A Landscapers Guide To Shenandoah Switch Grass


Plant Reference



May 3, 2023

A Landscapers Guide To Shenandoah Switch Grass

Introduction to Shenandoah Switch Grass

Shenandoah switch grass (Panicum virgatum 'Shenandoah') is a striking, native ornamental grass that has gained popularity in recent years for its beauty, versatility, and low maintenance. With its distinctive, reddish-purple foliage and tall, feathery plumes, this grass adds texture, movement, and color to any landscape. In this guide, we will take a closer look at the characteristics of Shenandoah switch grass and provide practical tips on planting, care, and incorporating it into your landscape design.

Characteristics of Shenandoah Switch Grass

Shenandoah switch grass planted in nature

Growth Habit and Size

Shenandoah switch grass is a warm-season, clumping grass that grows in an upright, vase-shaped form. It typically reaches a height of 3-4 feet with an equal spread but can grow taller in favorable conditions. The plant is perennial and hardy in USDA zones 4 through 9, making it suitable for a wide range of climates.

Foliage and Color

The real allure of Shenandoah switch grass lies in its striking foliage. The leaves are narrow and linear, with a deep green base color that develops red tips and progressively deepens to a rich burgundy as the season progresses. By autumn, the entire plant is a beautiful, reddish-purple hue, providing a stunning contrast to the more common green grasses.

Seasonal Interest

Throughout the growing season, Shenandoah switch grass provides a changing landscape of color and texture. In late spring and early summer, delicate, airy flower panicles appear, starting as a light pink and maturing to a deep burgundy. These plumes persist into the winter months, offering visual interest even in the dormant season.

Planting Shenandoah Switch Grass

Site Selection

When choosing a location for Shenandoah switch grass, consider its sunlight requirements and mature size. This grass prefers full sun but can tolerate light shade. Ensure that the planting site receives at least six hours of direct sunlight daily. Additionally, provide enough space for the grass to grow to its full size without crowding other plants or encroaching on walkways.

Soil Preparation

Shenandoah switch grass is adaptable to a variety of soil types, including sandy, loamy, and clay soils. However, it thrives best in well-draining soil. Prior to planting, amend heavy clay or compacted soil with organic matter, such as compost or aged manure, to improve drainage and fertility.

Planting Tips

When planting Shenandoah switch grass, dig a hole twice as wide and as deep as the root ball. Gently loosen the roots if they are pot-bound, then place the plant in the hole at the same depth it was growing in the container. Backfill the hole with the amended soil, gently firming it around the root ball to eliminate air pockets. Water thoroughly after planting to help the soil settle.

Maintenance and Care

Shenandoah switch grass

Watering and Irrigation

While Shenandoah switch grass is drought-tolerant once established, it benefits from regular watering during its first growing season. Provide the plant with approximately one inch of water per week, either through rainfall or supplemental irrigation. Once established, the grass can tolerate drier conditions, but occasional deep watering during extended dry spells is still beneficial.


Shenandoah switch grass requires minimal fertilization. In most cases, an annual application of a balanced, slow-release fertilizer in the spring is sufficient. If your soil is particularly poor, you may consider a second application in midsummer, but avoid over-fertilizing, as this can lead to excessive growth and reduced drought tolerance.

Pruning and Trimming

Prune Shenandoah switch grass in late winter or early spring, before new growth emerges. Cut the grass back to about 4-6 inches above the ground, using sharp, clean pruning shears. This helps to remove dead foliage and promote vigorous new growth.

Landscape Design Ideas

Mass Plantings

Shenandoah switch grass makes a stunning statement when planted en masse. Use it as a ground cover in large, open areas or to create a striking backdrop for shorter perennials and annuals. The eye-catching color and texture provide a visual anchor in the landscape, while the grass's natural, flowing movement adds a sense of dynamism.

Borders and Edging

Use Shenandoah switch grass as a tall, colorful border or edging plant along walkways, patios, or garden beds. Its upright growth habit creates a strong vertical element in the landscape, while the seasonal color changes add interest throughout the year.

Rain Gardens and Bioswales

Shenandoah switch grass is an excellent choice for rain gardens and bioswales, as it is tolerant of both wet and dry conditions. Plant it alongside other water-loving plants to create an attractive, functional landscape feature that helps manage stormwater runoff and prevent erosion.

Slope Stabilization and Erosion Control

The deep, fibrous root system of Shenandoah Switch grass makes it an effective plant for stabilizing slopes and controlling erosion. Plant it on banks or steep inclines to help hold the soil in place and prevent soil loss during heavy rains.

Wildlife Habitat and Pollinator Gardens

Incorporating Shenandoah switch grass into wildlife habitats and pollinator gardens can provide valuable resources for native fauna. The grass offers shelter and nesting sites for birds and small mammals, while its flowers attract a variety of pollinators, including bees and butterflies.

Combining with Other Ornamental Grasses and Perennials

Shenandoah Switch grass pairs well with other ornamental grasses and perennials, creating a dynamic, multi-textured landscape. Consider combining it with plants like purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum'), blue oat grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens), or feather reed grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foerster'). Pairing it with complementary perennials, such as coneflowers (Echinacea spp.), black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia spp.), or Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia), can create a visually striking garden display.

Using Shenandoah Switch Grass as a Privacy Screen

With its tall, dense growth habit, Shenandoah switch grass can serve as an effective privacy screen in the landscape. Plant it in a row or staggered pattern along property lines or near outdoor living spaces to create a living barrier that offers both privacy and beauty.

Container Gardening

Shenandoah switch grass also works well in containers, either as a standalone specimen or combined with other plants. Choose a large, well-draining container and ensure the grass receives adequate sunlight and water. The dramatic foliage and plumes provide a stunning focal point in any container garden.

Shenandoah switch grass is a versatile, low-maintenance ornamental grass that brings color, texture, and movement to the landscape. By understanding its growth habits, proper planting techniques, and care requirements, you can easily incorporate this stunning native grass into your garden design. With its striking appearance and adaptability, Shenandoah switch grass is a valuable addition to any landscape.

FAQs Shenandoah Switch Grass

Is Shenandoah switch grass deer resistant?

Yes, Shenandoah switch grass is considered deer resistant, making it a suitable choice for landscapes where deer are common.

Does Shenandoah switch grass attract wildlife?

Yes, the seed heads of Shenandoah switch grass provide food for birds, and its dense clumps provide cover and nesting sites for small mammals and birds.

Can Shenandoah switch grass be grown from seed?

Yes, Shenandoah switch grass can be grown from seed, but it may take several years for the plants to reach their full size and develop their characteristic coloration.

How fast does Shenandoah switch grass grow?

Shenandoah switch grass grows at a moderate rate, typically reaching its mature size within two to three years.

Can Shenandoah switch grass be divided?

Yes, Shenandoah switch grass can be divided in early spring, just as new growth begins. Divide the clumps into smaller sections, ensuring that each section has a healthy root system and some foliage. Replant the divisions at the same depth they were previously growing, and water thoroughly to help them establish.