Big Blue Stem (Andropogon Gerardii ‘Red October’)

Plant: Table of Contents

Big Blue Stem (Andropogon gerardii ‘Red October’)

Big blue stem, scientifically known as Andropogon gerardii ‘Red October’, is a stunning perennial grass species native to the North American prairies. It is renowned for its striking red-tinted foliage and robust stature, making it a popular choice for landscaping and garden design. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the culture, uses, maintenance, and interesting facts about big blue stem, providing valuable insights for plant enthusiasts and gardeners.

What is Big Blue Stem?

Big blue stem, also known as turkey foot, is a warm-season, clump-forming grass that belongs to the family Poaceae. This native grass species is characterized by its tall, erect stems, which can reach heights of up to 6-8 feet. The name “big blue stem” refers to the bluish-green color of its stems, particularly during the early growth stages. As the plant matures, the foliage transforms into a vibrant red hue, particularly in the autumn months, lending a spectacular visual appeal to landscapes and gardens.

Key Takeaways – Big Blue Stem (Andropogon gerardii ‘Red October’)

Before delving into the specific aspects of big blue stem, let’s highlight the key takeaways that make this ornamental grass a notable addition to gardens and landscapes:

  1. Red-Tinted Foliage: The ‘Red October’ cultivar of Andropogon gerardii is distinguished by its captivating red foliage, offering an eye-catching display throughout the growing season, especially in the fall.

  2. Native Grass Species: As a native prairie grass, big blue stem contributes to ecological sustainability and biodiversity in the landscape, supporting local wildlife and promoting habitat preservation.

  3. Ornamental Value: Big blue stem serves as an ornamental grass for landscaping, adding texture, color, and architectural interest to garden designs and naturalizing areas.

  4. Low-Maintenance Landscaping Option: With its resilience and adaptability, Andropogon gerardii offers a low-maintenance landscaping solution, requiring minimal intervention once established.

  5. Drought-Tolerant: Big blue stem exhibits excellent drought tolerance, making it a resilient choice for gardens in arid or semi-arid regions, where water conservation is essential.

Now that we have outlined the key attributes of big blue stem, let’s delve into the specific cultural requirements, uses, maintenance practices, and interesting facts about this exceptional plant.


To cultivate big blue stem successfully and harness its ornamental potential, it is crucial to understand its cultural preferences, including its requirements for water, sunlight, soil, and fertilizer.


Big blue stem is renowned for its adaptability to a wide range of moisture conditions, making it suitable for both dry and moderately moist soils. Once established, it exhibits remarkable drought tolerance and can thrive in low-water landscaping settings. During the initial establishment phase, adequate watering is essential to promote root development and ensure the plant’s vigor. However, it is important to avoid waterlogged conditions, as excessive moisture can lead to root rot and other detrimental consequences.


As a warm-season grass, big blue stem thrives in full sun exposure, benefitting from at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight per day. Adequate sunlight is vital for promoting robust growth, enhancing the development of the characteristic red foliage, and ensuring the plant’s overall health and vitality. Therefore, when selecting a planting site for Andropogon gerardii, it is imperative to prioritize locations that receive ample sunlight to optimize its ornamental appeal and resilience.


Big blue stem demonstrates remarkable adaptability to different soil types, ranging from clay and loam to sandy soils. It flourishes in well-drained soil conditions, which are essential for preventing waterlogging and potential root issues. While it can tolerate various soil pH levels, a neutral to slightly acidic pH range of 6.0-7.5 is considered ideal for supporting optimal nutrient uptake and overall growth. Prior to planting, amending the soil with organic matter can enhance its structure, fertility, and moisture retention capacity, contributing to the long-term success of big blue stem in the landscape.


Given its natural resilience and self-sufficiency, big blue stem typically does not require extensive fertilization once established in the landscape. However, during the initial planting stage, incorporating a balanced, slow-release fertilizer into the soil can provide a nutrient boost to support the plant’s early growth and establishment. It is advisable to follow soil test recommendations to determine the specific nutrient requirements based on the existing soil composition and structure. Subsequently, minimal to no additional fertilization is usually necessary, as excessive nutrient inputs can potentially disrupt the plant’s natural balance and performance.


Big blue stem offers a myriad of practical and aesthetic uses within the context of landscaping and ecological restoration, reflecting its diverse contributions to garden designs and environmental sustainability.

