In September, the fall begins. With fall comes the color changing of leaves and unique fall beauty throughout the landscape. A very interesting plant for fall interest would be ornamental grasses. A great choice for an ornamental grass would be the 2016 Great Plants of the Great Plains Grass of the Year selection, Dallas Blues Switchgrass. The photo of the Dallas Blues Switchgrass above is from Kansas State University.

Dallas Blues Switchgrass, Panicum virgatum ‘Dallas Blues’, is a wonderful, steel blue variety of the straight switchgrass species. Overall, Dallas Blues is larger than the straight species of switchgrass. Switchgrass grows up to 4 feet tall and 3 feet wide, while ‘Dallas Blues’ grows up to 7 feet tall when in bloom. The grass blades of this variety grow up to 1 inch across whereas the straight species blades are only ¾ inches across. ‘Dallas blues’ has large inflorescence in comparison to the straight species flowers. The flowers on this variety are large and pink-tinged to add more ornamental value than the species, according to Kansas State University. The flowers are wispy, branched panicles that are held at the top of the grass blades. The inflorescence occurs from July to August and lasts through fall and winter. All ornamental grasses are best left alone during the late fall and winter months because their dried grass blades stand through the winter for wildlife habitat and for an interesting characteristic throughout the winter.The photo of the Dallas Blues Switchgrass inflorescence above to the left is from Kansas State University.

There are a lot of great varieties of switchgrass besides ‘Dallas Blues’. ‘Cloud Nine’ is a great choice that has a bright gold fall color and the flowers are very dense above blue foliage. ‘Rehbraun’, ‘Haense Herms’, and ‘Shenandoah’ are good choices for burgundy colors in the fall and even some red coloration to the grass blades during the summer months. ‘Heavy Metal’ is a good choice due to the fact that is a very upright variety that never flops and has a pink color in the flowers. There are others, but these few are great selections. Choose which colors and sizes you like best to find the switchgrass for your landscape.

Switchgrass should be planted in full sun but will survive in part shade. In higher levels of shade the plant may not flower as well. This plant prefers average soil moisture but will tolerate both wet and dry locations as well, once it is established. Switchgrass is a clump forming grass, but it will self-seed to make a large planting.

Switchgrass is a great choice for acreages because wildlife such as pheasants, quail, and rabbits use it as a nesting site. The seed is also used as food for many birds. Switchgrass is also a great choice for erosion control to stabilize soil. It has also been used to produce ethanol as an alternative fuel source. These uses are in accordance with the United States Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources Conservation Service Plant Fact Sheet. The photo of the Dallas Blues Switchgrass in the winter above is from Kansas State University.

‘Dallas Blues’ Switchgrass is a very unique and intriguing variety of switchgrass. Because it was the 2016 Great Plants of the Great Plains selection for Grass of the Year means that it will grow very well in the environmental conditions of the Great Plains, making it a good choice for Nebraska. Make sure you have plenty of room for this plant to grow as it is a large variety of switchgrass. Once you plant it, you will be able to enjoy the beauty of the plant and the interest of wildlife for years to come. So the next time you look to plant an ornamental grass for fall and winter interest, choose ‘Dallas Blues’ Switchgrass.

Switch Grass ‘Dallas Blues’

A tall-grass prairie native that adds beauty to gardens and nurtures wildlife, switchgrass is now being considered as a potential new fuel source. Divided into two types, upland and lowland, there are 37 cultivars of switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), including the popular ornamental ‘Dallas Blues’. All varieties of switchgrass are resistant to many pests and plant diseases.

In January 2006, President George Bush cited the importance of research into “cutting-edge methods of producing ethanol” and mentioned switchgrass as a possible source. The most promising cultivars for bioenergy are ‘Alamo’ in the deep south, ‘Kanlow’ for mid latitudes, and ‘Cave-in-Rock’ for central and northern states. If used to produce bioenergy, switchgrass will reduce the risk of global warming by replacing fossil fuels (coal, natural gas and oil). The process is a bit complicated, but agronomy professor David Bransby of Auburn University has elegantly summed up the benefits of turning to switchgrass for fuel.

When fossil fuels are burnt, explains Bransby, carbon is removed from below ground (gas and oil wells and coal mines) and released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide (CO2) — the greenhouse gas that increases the risk of global warming. Switchgrass, like all other plants, removes CO2 from the atmosphere, incorporating it into plant tissue both above and below ground. The accumulation of carbon, especially below ground in plants, is considered an important strategy for reducing atmospheric CO2, and switchgrass is one of the best crops for achieving this “carbon sequestration.”

When above-ground switchgrass is harvested and burned for energy, CO2 is again returned to the atmosphere from where it was originally obtained by the plant, but it will have reduced the need for some fossil fuel, according to Bransby. As live switchgrass and other plants absorb the emissions, a CO2-neutral process emerges as the CO2 is recycled. Bransby also points out that, when compared to low-grade coal, burning switchgrass for energy will “probably” result in less toxic emissions, such as the oxides of sulphur and nitrogen.

If switchgrass can be proven to be a profitable source of energy for producers, farmers, and consumers, the plant may achieve prominence far removed from its place on the prairie. Switchgrass can produce high yields with very low applications of fertilizer, greatly lessening the need for agricultural chemicals and making it appealing as a crop, along with its perennial nature. Bransby suggests that co-firing switchgrass with coal to produce electricity in existing plants offers “one of the best near-term prospects.” Bioenergy from switchgrass isn’t intented to compete with fossil fues, he adds, but rather to complement them by softening their environmental impact.

