The perennial ornamental grass switchgrass is characterized by an exquisite look, characterized by an upright silhouette with hint of curved stalks. When the Panicum virgatum dresses up in late summer with graceful inflorescences followed by a spectacular autumn color of the foliage, gardening enthusiasts know that they have done everything right. The clump-like prairie grass is not only suitable as a stylish solitaire, but also attracts everyone’s attention in the room-filling group. The switchgrass also likes to make itself useful as an effective protection against soil erosion in larger areas. The multi-faceted varieties do not require any time-consuming maintenance; a few, however, central aspects should at least be considered.

Location and soil conditions

The fact that the switchgrass is included in the prairie grass already shows how things should be in the chosen location.

  • The switchgrass achieves its optimum in a sunny spot.
  • A shady to partially shaded location on the edge of the wood is accepted.
  • Fresh, loamy-sandy and humus-rich soil without waterlogging.
  • A mix of compost-based potting soil with a little sand is ideal in the bucket.

Panicum virgatum therefore thrives in any good garden soil, as long as it is not waterlogged or acidic. In order to develop the intense foliage colors and the filigree ears in full splendor, the sweet grass needs as many hours of sunshine as possible and a balanced supply of nutrients. Where these requirements are met, the ornamental grass lives up to its middle name ‘copper millet’ over many weeks and months.

Tip: The flexible location tolerance makes switchgrass an ideal candidate for adding picturesque splashes of color in the rock garden, gravel bed or heather garden.

Watering and fertilizing

Immediately after planting and at a young age, Panicum virgatum needs more water than at an advanced age. Well-established specimens are usually content with the natural rainfall.

  • Water the switchgrass regularly in the first years of standing.
  • Only water well-grown plants if it is dry for a long period of time.
  • When cultivating in pots, make sure that the root ball does not dry out.

The additional nutrient supply depends on the soil quality. In poor soil, the ornamental grass is grateful for a portion of good garden compost and presents an impressive play of colors. If the copper millet is allowed to stretch its roots in a rich substrate, there is no need to add fertilizers. It is quite difficult for a layperson to estimate the nutritional content of his garden soil. If there is interest in this regard, a special laboratory will determine the required data from the soil sample sent in for a fee. The effort is hardly worth it for the cultivation of a Panicum virgatum alone. If the prairie grass is grown in the bucket, experience has shown that the pre-fertilized substrate will last at least until the second year of standing. As a result, it is advisable to

Cutting and wintering

Since the switchgrass hardly loses any of its ornamental value in winter, it is not cut back in autumn. At this point, cutting would be counterproductive anyway, as the long stalks effectively protect the center of the eyrie from the damp cold of winter and prevent rot.

  • In late autumn, tie the eyrie up with coconut ribbon.
  • A thick blanket of snow is shaken off so that no snow break occurs.
  • Cut copper millet close to the ground in early spring before new shoots.
  • Open the coconut ribbon to tie the Panicum virgatum in small tufts.
  • Gradually cut off the individual sections with a sharp knife.
  • Under no circumstances cut into the fresh shoot.

Since the dense clumps of the ornamental grasses are often used as winter quarters by the animals in the garden, the prudent hobby gardener checks whether there is still a sleeping companion in it before taking action. If this is the case, the winter guest can sleep in beforehand, because then budding is still a long time coming.

Tip: The switchgrass does not have as hard foliage as other grasses; Nevertheless, it is recommended to only carry out the pruning with sturdy work gloves in order to avoid injuries from the edges of the leaf.

Garden enthusiasts who are surprised by the particularly early budding of the new leaves simply remove the withered parts of the plant on the outer edge. The visual damage caused by the brown discolored interfaces on young stalks weighs much more heavily than the withered leaves and panicles. In the following year, the radical cutback takes place within the usual framework.


If the hobby gardener would like more specimens, the switchgrass once again proves its undemanding flexibility. Several methods of propagation are available, all of which are straightforward.

The sowing of the seeds is equally suitable for the first planting as well as for the propagation. Another advantage is that it is mostly carried out indoors in the quiet winter months when gardening is manageable. Only the fact that switchgrass is a cold germ creates a little more effort.

  • Spread out a cling film and spread damp sand on it.
  • Scatter the seeds on the sand and cover with them again.
  • Now the film is formed into a roll and tied at both ends.
  • Store in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator or a similarly cool place for 2 to 4 weeks.
  • Check repeatedly whether the sand is still damp or whether germination has started.

As soon as the seeds germinate, they are allowed to move out of the refrigerator so that they can be planted in pots with a peat-sand mixture or sowing soil. First a few days at 12 ° Celsius and then on the bright, warm windowsill, they continue their growth while they are kept constantly moist. When the first true leaves sprout after the cotyledons, it is usually time to prick out the little plants. In individual pots, filled with nutrient-poor substrate, they quickly develop a strong root system in order to then obtain their final location in the bed or tub.

