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 from)
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 cannabinum

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 Central America.

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.


Panicum virgatum - Switch Grass
Panicum virgatum - Switch Grass


More pics in the Grass Scapes Gallery

from the USDA website: states and provinces where
Panicum virgatum is native