Switch Grass

Panicum Heavy MetalOrnamental grasses have been part of the plant palette on Nantucket as long as I have been gardening here.  They are deer resistant, low maintenance and easy to grow with little pest or disease problems.  They are also beautiful.  Although there are many native grasses available, most of the species that we sell are of Asian or African origin.  Maiden grass and fountain grass are neck and neck for our top sellers.  Unfortunately, both have the potential to produce viable seeds by the thousands in warmer climates.  There is a fear that these vigorous plants could become invasive, if temperatures continue to rise.  Luckily, there are many grasses that have evolved in North America that are well-adapted to our growing conditions.  Switch grass, aka panic grass, is one of those.

The botanical name for switch grass, Panicum refers to its flowers, which botanists call paniculate, or many-branched.  Panicum virgatum, is the most common species we sell in this genus but there are also other species available in commerce.  As a whole, switch grasses are extremely adaptable.  They thrive in full sun in average soil with even moisture, but they tolerate short periods of drought and light shade.

Although many cultivars have a naturalistic, almost weedy, appearance there are many varieties on the market that have tidier habits as well.  ‘Northwind’  has a very tight, upright form; ‘Heavy Metal’ is also very upright, but somewhat looser.  If a tall, narrow form is called for, try ‘Thundercloud’.  A large cultivar like ‘Cloud Nine’ would replace a tall maiden grass very well in a design.  Where a shorter plant is desired, ‘Rotstrahlbusch’ or ‘Shenandoah’  would swap in nicely.   Try ‘Dewey Blue’, ‘Dallas Blues’ or ‘Prairie Sky’ if bluish foliage is up your alley.  Still others have been selected for red/purple streaks in the foliage.  ‘Ruby Ribbons’ ‘Shenandoah’ and ‘Rotstrahlbusch’ will all show purple on the leaves during the growing season.

For a complete list of the switch grasses we carry check out our Switch Grass Pinterest Board