If a copper millet is already in cultivation, the experienced hobby gardener falls back on division, because this form of propagation is quick and easy. In early spring after pruning, he digs up the mother plant in order to divide it into several segments with at least 1 bud. Each section is then planted in the new location and cared for like an adult copper millet from the start.

A Panicum virgatum has rhizomes which – depending on the variety – develop for different lengths of time. In contrast to roots, a rhizome has shoot nodes that are suitable for propagation. Those who shy away from dividing their switchgrass dig up a rhizome in order to cut off a piece with at least 1 knot. This is planted in potting soil in order to sprout in a light, warm and sheltered place and to form roots.
Whichever approach the hobby gardener chooses, it is important to note that the young grasses are kept constantly moist. If they dry up, they are hopelessly lost.


The Panicum virgatum, which is grown by hand or purchased ready-to-plant, can in principle be used in beds or pots all year round, provided the earth is not frozen. The months of April and May are the best prerequisites for rapid growth and the development of a healthy, vital plant.

  • Carefully remove weeds from the planting area and loosen it thoroughly.
  • Create a planting pit with twice the volume of the root ball.
  • Add compost to the excavation and, if necessary, clay or sand.
  • Plant switchgrass, press in the soil and sludge.

The ornamental grass does develop rhizomes, but is not considered invasive like Chinese reeds. Depending on the variety, the rhizomes take on different lengths. They do not reach lengths of up to 4 meters, as in their natural range in North America, by a long way in Central Europe. If you want to control the spread, plant the copper millet in a sufficiently large pot or create a root barrier. The planting distance corresponds to the expected growth width, which varies depending on the variety.

Nice varieties

As a plant species among the sweet grasses, the switchgrass has enchanting varieties with individual attributes.

  • Tight switchgrass (Panicum virgatum ‘Strictum’) – This classic scores with a reddish-brown flower from August to September, which is visible from a distance at a height of 150 cm to 180 cm. In autumn the leaves turn a decorative yellow ocher.
  • Bluish switchgrass (Panicum virgatum ‘Heavy Metal’) – the name of the variety could not have been chosen more appropriately, because the blue-green leaves appear in a metallic sheen, above which the filigree, bluish ears rise from August to September. With a height of 60 cm to 100 cm, this variety is ideal for tub culture.
  • Red-brown switchgrass (Panicum virgatum ‘Hänse Herms’) – A subtle brownish flower is followed by a spectacular red autumn color that catches every glance. With a height of 70 cm to 120 cm, ‘Hänse Herms’ also sets stylish accents in the small garden.
  • Blue switchgrass (Panicum virgatum ‘Dallas Blues’) – This cultivar presents a real firework of colors with blue-gray stalks, purple-tinted ears and yellow autumn colors. With a height of 150 cm to 180 cm, this switchgrass has considerable stability.
  • Blue switchgrass (Panicum virgatum ‘Heiliger Hain’) – This ornamental grass has blue-green leaves that end in burgundy-red tips all year round. Thanks to the low heights of 60 cm to 100 cm, this variety is often used for designing graves.
  • Gray-blue giant switchgrass (Panicum virgatum ‘Cloud Nine’) – Here it goes up to 210 cm high. Due to the funnel-shaped contour, however, ‘Cloud Nine’ takes up surprisingly little space and can be wonderfully planted under. The October daisy (Leucanthemella serotina), the smooth aster (Aster laevis) or the candelabra speedwell (Veronicastrum virginicum ‘Lavender Tower’) harmonize beautifully with the giant switchgrass.
  • Red-brown switchgrass (Panicum virgatum ‘Rehbraun’) – Fragile flower panicles in red-brown. Leaves, the tips of which turn copper-red in autumn. With these optical advantages, switchgrass takes gardeners’ hearts by storm. With a height of 60 cm to 120 cm, it thrives just as lush in the tub as it does in the bed, planted in tuffs.
  • Large-flowered switchgrass (Panicum virgatum ‘Warrior’) – If the flower panicles can’t be big enough, choose ‘Warrior’. The green-leaved cultivar with the yellow autumn color strives up to 180 cm towards the sky, so that the reddish ears are definitely not overlooked.

The magnificent switchgrass is much more than just another element in garden architecture. This popular ornamental grass gives structure to the plant arrangement and invites the viewer’s wandering gaze to linger. Even in winter, the Panicum virgatum does not lose its optical effect. The sweetgrass does not expect extensive care rituals at any time, as long as the water flows in drought and additional nutrients are administered in the lean location. Another radical pruning in spring, and the copper millet is ready for another colorful year.

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