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Blue Heaven

The University of Minnesota recently released a new selection of little bluestem called Blue Heaven.

Heaven in your garden?

University of Minnesota releases new ornamental grass

By Pauline Oo

April 13, 2007

In 1995, horticulturist Mary Meyer planted a selection of seeds from Benton County and 30 other Minnesota locations on the University of Minnesota's Twin Cities campus in St. Paul. Three years later, some superior individual plants were planted for further evaluation, and by 2004, one selection stood out. Blue Heaven, a new variety of little bluestem grass, is hitting garden centers this spring.

"I watched it [grow] in many sites and locations over 10 years," says Meyer, a horticulturist with the University of Minnesota Extension and a professor in the U's Department of Horticultural Science. "[Blue Heaven's] overall form, color and plant appearance is superior."

Ornamental grasses have been part of European and Asian gardens for centuries, but only in recent years have they become popular in the United States--largely because of their varied forms, colors and textures. Bluestem grasses, in particular, are one of the main group of native grasses on the Great Plains.

Meyer's prized Blue Heaven is taller and more upright than the typical little bluestem--a grass known for its tolerance for dry soil and full sun. It stands at 40 to 48 inches tall and doesn't fall down like some grasses tend to do, no matter the season.

Ornamental grasses at the University of Minnesota

The U's Landscape Arboretum has one of the largest grass collections in the United States--more than 200 different ornamental and native species. Plants are evaluated for winter survival, flowering time, and self-seeding. A six-year (1987-1993) winter hardiness study of 165 ornamental grasses located at the Arboretum found 85 that can be grown successfully in Minnesota or USDA Zone 4a. Minimum annual temperatures during the study ranged from -20? to -30? F. These temperatures are typical of many states, ranging from Maine to Montana.

Blue Heaven's summer foliage is light blue, with flower stems appearing in late July and early August. By late August the plant begins to turn a dark burgundy and small, fluffy white flowers mushroom along its stems. Blue Heaven will slowly turn to tan and remain upright during the winter months.

With parents from central Minnesota (Benton County), where the average annual minimum winter temperatures are between -30 to -35 degrees Farenheit (USDA Hardiness Zone 3b), it's no wonder that Blue Heaven has winter hardy genes. "Sandy soil is a good site for the little bluestem, although it will tolerate heavy clay soil," says Meyer. "Full sun is ideal, and fertilizer is not recommended. Water plants well the first month after planting, then allow them to dry out between waterings. After the first year, you should not need to water Blue Heaven."

Now, how can anyone go wrong with a plant like that.

To learn more about Blue Heaven, listen to Mary Meyer on University of Minnesota Moment. If you're interested in buying or planting Blue Heaven, do call your favorite garden center ahead to check that it's carrying it.