Andropogon gerardii 'Blackhawks'

big bluestem cultivar
Scientific Synonyms:
Andropogon gerardii ‘Blackhawks’ PP27949
Also known as:
Blackhawks big bluestem
Light Requirements
sun, part-sun
Soil Moisture
dry, moist
Soil Description
average, poor, clay, sand, gravel/rock
Height
4'-5'
Bloom Time
August, September
Bloom Color
crimson
Hardiness Zone
3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
Additional Tags
attracts birds, attracts butterflies, clumping, cut flowers, deer resistant, drought tolerant, fall interest, ornamental foliage
Description

"The native good looks and adaptability of Big Bluestem get an intense infusion of color with ‘Blackhawks’. Dark green foliage emerges early in the season. By mid- to late summer, leaf tips and nodes turn purple, and burgundy red inflorescences emerge. As nights cool, the entire plant intensifies to a dark, rich purple that’s almost black.

Blackhawks Big Bluestem is shorter and more upright than the species. Weave it through perennial plantings for brilliant contrasts and striking combinations. Double down on color in a meadow or prairie planting. Give it star status in a combo for a fresh take on mixed containers. Will tolerate a range of soil conditions but does best in well-drained soils in full sun. We expect it to offer similar benefits for birds, butterflies, and native bees as the species. Another Big Bluestem bonus? It’s not attractive to deer.

Introduced by Intrinsic Perennial Gardens in Hebron, IL, ‘Blackhawks’ is a seedling of A. gerardii ‘Red October’. Propagation strictly prohibited" -- Hoffman Nursery

Cultivation
Blackhawks big bluestem is easy to grow and is not particular about soil type, though if it is too rich and moist, it will encourage rapid growth and a weaker plant susceptible to being toppled over. Its deep root system can be slow to develop, but once established, this grass is tolerant of all but the most severe dry-spells. Use it in groups for a border planting or screen, or individually as a tall accent plant As a warm season grass, it remains compact until mid-summer, and can complement tall growing blooming perennials without competing with them. It is best grown in full sun, but can tolerate part-sun when grown in warmer climates. Very cold hardy and heat tolerant.
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SHIPPING INFO:

Shipping is free on all plants orders!

Your plants will ship using each grower’s preferred method: FedEx Ground, UPS Ground, or Spee-Dee Ground (in select midwestern states).

Our growers ship orders Monday through Wednesday. The farther you plants need to travel, the earlier in the week they will ship. The goal is to have all plants delivered by the end of the week.

Shipping plugs:

Plugs are shipped in full flats, sometimes also referred to as trays. Multiple flats can be shipped in a single box. The flats are wrapped in netting or craft paper to secure the plants, and spacers are used between flats to keep the plants from being crushed.

When you unpack your plugs, the plants will have been somewhat flattened by the netting or craft paper. They will straighten out within a couple of days. You may also gently “fluff” them a bit to speed up the process. In some cases, your plants might have been cut back before packing, if the grower deemed them to have become too tall for safe packaging. Don’t worry, though, these guys know what they’re doing and would not compromise the health of the plants. They’ll fill back in in no time.

After receiving your plants’ journey in a dark box, it will be important to acclimate them to sunlight again. Over a couple of days, you should gradually move them into their preferred light exposure, and water them as per their requirement.

Although we always recommend putting your plants in the ground as soon as possible, they can stay healthy in the flats for a considerable amount of time. The key is to respect their growing requirements: if the species requires full sun, do not store them in the shade. If it is best adapted to dry soil, do not over-water.

PLANTING INFO:

Planting plugs:

We consider plugs ready to ship when the plants’ roots have filled the entire liner cell and the plants can easily be pulled out. In some cases you will have to go about it gently, wiggling the plant by the crown, and possibly squeezing the bottom of the liner to compress the growing medium and release the roots. Other times, the plants will appear to be root bound. They are not in the traditional sense. The plants are healthy but they have used up all the growing medium available to them. Plugs are at an aggressive stage of growth. As soon as planted the roots will immediately expand into your native soil. They establish faster than plants in larger containers, because they don’t have the luxury of a lot of growing media that can inhibit the roots from venturing outside of their comfort zone.

