Switching To Switchgrass

As a new gardener I was completely unfamiliar with native plants and grasses. I just knew I wanted/had to garden. So I bought plants that were beautiful, that made me smile and that I loved. Naturally, some of them proved to be aggressive pains in the garden. One of the worst offenders was an ornamental grass. It was absolutely the loveliest sight each fall. But, it had the most annoying habit of seeding its progeny everywhere.

You may have guessed that I’m referring to Miscanthus sinensis. It’s long gone from the garden and in its place are equally lovely native grasses.

I switched to Switchgrass and haven’t looked back since. Panicum virgatum is a native to the tall grass prairies of the Great Plains and all, but, the western most states. It’s an upright, warm season bunching grass that bison, deer and elk grazed. It can still be found growing in ‘remnant prairies’ and along interstates.

It’s an important ornamental grass in native gardens where it provides cover, is a host plant for several skippers and the seeds are food for songbirds. It’s been used for habitat restoration, to counter soil erosion and is being evaluated for use as an alcohol fuel source.

In my suburban garden it’s a companion plant for taller asters, vernonia and other natives and gives small critters cover. In fact, a chipmunk spends a good deal of his time hiding behind it when I step into the garden. Smart chipmunk!



I have two cultivars that I highly recommend: ‘Northwind’ and ‘Cheyenne Sky’. ‘Northwind’ is without a doubt the most upright grass I’ve ever encountered. Heavy rains have not brought it to its feet. It flops a little then stands back up. It’s been described as olive green that I find a charming color for my garden. It’s a warm season grass, that can be grazed by foraging animals in the spring, but, here in the ‘burbs, it’s a marvelous specimen plant.

‘Cheyenne Sky’ is new to the garden. This small red switchgrass replaces annual Pennisetum ‘Rubrum’. It’s a sturdy little plant at about 3 feet and should remain standing throughout the winter. I’ve read that it can take wet winters and even periods of standing water! That sounds perfect for this garden.

By the way, I never cut grasses down until very early spring. It’s important to give birds and small mammals cover during the coldest days; but, I also love the way grasses look in the snow. Crossed fingers that we have one snow event this winter and the grasses get to put on a show for me, while providing for wildlife.


About the Author

With the endless passion for organic living, I - Ann Sanders has come up with the idea of creating A Green Hand. Being the founder and editor of A Green Hand, my goal is to provide everyone with a wide range of tips about healthy lifestyle with multiform categories including gardening, health & beauty, food recipe,...

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