers or repellents can help prevent rabbit feeding damage.


During periods of high grasshopper activity, this grass may be subject to feeding damage from these voracious insects. Monitoring populations and applying targeted control measures can help minimize their impact.

Botanist’s Tips

To ensure the successful cultivation and care of big blue stem, it is beneficial to follow these botanist’s tips for optimal growth and health:

  • Site Selection: Choose a sunny, well-drained location for planting big blue stem to encourage vigorous growth.

  • Plant Spacing: Provide ample spacing between individual plants, especially in large landscape plantings, to allow for proper air circulation and aesthetic development.

  • Seasonal Maintenance: Conduct regular inspections and maintenance checks throughout the seasons to monitor for signs of diseases, pests, or environmental stress.

  • Naturalization: When establishing big blue stem in naturalized settings, allow it to develop and spread naturally to create harmonious plant communities.

By implementing these botanist’s tips, you can support the long-term vitality and beauty of big blue stem in your landscape.

Fun Facts

Let’s explore some fascinating and fun facts about big blue stem that showcase its unique characteristics and ecological significance:

  • Historical Significance: Big blue stem was one of the dominant grass species in the historic tallgrass prairies of North America, playing a crucial role in these diverse ecosystems.

  • Root System: The extensive root system of big blue stem can extend up to 10 feet or more into the soil, providing excellent soil stabilization and drought resilience.

  • Cultural Importance: Big blue stem is the official state grass of Illinois, where it symbolizes the state’s natural heritage and prairie legacy.

  • Winter Interest: The seed heads of big blue stem persist through the winter, adding visual interest and providing food for overwintering wildlife.

Now that we have explored the enchanting world of big blue stem, it’s time to provide valuable external resources for further learning, inspiration, and practical guidance.

Links to External Resources

For more comprehensive information on big blue stem (Andropogon gerardii ‘Dancing Wind’) and related topics, I recommend exploring the following external resources:

  1. The Tallgrass Prairie Center – Big Bluestem
  2. Native Plant Trust – Andropogon gerardii
  3. University of Florida IFAS Extension – Ornamental Grasses for Florida Landscapes
  4. The Xerces Society – Gardening with Native Plants
  5. Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center – Landscaping with Native Plants

These resources provide a wealth of knowledge on native grasses, sustainable landscaping, and ecological gardening practices, empowering you to further explore and engage with the captivating world of ornamental grasses and native plant communities.

In conclusion, big blue stem (Andropogon gerardii ‘Dancing Wind’) is a remarkable grass species that captivates with its ornamental beauty, ecological contributions, and cultural significance. By incorporating this native grass into your landscape, you can celebrate its resilience, splendor, and role in supporting wildlife and prairie ecosystems. With a deep understanding of its cultivation, care, and ecological value, big blue stem stands as a beacon of natural grace and resilience in gardens, wildscapes, and conservation projects.

I hope this comprehensive guide has inspired you to embrace the enchanting world of big blue stem and explore the possibilities of growing native grasses in your own landscape. As a plant scientist, it is my pleasure to share the wonders of nature and the beauty of ornamental plants with fellow enthusiasts and conservation advocates.

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Peter Taylors

Expert botanist who loves plants. His expertise spans taxonomy, plant ecology, and ethnobotany. An advocate for plant conservation, he mentors and educates future botanists, leaving a lasting impact on the field.