Panicum virgatum 'Prairie Fire'

The Blues little bluestem    Perennial of the Month-- November 2012  Perry caricature

(PAN-eh-cum  veer-GAA-tum or vir-GAA-tum ) (pronunciation at link, turn up volume if too low)

Common name:  Prairie Fire switchgrass

Family:  Poaceae, grass

Height x width: 3-4ft x 1.5-2ft

Growth rate, habit: moderate, sturdy and upright rhizomatous clump (more upright and taller than similar cultivars)

Foliage: blue-green stems with dark red in leaves, young leaves change from green to dark red sooner than other red cultivars; linear leaves, smooth, arching near tips, average 18in. long

Flowers:  rosy (fade to tan in winter), pyramidal panicles above leaves in late summer, foot or more long, persists through winter

Hardiness: USDA zones 4-9; AHS heat zones 9-1

Soil:  well-drained, tolerates wet, also tolerates some drought once established; may flop in too fertile soils

Light: full sun, may flop in part shade

Pests and problems:  none significant; may have rust in hot and humid conditions

Landscape habit, uses:  borders, meadows, wild or naturalized gardens, rain gardens, along watersides, wildlife gardens (cover and food for birds), massed for formal effect, low screening or informal hedge, large containers, cut or dried; combines well with asters, yarrows, tall garden phlox, false indigo, Shasta daisy, rudbeckia, tall sedum, Joe-pye, Karl Foerster feather reed grass (blooms earlier); similar cultivars include 'Badlands', 'Cheyenne Sky', 'Huron Solstice', 'Rostrahlbush', 'Ruby Ribbons'

Other interest: bred by Gary Trucks of Amber Waves Gardens (MI), being a 2001 cross of 'Heavy Metal' and 'Rotstrahlbush'; common name from swishing sound in wind; withstands wind and snow; since a warm season grass may be slow to emerge in the spring in northern climates; deer resistant and salt tolerant (good along the coast and northern salted winter roads)

Other culture: low maintenance, cut back in late winter or early spring before new growth begins, cut back to 6 or more inches high; clumps spread slowly

Propagation:  commercially by licensed propagators, USPP19367; home gardens by late spring division as growth is beginning but before one foot tall

Sources:  many online and local specialty nurseries

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