Rick’s Native Plant of the Month | Switch grass (Panicum virgatum)

January 18, 2024

By Rick Bogusch

Bridge Gardens

Winter is a good time to enjoy the beauty of our native grasses. Though many have been flattened by winds, rain, and snow and become a soggy mass in need of cutting, that’s not usually the case with switch grass and its many varieties.

Native to Long Island and throughout North America, switch grass tolerates a variety of soil and growing conditions, from sandy to clay, from dry to wet, from full sun to part shade, but does best with average moisture and bright light. A clump-former, it does not spread readily by seed or creeping rhizomes.


A stiff, columnar habit keeps it vertical and flop-free throughout the year. Medium green leaves grow about 3 feet tall in summer and turn a warm beige in fall. Flowering stalks appear in mid-summer and double the height with pink-tinged panicles that float above the foliage in airy clouds.

These also dry to warm beige and their seeds are an important food source for over-wintering birds.

Switch grass is terrific for naturalizing in meadows or along the sunny edges of woodlands. It is also useful in borders or as a specimen. Some varieties like ‘Rehbraun,’ ‘Rotstrahlbusch’ and ‘Shenandoah’ are shorter than the species and have a striking red fall color. ‘Northwind’ is especially tall and sturdy.

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