Landscape Ornamentation

One of the primary uses of big blue stem lies in its ornamental value as a versatile landscaping element. Its tall, upright growth habit and captivating red-tinted foliage make it an ideal candidate for adding vertical interest, texture, and seasonal color contrast to both formal and naturalistic garden designs. Whether utilized as a focal point within the landscape or integrated into mixed borders and perennial plantings, this native grass species enhances the visual appeal of outdoor spaces while requiring minimal maintenance and attention.

Habitat Creation

As a native prairie grass species, big blue stem plays a crucial role in habitat creation, providing essential resources for wildlife, including birds, insects, and small mammals. Its dense clumps and robust structure offer shelter, nesting sites, and protective cover for various animal species, contributing to the enhancement of biodiversity and ecological balance within the landscape. By incorporating big blue stem into wildlife-friendly garden designs and habitat restoration initiatives, individuals can actively support the conservation of native plant communities and the preservation of invaluable ecosystems.

Erosion Control

The extensive root system and vigorous growth habit of Andropogon gerardii make it an effective ally in erosion control and soil stabilization efforts. When planted in sloped areas, along waterways, or in regions susceptible to erosion, big blue stem helps mitigate soil loss, reduce runoff, and promote the establishment of stable, healthy soil conditions. Its ability to anchor the soil and prevent erosion not only safeguards the integrity of landscapes but also fosters the development of thriving plant communities, contributing to the overall resilience and sustainability of the environment.


Big blue stem, characterized by its self-supporting, upright growth and enduring nature, generally does not require extensive pruning or maintenance. However, to promote its aesthetic appeal and long-term health, periodic pruning and grooming can be beneficial, particularly during the late winter or early spring months.

Seasonal Pruning

During the late winter or early spring, prior to the onset of new growth, it is recommended to remove any dead or senescent foliage from the previous growing season. This rejuvenation pruning serves to eliminate old, withered stems and promote the emergence of fresh, vibrant foliage, ensuring an attractive and vigorous appearance for the upcoming growing season. Additionally, the removal of accumulated debris and thatch from the base of the plant helps enhance air circulation and reduces the risk of disease or pest infestations.

Maintaining Height and Form

While big blue stem is prized for its towering stature and architectural presence, controlling its height and form may be desirable in certain landscaping settings. In such cases, selective pruning of taller stems to a desired height can help manage the overall size and visual impact of the plant, aligning with specific design preferences and space constraints. Nonetheless, it is important to exercise caution and restraint when pruning, aiming to preserve the plant’s natural grace and appeal while achieving the desired aesthetic objectives.


Big blue stem can be propagated through both vegetative methods, such as division and transplanting, and seed-based approaches, facilitating its expansion and utilization in diverse landscape contexts.

Division and Transplanting

Dividing established clumps of big blue stem offers a straightforward and effective means of multiplying the plant and establishing new specimens in desired locations. This propagation method is typically performed during the early spring, as the plant initiates new growth and begins to emerge from dormancy. By carefully digging up the clump, dividing it into smaller sections, and transplanting the divisions into prepared bed locations, growers can propagate the grass while ensuring optimal acclimatization and establishment.

Seed Propagation

While division remains a reliable propagation technique, seed-based propagation represents another viable option for expanding the presence of big blue stem within landscapes and naturalizing areas. Harvesting mature seeds from the plant and sowing them in well-prepared seedbeds during the autumn or early spring enables the cultivation of new plants, yielding genetic diversity and contributing to the ongoing conservation and utilization of this native grass species. Ensuring proper soil moisture and favorable temperature conditions during the germination and establishment phases is crucial for optimizing the success of seed propagation efforts.

Container Popularity

Recognizing its ornamental value, adaptability, and low-maintenance nature, big blue stem has gained popularity as a container plant, offering a unique and dynamic addition to outdoor and indoor settings.

Container Gardening

In container gardening and landscape design, big blue stem serves as an excellent choice for individuals seeking to incorporate height, texture, and the distinctive visual appeal of native prairie grasses into their outdoor environments. When grown in large, well-drained containers, the plant thrives as a striking focal point, patio accent, or vertical element, adding an element of natural beauty and seasonal interest to urban and suburban landscapes. Its resilience and ability to thrive in confined spaces make it well-suited for balconies, terraces, and other container gardening settings, enriching the aesthetic and ecological value of these spaces.

