Fantastic Design Plant: 'Shenandoah' Switchgrass

September brings a change in the air — it’s almost tangible. Cooler evenings have us searching for our favorite sweater again, heavy morning dew shows the cobwebs spun overnight by occupied spiders, and an indefinable fragrance tells us that autumn has arrived.

Our gardens also begin to mellow as the sun arcs lower in the sky, casting a warmer light and softer shadows. While many blossoms are putting on their final hurrah, grasses are only coming into their peak. One of my favorites is the switchgrass ‘Shenandoah’ (Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’).

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Botanical name: Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’
Common name: ‘Shenandoah’ switchgrass
USDA zones: 4 to 9(find your zone)
Water requirement: Low
Light requirement: Total sun
Mature dimension: 4 feet tall and 2 feet wide
Advantages and tolerances: Drought tolerant and deer resistant
Seasonal interest: Fall color
When to plant: Once the soil is warm(spring through fall)

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Distinguishing attributes. Switchgrass is a warm-season grass, meaning it doesn’t grow until the soil has actually warmed up. But besides needing warmth, this is really a seriouslytough grass that tolerates poor, dry soils and is deer resistant. My local rabbits also have ignored it so far, but that may be because they’re too busy eating my Heuchera.

From June the dusky green blades are tipped with burgundy, the color intensifying as fall approaches. Be sure to plant it where it is possible to enjoy the light shining through the foliage, a really magical effect. Airy deep red blossoms, or panicles, dance like little stones in the slightest wind.

‘Shenandoah’ creates a tidy upright clump, playing nicely with its neighbors.

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How to utilize it. So many possibilities!
Use as a vertical accent in a mixed border in the exact same way that you may utilize a columnar shrub or shrub.Build a fall vignette round ‘Shenandoah’ using sweeps of additional fall stars such as coneflowers (Echinacea spp) or black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia spp).Switchgrass is a perfect candidate for xeriscaping. I’ve watered my 2-year-old plants only twice as June, and they still look fabulous! Next year they may not desire even that.A grid of these rising from a gravel bed would bring a contemporary flair.Create eye-catching combinations by replicating the deep crimson notes in a companion plant. Stonecrop (Sedum ‘Autumn Joy'(shown here) makes a perfect partner; its wide flat flower heads create an intriguing contrast to the strong vertical lines of the grass. Mounding purple barberries — ‘Concorde’ (Berberis thunbergii ‘Concorde’), such as — would also work well.A mass planting would be magnificent and would hark back to its own native prairie habitat.

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Planting notes:
Plant any time the soil is warm — usually from June through September.Many pot-grown grasses become root bound, so loosen up the root ball with your palms before planting in average, well-drained dirt and full sun.No fertilizer or special soil amendments are needed.Water regularly through its first year. More: 8 Spectacular Grasses to Energize a Fall Garden

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