Switchgrass Panicum virgatum
The following selections are all excellent because of their dramatic garden presence and the fact that they don't lean or flop and stand up nicely, even after heavy rains.
Blue Switch grass (Panicum virgatum 'Dallas Blues'):
This stunning selection of the North American native switch grass was originally found in Dallas, Texas, which inspired its name. Although from a warm part of the country, 'Dallas Blues' grows equally well in the cold Midwest. I've grown it in my zone 5 garden for a couple of years now and it winters very well.
'Dallas Blues' grows into an upright clump of fountain-like, with foliage that's very powdery blue. In early fall, it is topped with stunning reddish purple flower plumes. This cultivar has a copper color through the winter.
Rick Darke notes that 'Dallas Blues' has a higher than average drought tolerance. I have it growing on a sandy-loam hillside that can get very dry, and it has done well in heat and drought.
Growing info: Full sun, hardy to Zone 5. Grows 60 inches tall.
Upright Switch Grass (Panicum virgatum 'Northwind')
This impressive switch grass cultivar (shown here with Eupatorium or Joe Pye weed) hails from Northwind Perennial Farm in Wisconsin. 'North Wind' has wide, green foliage and a strongly upright growth habit similar to that 'Karl Foerster' feather reed grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora, 'Karl Foerster'), but it blooms later.
In September, the plant sports attractive narrow flower plumes held erect atop the foliage. Foliage and flowers become tawny gold in fall and this color persists through the winter.
This plant is my favorite switch grass cultivar - its strong vertical habit and vigorous growth makes this one of the handsomest of the switch grasses.
Growing information: Full sun, also drought tolerant. Hardy to Zone 4. Grows five feet tall.
Cloud Nine Switch Grass (Panicum virgatum 'Cloud Nine'):
This is another excellent switch grass with blue-green leaves. It grows upright, although not as erect 'North Wind', and turns a handsome gold color in the fall and stands up nicely through the winter.
Growing information: Full sun, hardy to Zone 4. Can reach 8 feet tall in flower.
Heavy Metal Blue Switch Grass (Panicum virgatum 'Heavy Metal'):
This Kurt Bluemel introduction has been available for a while now and is perhaps the best-known of the blue-leaved cultivars. The leaves grow upright and the airy flower panicles look pink with they open.
Growing information: Full sun, hardy to Zone 4. Grows to 5 feet tall in bloom.
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