We are not going to address area preparation because the process can be complex and is always site-specific. However, as a rule, we recommend disturbing the soil as little as possible, and we do not recommend amending the soil. If you chose the right plant for the right conditions they will thrive. Any disturbance and amendments will only encourage weeds to emerge that never had a chance to do so before.

Installing plugs cannot be easier: dig a hole large enough for the roots to fit snugly inside, then water them in to eliminate air gaps. We recommend using a soil knife, sometimes referred to as hori hori, or a drill-adapted auger if it’s a large installation. If you use an auger, you will need a powerful drill. Depending on the size of the project and the type of soil, the process can be beyond what an average drill will bear. Mulching is recommended after installation to help keep weeds down while the plants establish. Be sure to keep it away from the crown of the plants. For large projects, you may want to mulch the area before planting, rather than tiptoeing through it after the fact. As a side note: if you are installing plugs in the fall, you might want to plant them so that the crown is about ¾” lower than the surrounding soil. The winter’s freeze/thaw cycles can push plugs out if the roots did not have enough time to establish and anchor them in.

 

Starting and planting seed:

Direct sowing:

For most forbs - also referenced as flowering perennials - the best time to sow is during fall and winter to expose seeds to the natural cycles of alternating cold, moist and warmer weather that they have evolved to require in order to germinate. There are of course some exceptions, and some species will germinate under warm conditions regardless of having first been exposed to a cold period. Most grasses fall under this category. There are also species that will require a couple of years of cycling temperatures in order to germinate, so it is important to understand each species’ requirements and manage one’s expectations accordingly.

Soil preparation:

Like any type of garden, a well-prepared soil makes the difference. Remove any large debris. Kill and remove any grass sod. Till and rake the soil until an even surface is achieved. Starting from seed is the most cost effective way to start your native planting; however, it requires time and patience. Most species we carry are perennials, meaning they will come back each spring for many years. As perennials, the plants will grow slowly and may take several years to mature and flower.

 

Planting seeds:

Planting these seeds is very similar to planting other types of seeds: small seeds are planted very shallow and large seeds are planted deeper. A good rule of thumb is to plant the seed the same depth as the seed’s thickness. For example, a 1/16” thick seed is planted 1/16” deep. A light straw mulch is recommended for late fall seedings. There are also some seeds that, either due to their small size or light requirements to germinate, should only be surface sown and kept clear of any coverings.

Sowing seed can also be a good way to add diversity to an existing planting. Should that be your application, soil preparation is not necessary because you will be mimicking the process by which plants naturally spread in established environments. To improve germination rates, winter sowing is very effective especially right before a snow event. The snow will hide the seeds from foraging birds and mammals, provide the steady moisture needed to trigger germination, and will help work the seeds down to the soil as it melts.

Once plants are established they will require minimal maintenance. Remove any large weeds, especially if they flower and set seed. If weeds become a problem in seedings you can mow during the first two years to a height of 10-12 inches. This will benefit your perennial plants by providing more sunshine.

 

Starting your seeds indoors:

If you want to have more control over the germination process and planting - or if you want to start your seed in spring or summer before they are exposed to freeze/thaw cycles - you will want to mimic natural conditions by using a process known as cold/moist stratification:

There are several methods that can be used to stratify seed. For large quantities, the recommended method is to mix the seed into a moist, sterile medium such as sand, perlite, vermiculite, or a combination of the 3, and then refrigerate as required. For smaller quantities, spreading the seeds evenly between moist sheets of paper towels and refrigerating them in a resealable plastic bag will do just fine. You should check regularly to verify that the medium, or paper towels, has not dried out. You also need to check for any signs of germination that might occur before the recommended stratification period has elapsed. Should that occur, or if you have met the recommended stratification period, you should remove the seeds and plant them immediately in your preferred potting medium. Use the previously mentioned guidelines for determining seed depth.

Some seeds have especially hard protective coatings. In nature, those get broken down by soil abrasion or by passing through an animal or bird’s digestive tract. In addition to stratification, those seeds will require scarification to improve germination rates. Several methods can be used to achieve this. Gently rubbing the seeds between two sheets of fine sandpaper is one of them. Another method is to mimic exposure to digestive enzymes and to soak the seeds for 24 hours in some diluted tea.

If you do start your seed indoors, we recommend timing the process so that germination will occur after the last chance of frost. That way you can move your seedlings outside without having to manage appropriate indoor light exposures.