Oh, Shenandoah

This is the time of year when the ‘Shenandoah’ Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) really starts to shine. The leaves take on more burgundy color and the airy flower panicles take on a purplish hue.

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I’ve got one mature clump of ‘Shenandoah’ growing in the Lamppost Bed where it grows a little over 3′ in rather poor soil.

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I’ve liked ‘Shenandoah’ well enough that I planted a couple more – one in the Lamppost Bed and one in the Parkway Border. They’re still quite small.

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Here’s a closeup of the flowers. I think we need another kind of lens to do really tight closeups. It feels a little odd to call these “flowers”, I tend to think of them as seedheads, even before they have seeds. Did you know that grass flowers are called spikelets? I think that is a good word. It sounds like the tiny spears would be carried by Lilliputians.

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Here we are looking through ‘Shenandoah’ at some blooming Helenium ‘Mardi Gras’ (Helenium autumnale).

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There’s also some straight species Switchgrass growing in the Sidewalk Border. I must admit that I really prefer the coloring of ‘Shenandoah’, though the leaves of the straight species have a nice bluish tint. This grass matures to a straw color by the end of fall.

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The straight species grows over 6′, and the larger clumps have a tendency to flop. The shorter ‘Shenandoah’ stays more upright. There are 3 clumps of Switchgrass in this border, the 2 younger and smaller ones do stay upright (at least so far).

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In this picture you can see the purple stigmas of the Switchgrass flowers.

 

Unfortunately, ‘Shenandoah’ would be swallowed up by all the Monarda growing in the Sidewalk Border, otherwise I would consider replacing the straight species.

Some people think Switchgrass has good potential for helping with climate change through carbon sequestration. An acre of Switchgrass contains up to 4 tons of root biomass, with roots going as much as 30′ deep.

Do you grow Switchgrass in your garden? Do you have a favorite variety?

30 Comments on “Oh, Shenandoah

  1. It looks graceful, light and airy in your garden. I love the purple tinge of the leaves it’s getting. Very nice. I’ve thought about ripping out some of my Monarda because it’s just taking over other plant spaces. It’s so pretty though and a good pollinator attractor, but boy it looks pretty bad after it’s spent.

    • How bad it looks depends on how bad the powdery mildew gets. This year it hasn’t been to bad. But I do think I need to be more aggressive about keeping the Monarda in line.

  2. I have switchgrass and this year it really has the flops, along with the sea oats. I wonder if the city would complain if I planted the whole yard in grasses instead of lawn?

    • My straight species Switchgrass gets the flops just about every year – at least, the bigger clump does. I surround it with a tomato cage about 3′ high and that helps a bit.

  3. I have never seen this grass, but I love the purple color. I must admit as much as I love grasses, I took all mine out a couple of years back. I found as I mature, maintaining them is fairly labor intensive, and when one has to be divided it is a lot of work. You will see down the road, you have to pick and choose where you expend your physical efforts. In the meantime, garden on and I will enjoy your interesting assortment of plants. 🙂

    • That’s interesting, because I think of grasses generally as low maintenance plants. Dividing them is a huge job, true, but they need division only after a very long time.

  4. It takes ‘Shenandoah’ an awfully long time to color up here, with a long period of sporadic purpling among the sterling grey-blue blades. The red phase that looks so brilliant in many pictures has never really happened fully. But each new season can be the one… so, fingers crossed!

  5. Hello Jason, that’s a lovely grass. I really like the purple colouring to the leaf tips and flowers/seeds. I imagine that interspersed between bright orange or yellow flowers would really make it “zing” (I like contrasting colours). Unfortunately, I’ve not seen this grass (and the other grasses you have like the sea oats) in the garden centres here.

  6. I love switchgrass, but I’ve never seen this one. Our native has purple-ish stigmas and reddish-purple seedheads. I imagine those are the characteristics that were encouraged to get this splendid variety. It’s always tickled me that another name for it is “panic grass.” I wonder how that came to be? Perhaps it was from the delicate seedheads blowing every which way in a breeze, as though panic-stricken, not knowing which way to go.

    • Panic grass is a funny common name, and puzzling. But then, where does switch grass come from. Was it used to make switches to goad animals or naughty children?

      • I found this tidbit at the Online Etymology Dictionary: “type of grass, early 15c., from Old French panic “Italian millet,” from Latin panicum “panic grass, kind of millet,” from panus “ear of millet, a swelling,” from PIE root *pa- “to feed.” How about that?

        I don’t know about switchgrass. My mother’s preference was the lid from the old-fashioned Velveeta balsawood box. It only took once.

  7. So very beautiful! I too admire especially the photo of your ‘Shenandoah’ with the blooming Helenium. Oh, such a lovely combination of colours!
    Some cultivars of Panicum virgatum seem to be available also in Finland. In general, I’m not a big fan of grasses because in my “garden” the wild ones tend to invade also areas where they absolutely shouldn’t grow. 🙂
    Have a happy Sunday!

  8. The purple tinge in the Shenandoah is lovely.. and very interesting to hear about the carbon sequestration that could help with climate change. Many of Australia’s natural grasses have sadly been cleared over the years but more people are now planting them.

  9. I bought Shenandoah last year and planted it next to a Cotinus -they look great together but the Cotinus is throwing too much shade so I have a bit of flopping.It’s hard to find Panicums out here in Northern Calif but thank goodness Digging Dog grows several varieties and that’s where I got both Shenandoah and Heavy Metal.

  10. I like the purple tinge to the leaves on your Switchgrass. It is a lovely ‘flower’ too. I am growing Panicum for the first time this year and really love it – Panicum virgatum ‘Cloud Nine’ which has got quite tall but is still rather thin and has only just started flowering, and ‘Rehbraun’ which is gorgeous! It is about 5ft tall with lovely brown leaves and purply flowers. They all go so well with Helenium or Rudbeckia. 🙂

  11. No, I don’t grow it. We do not use many ornamental grasses in these landscapes, just because they do not fit the style. There is some of he common fountain grass (which I would not recommend for areas where it can naturalize).

      • Yes, and no. Only the trendy types are . . . trendy. I get annoyed by fads. I planted corn, and the neighbors didn’t like that. I dislike pampas grass because it looks like the aggressively invasive type that naturalize here, but I sort of think that it has its place, and would not mind if some designers used more of it where there is space. I noticed many more interesting grasses in Oklahoma that I have not seen here.

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