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Panicum virgatum

Plant for riparian soil building, for native pasture and wildlife habitat, and locally-grown mulch and thatch!

Hardy from Zones 5-9. Up to 8 feet.

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Plant Switchgrass! It’s a deep-rooted native perennial warm-season bunchgrass that conserves and remediates soil, grows pasture, houses wildlife, and can be harvested as livestock bedding, straw bale housing, and mushroom substrate! Those are enough reasons for us to plant divided crowns along Blacks Run. We’re eager to see the pink and red clusters of flowers, called panicles, rising a few feet above the green stalks and turning golden Autumn brown.

Industrial agriculture is pretty excited about Switchgrass for bioenergy such as ethanol and biodegradable plastics. We’re antagonistic to planting cropland with biofuels, but Switchgrass grows incredibly well in many different conditions, including marginal land inhospitable to row crops. Botanists categorize Switchgrass as either lowland (with short rhizomes and bunching growth) or upland (extensive rhizomes and sod-forming growth). Both form effective windbreaks and good forage for cattle, though not so much for horses, sheep, and goats because of saponins, chemicals that can cause liver damage and sensitivity to light.

Switchgrass thrived in the tallgrass prairies of the Midwest before European colonizers plowed them down. The dense bunching growth, with tall stems and rich seeds, has been well-loved habitat for Pheasant, Quail, Grouse, Wild Turkey, and lots of songbirds. Deep fibrous roots grow nearly as deep as the plant is tall, which is one reason why Midwest soils were so fertile. Those deep roots store and share loads of carbon even in times of drought and intense heat. Switchgrass doesn’t mind a little heat and benefits from a fire every 3-5 years just before Spring to burn thatch build-up and stimulate new growth. In small patches and stands, thatch is another reason we want it! Also called Thatchgrass, Tall Panic Grass, Wild Redtop, and Virginia Switchgrass, this remarkable plant is a great source for homegrown mulch.

We propagate our Switchgrass from crown divisions in restoration plantings.