As far as Kansas native grasses go, switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) is one of the most recognized and most utilized. Little bluestem is the Kansas state grass, but switchgrass is much more used in landscapes. Switchgrass can be used for screening, specimens, massings, and is even utilized as a crop for the bio-fuel industry. This native grass can be found growing throughout the state, but is found mainly in the eastern 2/3 of Kansas.
The green industry has recognized switchgrass for its versatile uses. The habit can be arching, upright, or massive. There are summer colors of red, burgundy, green, green-blue, green-silver, and slate-blue. Fall colors vary also, with many turning brilliant shades of red, while others fade yellow to brown.
The seedheads hold up nicely through fall and winter and are rarely eaten completely by birds. The stems are stiff making them a very desirable landscape plant. Breeders and landscapers have developed and identified more than 15 cultivars used in landscapes across the United States.
Switchgrass can range in height from 3 feet to 9 feet tall and they form a nice clump that can be 3 to 6 feet across. Some of the more well-known cultivars include ‘Shenandoah’, ‘Heavy Metal’, ‘Dallas Blues’, ‘Ruby Ribbons’, ‘Northwind’, and ‘Cloud Nine’. Many new selections could easily be made by just driving through Kansas on a summer day-switchgrass is often seeded into roadsides for its salt, wind, and drought tolerance.
Switchgrass is easy to plant, divide, and take care of. It can be burned or cut off in the spring, and needs no watering once established. There are few if any problem pests of switchgrass; it may receive some grasshopper munching or browsing from deer, but there are no major pest or disease issues.
I have always loved grasses in growing my Kansas and switchgrass takes my breath away. I have a transplanted ‘Shenandoah’ in my front yard that always puts on a show of red through the summer and a clump of the upright ‘Northwind’ and the over-sized ‘Dallas Blues’ in my Monarch Waystation. Plant specific cultivars for their individual attributes and mix the seed into your prairie restorations and wildlife gardens.
While there are many cultivars of switchgrass available in the landscape trade, here at Grimm’s Gardens we have selected the best for sale at our locations. We recommend ‘Northwind’ for its vbertical element in the gardens and ‘Shenandoah’ for the red tinted leaves through the summer. Check out our webstore or call the office to find out more!
Keep on gardening!