Panicum virgatum ‘Northwind’

switchgrass Interesting Notes

The Perennial Plant Association’s 2014 Perennial Plant of the Year™
From Roy Diblik of Northwind Perennial Farm, comes another fabulously different selection of our native switchgrass…yes, it is completely different. The wide, olive-green foliage makes the strongest vertical accent of any of the switchgrasses that we have grown. This vigorous grower is topped in September with attractive narrow plumes, held incredibly erect atop the foliage. Everyone who sees this rates it as one of the best! ~Plant Delights

The honeymoon with ornamental grasses is over. That doesn’t mean most of us won’t stay married to them.

As time goes on, our relationships have simply grown deeper, more mature, with a better understanding of their strengths and weaknesses. Those whose marriages remain intact appreciate the good times–ornamental grasses look great during drought–while we tolerate, and even grow stronger through, the bad–dividing those huge, overcrowded crowns.

Good marriages usually require some compromise, a bit of give-and-take on both sides. In the union between gardener and grass, gardeners sacrifice color and blooms for structure, texture, movement and drought tolerance (a pretty good trade, in my opinion).

Today, though, gardeners don’t even have to give up color. Some of the newer selections or ornamental grasses deliver cool blues, glittering golds and sultry reds. I’m not sure what effect it will have on their marriages, but it does mean that gardeners can now have it all.

My favorites of the lot are two varieties of switch grass (Panicum virgatum ). A native grass, and tough as nails, Panicum provides vertical accent to any border or mixed shrub bed. In a pinch, it can also serve as a seasonal hedge, offering nearly complete privacy behind dense upright clumps. HGTV

Panicum virgatum is native to North American tall-grass prairies from the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean and was one of the most prominent prairie species. This grass was one of the important components of the tall-grass prairie that once covered the vast interior of the United States. A versatile grass, it tolerates a wide range of soil and climatic conditions. As the habitats of Panicum are taken over by humans, these grasses are found in wetter sites than before.

Panicum is valued as an ornamental for its erect form, showy flowers and interesting winter silhouette.Switch grass is a clumping, warm-season, noninvasive grass. Foliage color ranges from deep green to steely blue. Plant height varies from 4 to 7 feetwith feathery panicles rising 1-2 feet above the foliage. Flowers are pinkish to reddish, maturing to silvery gray. Autumn color of the plants is various shades of yellow. Plants remain upright throughout the winter or until cut back.

Panicum is used effectively alone or in clumps. Taller cultivars are excellent background plants. Since this grass tolerates moist soils, it is a fine choice for water gardens or along stream banks and pond edges. Switch grass can be used as a groundcover to control erosion and for the transition areas between garden and wood areas. Foliage and flowers of Panicum are effective in flower arrangements, both fresh and dried.

Panicum prefers full sun, and moist, fertile soil; however, the plant will tolerate sand, heavy clay, dry slopes and boggy areas. Switch grass thrives along the coast by the ocean, tolerating salt spray and wind.

Growing Switchgrass – How To Plant Switchgrass

Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) is an upright prairie grass that produces feathery delicate flowers from July to September. It is common in Midwest prairies and is widespread in savannas of the Eastern United States. There are several switchgrass varieties to choose from and its high tolerance for different planting sites makes ornamental switchgrass a great choice for any landscape. Providing height, flow and drama, planting switchgrass brings it all to the decorative garden.

What is Ornamental Switchgrass?

This clumping grass may grow four to six feet tall. It has fine bladed foliage and produces a feathery inflorescence in late summer, which may be deep red or purple. The flower plume will persist well into fall and bears glossy red seeds. The foliage is bluish-green most of the time and produces a haze of soft color in the landscape. Switchgrass is a perennial plant that has incredible versatility and hardiness, growing well in USDA zones 5 to 9.

Switchgrass Varieties

Successful ornamental plants undergo breeding and development to increase desirable characteristics and minimize problems. There are several cultivars available:

  • Cloud Nine and North Wind are 5 to 6 foot tall specimens.
  • Dallas Blues is the tallest variety at 6 to 8 feet in height and has a blue to purple foliage with seed heads 2 inches long.
  • Heavy Metal is a rigid plant with metallic blue blades.
  • The smallest of the switchgrass varieties is Shenandoah at a diminutive 2 to 3 feet tall.
  • There are several other cultivars such as Rotstrahlbush and Warrior to consider for your garden.

How to Plant Switchgrass

When planting switchgrass, consider the height of the grass and place it to the rear or edges of a garden bed so it doesn’t cover up smaller plants. The spread is also a consideration, but as a clumping variety, switchgrass is never more than half as wide as it is tall. Plant switchgrass in a group spaced at least 12 inches apart and they will grow together to make an interesting moving screen.

Before planting switchgrass, the site should be well cultivated to accommodate the long taproot, which will eventually grow 10 feet long or more. The mature size may lead the gardener to wonder will switchgrass grow in pots. The answer would be yes and no. Young plants are ideal for container interest, but the thick rhizomes will fill small pots quickly. Mature specimens will require a large, heavy, deep pot. You will also need to give the grass more water when potted than ground planted specimens.

This plant enjoys full sun to partial shade. It is tolerant of salt exposure and short periods of drought. You can plant switchgrass in moderately moist soil or even dry conditions. Switchgrass thrives in sand, clay or loam soil. The soil does need to be well drained and have minimum nutrient levels. That being said, it is always a good idea to incorporate organic matter to the planting hole, such as compost.

Switchgrass is set into the ground at the same level it was grown in the nursery pot. The plant will seed vigorously and you might find babies in your yard. It is suggested to mulch thickly to prevent seedlings or remove the flower heads.

Care of Switchgrass

As a native species, the plant is well suited to growing wild and does not need any special supplemental care. You may incorporate fertilizing in early spring but is really only necessary on the poorest soils. Remove all competing plant and weed species, and provide organic mulch around the base of the plant. This will conserve moisture, prevent further weeds and gradually enrich the soil.

Switchgrass may die back in winter but the rhizome will remain alive underground, especially if the plants are mulched. You can divide the plant every few years to produce new plants. For the best appearance, the plant should be sheared back to within a few inches of the soil line in late winter to early spring. This will allow the air to circulate better and sunlight to penetrate to the new growth.

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