‘DALLAS BLUES’ SWEEPS INTO EVENING ISLAND AT THE CHICAGO BOTANIC GARDEN

Panicum virgatum ‘Dallas Blues’ is a beautiful, broad-bladed grass that has the widest and bluest-green foliage of any of the native switchgrasses of the tallgrass prairie. A warm-season grass discovered in Dallas, it possesses the constantly changing ornamental qualities treasured in great grasses. The first shoots emerge in late spring, revealing the blue-green foliage that makes an impact, whether massed on hillsides or planted as backyard specimens. At first, the bright foliage forms loose clumps, but as it grows, its habit evolves into an upright, slightly open look. Late in summer the plant’s tall stems produce clouds of tiny, plum-colored flowers that, from a distance, give the impression of huge, full flower heads that both gardeners and sports fans in Dallas claim are as large as footballs! You can see them now in broad sweeps at Evening Island.

The contrast of texture and color in the wide bands of blue-green foliage with the lacy, see-through reddish flower plumes is distinctive with this 4- to 5-foot grass. The flower panicles persist for months and are excellent additions to cut-flower arrangements. Even in fall, the foliage remains blue while the flowers’ reddish-purple tones intensify. The tiny seeds are prized by foraging songbirds and other wildlife that find the sheltering clumps a welcome cold-weather home. (Gardeners can rest assured that reseeding is not a problem; ‘Dallas Blues’ is not invasive.) Wintry weather affords a fourth season of enjoyment as the rustling grass blanches to creamy tones and stands tall even under the weight of snow.

‘Dallas Blues’ is quite obliging about its culture. Like all ornamental grasses, it requires adequate moisture its first year of growth, but once established will tolerate either dry or moist sites. It prefers full sun but can do with less. The strong rhizomatous root system that enables the grass to withstand prairie fire and still spring to life the following year makes this switchgrass a good candidate for stabilizing sloping hillsides or shoreline banks.

This is a strong native plant, a memory of the region’s prairie heritage. Along with flowers and foliage, seedheads and stems, ‘Dallas Blues’ brings music and dance to the garden.

switch grass ‘Dallas Blues’

Panicum virgatum ‘Dallas Blues’ (switch grass) is a massed, bluish grey grass with large wispy plumes. The plumes flower in early September with a splash of purple which will remain throughout the winter.

The foliage is wide, upright and has a beautiful rust winter color. Growing up to 1.5 meters tall and remaining erect in the winter, birds and butterflies rely on this plant for food and habitat. Designers use this plant in large groups, as an accent and even as a screen. It works well in borders, natural gardens, prairies, and water gardens. Panicum ‘Dallas Blues’ grows in full sun or part shade and prefers moist conditions in hardiness zones 5 to 9. Panicums are native to the midwestern prairies, and this particular variety was cultivated and subsequently patented in 2000.

Botanical Name Panicum virgatum ‘Dallas Blues’
Common Name switch grass ‘Dallas Blues’
Family Poaceae
USDA Zone 5 to 9
Light Requirement Full Sun to Part Shade
Season(s) of interest Summer, Fall, Winter
Height and Spread 4-6ft x 2-3ft (120-180cm x 60-90cm)
Flower Color Airy Pink
Attracts Wildlife Food for Birds, Hosts
Additional Information Panicum virgatum native to tall grass prairie in the Chicago Region.
Location in Lurie Garden North Dark Plate, Southwest Dark Plate

Dallas Blues Switch Grass

Dallas Blues Switch Grass

(Photo courtesy of NetPS Plant Finder)

Dallas Blues Switch Grass

Dallas Blues Switch Grass

(Photo courtesy of NetPS Plant Finder)

Plant Height: 4 feet

Flower Height: 5 feet

Spread: 3 feet

Sunlight:

Hardiness Zone: 3b

Description:

This tall selection forms an upright clump of striking light blue leaves; airy heads of mauve-pink flowers appear on plumes in late summer; plumes are very large and showy; perfect as an accent or massed in borders

Ornamental Features

Dallas Blues Switch Grass features airy plumes of purple flowers with pink overtones rising above the foliage in late summer. Its attractive grassy leaves are blue in color. As an added bonus, the foliage turns a gorgeous gold in the fall. The brown seed heads are carried on showy plumes displayed in abundance from late summer to mid fall. The tan stems can be quite attractive.

Landscape Attributes

Dallas Blues Switch Grass is an herbaceous perennial grass with an upright spreading habit of growth. Its relatively fine texture sets it apart from other garden plants with less refined foliage.

This is a relatively low maintenance plant, and is best cut back to the ground in late winter before active growth resumes. It has no significant negative characteristics.

Dallas Blues Switch Grass is recommended for the following landscape applications;

  • Accent
  • Mass Planting
  • General Garden Use

Planting & Growing

Dallas Blues Switch Grass will grow to be about 4 feet tall at maturity extending to 5 feet tall with the flowers, with a spread of 3 feet. It tends to be leggy, with a typical clearance of 1 foot from the ground, and should be underplanted with lower-growing perennials. It grows at a medium rate, and under ideal conditions can be expected to live for approximately 15 years.

This plant does best in full sun to partial shade. It is very adaptable to both dry and moist locations, and should do just fine under typical garden conditions. It is considered to be drought-tolerant, and thus makes an ideal choice for a low-water garden or xeriscape application. It is not particular as to soil type, but has a definite preference for alkaline soils, and is able to handle environmental salt. It is somewhat tolerant of urban pollution. This is a selection of a native North American species. It can be propagated by division; however, as a cultivated variety, be aware that it may be subject to certain restrictions or prohibitions on propagation.

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