September: Switchgrass

Welcome to September! Schools are back in session, football is getting started, and a certain coffee chain will soon start selling a certain squash-themed coffee-based beverage. One of my favorite early signs of the approach of fall is the way perennial grasses start to gradually shift to their rich winter browns and golds. Switchgrass is a sturdy, stately perennial grass that looks its best in the late summer. It's low-maintenance, which is always a plus, and it's native to Indiana, which gets any plant extra points in my book.

Switchgrass is happiest in damp, fertile soil, but it will tolerate just about any conditions - even drought, once it's well-established. The straight species is a towering grass at up to six feet tall, but there are lots of more manageable varieties on the market. There is natural variation in the coloration of the grasses, and commercially selected options play those colors up. In the blue family 'Heavy Metal' is a favorite, and 'Shenandoah' is valued for its lovely red streaks at the ends of the grass blades. All varieties turn a nice, golden tan in the fall.

Common Name: Switchgrass

Scientific Name: Panicum virgatum

Notable Varieties: 'Heavy Metal' and 'Northwind' (blues), 'Shenandoah' and 'Prairie Fire' (red tips)

Light: full sun to light, filtered shade

Size: 2-6' tall (depending on variety), slowly spreading in a clump to 2-3'

Soil: prefers consistently damp soil, but will tolerate nearly anything

Blooms: airy seedheads appear in late summer and last through the winter

Other Notes: native plant, great for rain gardens, low-maintenance

See other plants of the month.

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