Switch Grass, Panicum
A native of the prairie grasslands, switch grass naturalizes equally well in an informal border and a natural meadow.
Switch grass thrives in full sun, light shade or partial shade. The soil should be of low fertility and well drained, though this grass adapts to moist or dry soils and tolerates conditions ranging from heavy clay to lighter sandy soil.
The flower stems may break under heavy, wet snow or in exposed, windy sites. Cut switch grass back to 4–6" from the ground in early spring.
Plant switch grass singly in small gardens or in large groups in spacious borders or at the edges of ponds or pools for a dramatic, whimsical effect. The seed heads attract birds, and the foliage changes color in fall, so place this plant where you can enjoy both features.
P. virgatum is suited to wild meadow gardens. It comes in both blue and red varieties. Some of its popular blue cultivars include ‘Heavy Metal,’ an upright plant with narrow, steely blue foliage flushed with gold and burgundy in fall, and ‘Prairie Sky,’ an arching plant with deep blue foliage. ‘Shenandoah’ is a small, compact selection with red-tinged, green foliage that turns burgundy in fall.
Features: clumping habit; green, blue or burgundy foliage; airy panicles of flowers; fall color; winter interest
Hardiness: zones 3–9
Notes: Switch grass’ delicate, airy panicles fill gaps in the garden border and can be cut for fresh or dried arrangements.