Panicum virgatum - Switch Grass
Switch grass is often used at the back of the perennial border or
as a tall screen. The many delicate panicles, which are high above the
foliage in some strains, turn reddish-bronze in the autumn. A perfect
winter cover and food source for wildlife. In the fall we love to watch
the quail foraging in our Panicum.
Testing has recently been done to find the best plant for stabilizing
slopes prone to erosion and Panicum was found to be the best plant.
Description: warm season*; sod forming (slow spreader)
Foliage is tinged with red; of medium blade width; 70-150 cm (28-60")
tall (variable according the area of the continent that the seed comes
Flowers bloom Aug through Sept; 90-220 cm (36-100") in height
Ideal conditions: full sun; moist fertile soil, but
adapts to a wide range of soil conditions including dry
Coldest zone: 3 (find your zone; further
info on plant hardiness)
Partner with: Aster, Boltonia, Sedum; Eupatorium
Season of interest: August to winter
Drought tolerance rating: 1 (water to root depth once
a month); further info
Native to: prairies and open ground, open woods, brackish
marshes; from eastern Canada to central and eastern US and south to
Recommended spacing between plants: 50-100 cm (20-40")
why such a difference?
When to divide: when it shows signs of
life in the spring, continuing until the new growth is about
12" tall; only in the spring (further
info on dividing grasses)
When to plant or transplant: plant bare root plants
only in late spring to early summer, when the soil
is warm, about the same time you plant your bean or corn
seeds. The roots will grow only in warm soil. Planting too
early in the spring may cause the roots to rot. Similar
story in the fall when the roots may not grow enough to
establish before the cold and wet of winter, resulting in
the demise of the plant.
When to cut back: before the new growth
starts to appear, but after the cold weather is over. Cut
back to about 3-4" from the crown of the plant.
Pronunciation: Panicum (PAN-ih-kum) virgatum (veer-GAH-tum)
*a warm season grass likes to grow in warm weather. Before it will
show signs of life in the spring, the soil must warm up, and be warm
for possibly as long as two weeks.
More ornamental grasses
Compare Panicum virgatum to our other grasses in this handy chart.