The ornamental grass, 'Northwind' switchgrass was named the 2014 Perennial Plant of the Year, by the members of the Perennial Plant Association. Column by David Graper, SDSU Extension Horticulture Specialist and Director of McCrory Gardens Each year, the members nominate and vote on a perennial plant to receive this coveted title.
Think of this as something similar to the All-America Selections award for seed grown plants, except this one is selected only from perennials that are suitable for a wide range of climatic conditions, have low maintenance requirements, are pest- and disease-resistant, have multiple seasons of interest and are in good availability in the year that they are promoted.
Members of the association, who are mostly perennial plant producers, wholesalers, retailers and researchers, get to nominate plants for upcoming years and vote on the three to four plants selected from the hundreds of nominees submitted each year. The winner is usually announced in late winter the following year.
A bit about the winner
'Northwind' is similar to other types of switchgrass that are available in nurseries and garden centers now, but it is noted for its upright habit, wider, bluish-green leaves and airy seed heads that can reach up to 6-feet in height. Some people like to cut the stems and use them in fresh or dried floral arrangements. In the fall, the plant turns golden-yellow and fades to tan.
Switchgrass is a native prairie plant so is well adapted to our growing conditions. It should be grown in full sun and is tolerant of most types of soils. It will need some water to get established but after that it should be quite drought tolerant. This particular plant was a selection made in Illinois but is rated as being hardy to Zone 4. There are other cultivars of switchgrass available. We mainly have 'Heavy Metal' and 'Shenandoah' planted in various locations around the Education and Visitor Center at McCrory Gardens.
Both of these have proven to be excellent plants growing 4 to 5-feet tall. They are all warm season grasses so they do not green up and start growth until the soil has warmed up a little later in the spring. Remove the old foliage and stems from the plant in the spring before the new shoots start to grow. Cut them off about an inch above the ground.
Switchgrass is generally a clump forming grass but the clumps will expand over time to make a larger plant. You can propagate switchgrass by division in the spring, about the same time you start to see the new shoots emerging from the base of the plant. Use a sharp shovel or spade to cut down through the clump to remove a portion of the plant, being sure to get a good amount of roots with each division. If you would like more information about Panicum virgatum 'Northwind', previous Perennials of the Year or the Perennial Plant Association, go to the Perennial Plant Association's website.
Source : SDSU