Common Diseases

While big blue stem is generally resistant to many diseases and pests, it may occasionally encounter certain conditions that can impact its vitality and appearance. Understanding the potential diseases and adopting proactive management strategies is crucial for maintaining the health and vigor of Andropogon gerardii in the landscape.

Foliar Diseases

Certain foliar diseases, such as leaf spot and rust, can affect the foliage of big blue stem under conditions of high humidity and poor air circulation. Leaf spot manifests as small, dark lesions on the leaves, potentially leading to defoliation and reduced vigor. Rust appears as orange to reddish-brown pustules on the foliage, indicating fungal infection and necessitating timely intervention to prevent spread and mitigate damage.

Integrated Disease Management

To manage foliar diseases and maintain the wellness of big blue stem, adopting integrated disease management practices is essential. This approach involves promoting optimal cultural conditions, such as adequate spacing between plants, sufficient airflow, and proper irrigation practices, to minimize the risk of disease development. Additionally, selecting disease-resistant cultivars and promptly removing and disposing of affected plant material can help limit the proliferation and impact of foliar diseases, safeguarding the overall performance and visual appeal of the grass.

Disease Diagnosis

When encountering potential disease issues with big blue stem, accurate diagnosis is critical for implementing targeted and effective management measures. Consulting with experienced horticulturists, plant pathologists, or local extension services can facilitate the identification of specific diseases and the development of tailored strategies to address them. Through diligent monitoring, timely intervention, and proactive cultural practices, growers can uphold the resilience and longevity of big blue stem in the landscape, enabling it to thrive and fulfill its ornamental and ecological potential.

Common Pests

In addition to potential foliar diseases, big blue stem may face occasional pressure from certain insect pests that can impact its growth and appearance. Recognizing the key pests and adopting appropriate control measures is pivotal for preserving the plant’s integrity and performance.

Insect Pests

Aphids, grasshoppers, and occasional mite species represent common insect pests that may target big blue stem, feeding on the foliage and potentially causing aesthetic damage or stress to the plant. Aphids, in particular, can congregate on the stems and leaves, excreting honeydew and promoting the development of sooty mold, which can mar the plant’s overall appearance. Grasshoppers and mites may consume the foliage, leading to defoliation and reduced photosynthetic capacity in severe infestations.

Pest Management

Integrated pest management practices, encompassing cultural, mechanical, and biological control methods, serve as effective approaches for managing insect pests and safeguarding the health of big blue stem. Implementing measures such as regular inspection, targeted pruning to remove pest populations, and the introduction of natural predators of the pests can help control infestations without resorting to chemical interventions. Additionally, fostering a diverse and balanced ecosystem within the landscape promotes the presence of beneficial insects and reduces the susceptibility of plants to pest-related challenges, fostering the long-term well-being of big blue stem and surrounding plantings.

Botanist’s Tips

As a botanist specializing in native grass species and landscape ecology, I offer the following insightful tips and recommendations for harnessing the full potential of big blue stem within gardens and natural environments:

Native Grass Integration

Incorporating big blue stem into garden designs and naturalistic landscapes presents an opportunity to celebrate the unique characteristics and ecological value of native grass species. By intermingling it with complementary native plants and wildflowers, such as coneflowers, milkweeds, and prairie clovers, growers can establish vibrant, resilient plant communities that attract pollinators, support wildlife, and contribute to the restoration of native habitats.

Seasonal Interest Planning

Embracing the seasonal transitions and evolving colors of big blue stem offers a creative avenue for designing landscapes with enduring aesthetic appeal. Strategically situating the grass within the landscape to capitalize on the nuances of its foliage color changes throughout the year enhances the visual dynamism of the outdoor environment, creating compelling focal points, borders, and naturalizing zones that captivate and inspire.

Sustainable Landscaping

By embracing the attributes of big blue stem as a low-maintenance, drought-tolerant, and wildlife-supporting grass species, individuals can participate in the creation of sustainable, resilient landscapes that align with eco-friendly principles. Emphasizing native grasses, such as Andropogon gerardii, in landscaping initiatives promotes water conservation, biodiversity, and ecological harmony, reflecting a conscientious and forward-thinking approach to outdoor space design and stewardship.

