Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) is a native ornamental of the grass (Poaceae) family found pretty much throughout central and eastern North America in hardiness zones 5 through 9. It achieves a height of 3-6 feet tall and a width of 2-3 feet. Switchgrass blooms from July through February with a light pink flower; the autumnal color is a pale yellow. It requires medium to wet soil conditions and full to nearly full sunlight. Because of its wide environmental needs, it is a rather forgiving plant able to withstand many yard and garden situations. It tolerates drought, erosion, dry soils, and air pollution. Switchgrass is a clump-forming type of grass and gradually radiates out in its area via rhizomes.
Switchgrass is actively sought by many species of birds after it has bloomed. It provides the small seeds that finches, sparrows, and chickadees, among others, seek. Switchgrass is generally noted for its stiff, columnar form, and often retains its vertical shape throughout the growing season.
No serious diseases or insects are associated with this species. Some fungal diseases, such as rust and crown or root rot, are found either when switchgrass is improperly planted or when hot, humid, summer conditions arrive.
Switchgrass is an increasingly utilized tallgrass prairie species in garden landscapes. Desired for its erect and sturdy habit, switchgrass is extremely versatile and can withstand flopping even when wet. Additionally, it is a suitable replacement for non-native grass species like Miscanthus. Whether planted in masses, as a single specimen, or for screening, the durability of this plant makes it especially reliable in a variety of growing conditions. In addition to its utility, switchgrass offers aesthetic interest throughout the year. Its profuse, airy panicles display hues of red and pink, and its foliage ranges from deep green and powder blue to golden yellow and deep burgundy. With over 20 commercially available cultivars, there are several options depending on the desired intent behind a planting design.
Written by Hayden Hammons for WM Whitaker & Associates
The genus name of switchgrass, Panicum, is a Latin name for millet. It also refers to the shape of the inflorescence, a panicle. The species epithet, virgatum, means twiggy in Latin.
Charlie is a retired professor and Biological Oceanographer. He taught five courses in the University of Georgia System for many years from his home base in Savannah, Georgia.
Charlie loves hiking at Reflection Riding, teaching children about the ecology of the area, and interacting with the Reflection Riding staff. They are GREAT!