Switchgrass

September is an enjoyable month as fall begins. Fall is a great season for the weather and also for our plant life. Plants turn their wonderful fall color and become very pleasing to the eye. I especially love the interest ornamental grasses provide during fall and throughout the winter months. A great ornamental grass is Switchgrass.

Switchgrass, Panicum virgatum, is a native, clump forming ornamental grass that grows up to 48 inches tall and spreads up to 36 inches across. The inflorescence stands above the leaves up to 5 feet tall. The foliage is bright green with a hint of blue or red color to the leaves. The leaves turn gold or red in the fall; however, the blue colored varieties don’t have reliable fall color. The flowers bloom from July to August on panicles above the plant. The flowers are not showy, but have a red to orange color due to flower anthers. Following the flowers are the seeds on the panicles. The seeds will fade outdoors, but the panicle remains through the winter for a better effect.

There are many varieties of Switchgrass to choose from. ‘Dallas Blues’ is a good choice for blue color. It has very large flowers and grows up to 7 feet tall when in bloom. ‘Heavy Metal’ grows upright with metallic blue foliage. The inflorescence has a strong pink tint. ‘Northwind’ is columnar in shape and goes from olive green in the growing season to yellow in the fall. ‘Shenandoah’ is a good selection as well for smaller areas, as it grows only to 3 feet tall. ‘Shenandoah’ has blue-tinted foliage in the spring that turns burgundy by mid-summer. ‘Cape Breeze’ is another compact switchgrass that is salt tolerant and will bloom before other cultivars. ‘Cloud Nine’ is one of the tallest switchgrass cultivars. It goes from blue foliage during the growing season to deep gold in the fall with interest through the entire winter.

Switchgrass grows best in full sun but will tolerate part shade. Although, in part shade the plants may not stand up as well. They become less erect and fall over and don’t bloom as well in part shade. Once the plant is established in an area, it will tolerate drought and periodically flooded situations, but prefers well-drained soils. Switchgrass can naturalize easily in some locations, some of the varieties are less problematic with this.

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 wise 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.

Switchgrass is a nice ornamental grass for placement in a landscape or prairie areas of an acreage. There are many choices for size and color to give you the right switchgrass to fit your landscape and your design. So the next time you are looking for a native grass, look to Switchgrass for your landscape.

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