Ecological Awarenes

Recognizing the integral role of big blue stem in supporting pollinators and wildlife underscores the significance of native grasses in fostering ecological resilience and species diversity. By embracing a diverse array of native plants, including grasses, wildflowers, shrubs, and trees, growers can contribute to the preservation of regional biodiversity, creating multifaceted habitats and living landscapes that benefit local wildlife and enhance the natural beauty of the surroundings.

Fun Facts

Uncover fascinating insights about big blue stem that highlight its unique attributes and ecological significance:

  1. Historical Significance: Big blue stem played a prominent role in the prairie ecosystems of North America, serving as a staple forage grass for bison and other native wildlife, and sustaining indigenous communities with its nutritional and utilitarian value.

  2. Prairie Restoration Partner: In the context of prairie restoration and conservation efforts, big blue stem stands as a vital ally, contributing to the reestablishment of diverse, resilient native plant communities and the preservation of endangered ecosystems.

  3. Root System Resilience: The deep-reaching, robust root system of big blue stem, extending several feet into the soil, plays a central role in soil stabilization, erosion control, and the efficient uptake of water and nutrients.

  4. Fire-Adapted Ecology: A distinctive trait of big blue stem is its adaptation to fire, with its growth habit allowing it to withstand and recover from controlled burns, a natural environmental phenomenon that historically shaped prairie landscapes.

  5. Cultural and Ornamental Significance: Inspired by its natural beauty and ecological importance, artists, landscapers, and nature enthusiasts have drawn inspiration from the visual allure of big blue stem, perpetuating its prominence in art, literature, and outdoor environments.

By uncovering these captivating fun facts, we gain a deeper appreciation for the multifaceted contributions of big blue stem to ecological, cultural, and aesthetic realms, cementing its status as a botanical treasure worthy of admiration and conservation efforts.

Links to External Resources

For further exploration and comprehensive insights into big blue stem (Andropogon gerardii ‘Red October’), the following external resources provide valuable information and guidance:

  1. Native Plants for Wildlife Habitat and Conservation Landscaping: Explore the ecological relevance of native plants, including big blue stem, in creating sustainable, wildlife-supporting landscapes.

  2. The Tallgrass Prairie: An Introduction: Delve into the significance of tallgrass prairies and the integral role of big blue stem in their ecological integrity and restoration.

  3. Ornamental Grasses: Selection, Establishment, and Maintenance: Gain practical insights into the cultivation and management of ornamental grasses, including Andropogon gerardii, for landscape enhancement and ornamental value.

  4. Plant Propagation by Division: Learn the art and science of plant propagation by division, a valuable technique applicable to propagating big blue stem in garden settings.

  5. Managing Ornamental Grasses in the Landscape: Access practical guidance on caring for ornamental grasses, including maintenance and cultural practices tailored to big blue stem and similar species.

As the journey of discovery and appreciation for big blue stem continues, these external resources serve as illuminating portals into the realm of native grasses, ecological stewardship, and the enchanting world of ornamental plants, enriching our understanding and connection with these botanical wonders.

In conclusion, big blue stem (Andropogon gerardii ‘Red October’) stands as a testament to the enduring beauty, ecological significance, and artistic inspiration embodied by native grass species. With its captivating red-tinted foliage, sustainable landscaping potential, and pivotal role in supporting wildlife and ecological balance, this native prairie grass remains a distinguished symbol of resilience, natural beauty, and the timeless allure of the North American prairies. As we embrace the legacy and multifaceted contributions of big blue stem, we cultivate a deeper reverence for its place in the tapestry of botanical wonders and environmental stewardship, transcending mere admiration to foster a harmonious coexistence with the living landscapes we call home.

As a plant scientist, I hope this comprehensive guide provides an insightful and enriching exploration of big blue stem (Andropogon gerardii ‘Red October’), inspiring a deeper appreciation for its ecological relevance, ornamental value, and cultural significance within the realm of native plants and sustainable landscapes. Whether adorning a garden border, promoting biodiversity, or contributing to the preservation of native habitats, the enduring allure of big blue stem speaks to its timeless legacy as a botanical treasure worthy of admiration and conservation efforts.

(Note: The content presented in this blog post is for informational purposes only and does not substitute professional horticultural or botanical advice. For specific plant-related inquiries, consulting with local horticulturists, botanists, or cooperative extension services is recommended.)

Picture of Peter Taylors

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.