Despite its American provenance Panicum virgatum was originally taken up by German landscapers and gardeners. Renowned for its steely coloured blue-grey to blue-purple leaves, but it is the contrast between the rigid, stainless-steel foliage and purple-pink froth that really charms.
Changes through the seasons are a wonderful feature of ornamental grasses, this deciduous ornamental fountain-like grass forms form stiff, upright clumps that turn yellow in autumn. In late summer pink flowers appear, their tiny beaded spikelets in pink and purple shimmer and shake, picking up the colour of late-season flowers in toning shades of pink and purple. In late autumn the flower heads turn oat-gold and are retained on the plant during the coldest months. They remain attractive and add an airy elegance to the winter garden.
Panicum is an undemanding grass that prefers full sun and moist, organically rich soil, but can forgivingly tolerate partial sun, heavy clay to sandy soil, and dry slopes to boggy areas. It is even tolerant of coastal conditions, including salt spray and high winds. This wide spectrum of tolerance to different types of environmental conditions makes it a great choice for water or rain gardens.
Perfect for providing vertical interest in a sunny border, the plants grow to a height of around 120cm (48in) with a spread of 75cm (30in). In the garden it is best presented when planted in groupings or sweeps and fits perfectly anywhere from perennial beds to naturalised gardens and meadows.
Decide if you want to make the most of the foliage colour or flowery inflorescence. If you looking for foliage, give your grass space to shine. If it's frothy pink-purple flowers you're after, drift several together among late-season perennials.
Sowing: Sow indoors in late winter to early spring or sow in autumn.
Sow the seeds on to the surface of a free-draining, moist seed-sowing compost and cover with 3 to 4mm (¼ in) of vermiculite. Keep at around 15 to 20°C (60 to 68°F). After sowing, do not exclude light as this aids germination. Keep the surface of the compost moist but not waterlogged. Germination can be slow and erratic and may take 1 to 6 months.
Once the seedlings are large enough to handle, take a small clump and put them all in a one-litre pot containing a gritty compost. Plants in containers should be looked after carefully and not allowed to stand in full drip trays. They will form a bushy plant and be ready to go into the garden in summer. After hardening off, plant out after all risk of frost. Grow in sun and in well drained soil.
Panicum virgatum thrives on cold winters followed by warm summers. Plant in full sun so that the soil warms up as quickly as possible. Water in the early stages of growth because Panicum enjoys fertile, moist soil. The heads are small and intricate, so to create an effect Panicum should be planted in drifts. Leave 75cm (30in) between plants. Prepare the ground well and dig a larger hole, about twice the size, and incorporate organic matter if needed, so that the plant isn't sitting in a wet sump.
Panicum grows on a wide variety of soils and once established, is drought tolerant. It likes deep sandy loams best and tolerates moderate soil salinity and pH levels ranging from about 4.5 to 7.6. Once a stand has been established, it will benefit from fertilisation, but nitrogen should be applied only sparingly early in the growing season and never on very young plantings, lest it encourage competition from cool-season grasses. Panicum grows best in association with site-adapted mycorrhizal fungi. It may take many years for mycorrhizae and associated beneficial soil microbes to become well established on a newly planted site and this process may be inhibited by application of nitrogen rich fertilisers.
Panicum can be mowed or grazed down to about 20cm (8in) in the winter, but the stubble is important for winter insulation and should not be cut shorter in cold climates. The plant serves as a great host plant for local birds and other fauna, which is another good reason to not cut back the plant's growth until early spring. Divide plants in spring, just as growth starts.
Panicum is essential for wildflower meadows intended to mimic North American prairies. It can be used to add autumn colour to naturalistic borders and woodland-edge gardens. It is also a great wildlife plant. Panicum holds up well under heavy snow and provides good autumn-winter cover for rabbits and other small mammals, ducks, pheasants, and quail. The seeds are eaten by turkeys, pheasants, quail, doves, and songbirds. Panicum prairies are favoured nesting sites for pheasants, quail, greater prairie chickens, and grouse. Deer and other native ungulates paw up the rhizomes for winter survival food.
Architectural, Cottage/Informal Garden, Drought Resistant, Flower Arranging, Flowers Borders and Beds, Low Maintenance or Mediterranean.
Panicum virgatum is native to North American prairies, woodland edges, dunes and marshes in a tract of land that runs from eastern Canada down to Central America, stretching from the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean. The drier state of California and the colder Pacific north-west get missed along the way, for this long-lived grass thrives in warm growing conditions in sun or good light.
Found mostly along creeks, streams and protected areas, Panicum virgatum is one of the dominant species of the tall grass prairie. Because of its above-average tolerance of salt, this species can be found along little-mowed roadsides where salt is applied during the winter. Like other prairie species, this native grass recovers readily from occasional wildfires.
The genus name Panicum derives from a classical Latin name for millet.
It is taken from the Latin panicula meaning ‘with branched-racemose or cymose inflorescences’, ‘tufted’, ‘paniculate’, or ‘with panicles’. This name is in reference to the flowers of this species.
The species name virgatum is from the Latin meaning ‘wand-like' or 'twiggy in growth', referring to the tall stems.
It is commonly known as Panic Grass, Switchgrass, Blackbent, Wild Redtop. Native to North America, it is often referred to as the Virginia Switchgrass,
Pronounced PAN-ih-kum ver-GAY-tum
- Additional Information
Packet Size 100mg Average Seed Count 50 Seeds Common Name Panic Grass, Switchgrass Family Poaceae Genus Panicum Species virgatum Hardiness Hardy Perennial Natural Flower Time July to September Height 120cm (48in) Spread 75cm (30in) Position Prefers full sun