Rick’s Native Plant of the Month | Panicum virgatum - Switch Grass

December 12, 2022

By Rick Bogusch

Bridge Gardens

Switch grass, Panicum virgatum, is easily grown and tolerates a wide range of soils, from wet to dry, from sandy to clay. It grows well in partial shade, but its best growth is in full sun. Too much shade, or too much fertility, causes stems to grow too long and flop over.

Switch grass is a warm season clump-former, growing about 3 feet tall. Leaves are medium green in summer, turn shades of yellow and orange in fall and dry to a warm beige. Starting in late summer, clumps are topped with feathery plumes of pinkish flowers topping 5-6 feet tall stalks. These also dry beige and are an important winter food source for birds.

Use switch grass singly as an accent or plant in groups in borders, meadows and wild gardens. There are several cultivars available, some with bluish leaves, some with exceptional fall color, some forming tall, narrow, wind-resistant clumps.

At Bridge Gardens, you can find switch grass growing tall in the bed near the leaning White Pine tree, accented by the bright orange berries of Winterberry gold. Switch grass is also found in our Outer Garden, in the woodland border behind the orchard. These grasses wave gently in the breeze and grow in the foreground of our American and Yuleberry hollies, all full of red berries at this time of year.

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