Switch Grass

Panicum Virgatum

By Nancy J. Ondra

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Why plant it: Switch grass comes up in tidy clumps of bright green foliage in spring, then bursts into clouds of silvery, pink, or reddish flowers in late summer. The foliage turns yellow or burgundy in fall.

Where: Switch grass looks as comfortable in a formal garden setting as it does in a wild-and-woolly prairie. This North American native thrives in full sun and evenly moist soil but adapts to anything from dry, sandy soil to wet, heavy clay. While it takes some shade, too much causes the stems to sprawl. It's great for sites that get morning shade and blazing afternoon sun?conditions that fry a typical perennial in no time!

How to grow: Overall, switch grass is delightfully well-behaved: It rarely needs staking (if it flops, it's getting too much fertilizer or too little sun), nor does it crowd out its companions or produce hundreds of seedlings. If you've avoided ornamental grasses because some are uncontrollable garden thugs, try switch grass. Cut the old growth to a few inches above the ground in early spring.

Which: Cultivars include 'Northwind', with upright clumps of green foliage that are 5 to 6 feet tall; fall color is yellow. 'Rotstrahlbusch' is a bit shorter than 'Northwind'; it turns wine red in fall. Others include 6-foot-tall 'Dallas Blues', with broad silvery blue leaf blades and pink flowers, and the 8-foot-tall 'Cloud Nine'.

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