Ornamental grasses are terrific for adding movement, texture, and vertical interest to your garden beds.
Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), also known as tall panic grass, tall prairie grass, thatch grass, or wild redtop is a very popular grass variety that is mostly grown as feedstock. But this handy grass variety can also be used as an ornamental plant species to perk up the look of your garden.
All on its own, this ornamental grass species can look a bit dull and wild but when you combine it with food crops or ornamental companion plants like new england asters, firetails, globe thistles, Siberian irises, or tall verbena, you can create eye-catching garden spaces filled with color and movement.
In this guide, we are going to explore the best companion species to pair up with switchgrass and we share some creative ways to use them in your garden.
What to Grow with Switchgrass
If you want your switchgrass and its neighboring plants to grow tall, healthy, and strong then it is best to combine plant species with similar growing requirements and a similar growing season together.
Switchgrass will flourish if you grow it in full sun but it can adapt to partial shade. In full shade, this grass variety will flop over. The grass variety will take well to many different soil types and it can be quite drought and heat tolerant once established. Even though it is hardy and drought tolerant, it grows best with regular watering and moist soil conditions.
Let’s take a look at some switchgrass companions that also flourish in full sun, are adaptable to many soil types, and will grow well in moist to dry conditions.
Other Food Crops
Switchgrass is often planted as a crop or livestock feed because it can provide farmers with good-quality forage for grazing animals.
If you are growing this grass species as animal feed then you can consider pairing it with other animal feed varieties like barley (Hordeum vulgare), wheat (Triticum), and oats (Avena sativa).
Most grazing crops should be planted in full sun and they usually take well to a variety of soil types that drain well. In dry regions, these food crops will need to be watered once a week but in some regions, they can grow well with just rainfall.
To create an effective grazing field, you can decide to grow these food crops in mixtures. Most farmers do, however, prefer to grow switchgrass in monoculture settings because most grazing animals prefer the taste of other crops to switchgrass and might target your other crops and leave the grasses for later. This can cause your other food crops to become extinguished.
New England Asters
New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) are terrific companion plants for switchgrass in ornamental gardens because they will add lots of color to your garden bed with their bright rose-purple starry-shaped flowers.
These charming florals will grow well in full sun with a minimum of six to eight hours of direct sunlight. As with switchgrass, these flowers prefer moist soil conditions but they can survive spells of drought.
These perennials can grow up to 4 feet tall while switchgrass can grow up to 5 feet tall. Because of their similar height, you can easily mix these varieties in clumps in your garden to create a showy hedge or border.
Firetail Mountain Fleece
Firetail mountain fleece (Bistorta amplexicaulis) is a real beauty to add to your garden if you want to create showy borders.
This perennial grows vigorously, forms a dense shrub, and will add lots of color to your garden when it produces long graceful red blooms.
This plant species thrives in full sun but can also grow well in partial shade. It should be planted in well-drained soil and it prefers moist soil conditions.
Firetails will look quite charming if you grow them next to clumps of showy switchgrass. They will look especially charming when the switchgrass also produces delicate red blooms.
Globe thistle (Echinops) is a great companion plant to select if you want a blue and silver color palette for your garden. This texture-rich plant produces intense blue spherical flowers on tall stems that can add lots of grace and texture to your garden bed.
These herbaceous perennials prefer warm and dry regions and should be planted in full sun. They are ideal plants for low-maintenance gardens because they only need to be watered when they show signs of drought stress.
Globe thistle can grow up to 5 feet tall which means you can easily grow them right next to switchgrass or mix them all over your garden bed.
Because switchgrass tends to be quite dense it is, however, usually best to position these flowers in the front so you can clearly view those beautiful blue orbs.
Siberian irises (Iris sibirica) or silver edge iris are also great switchgrass companions because they are very easy to grow and maintain. The leafy foliage of these florals will blend well with your grass blades and the purple-blue flowers will add lots of color and charm to your garden bed.
These perennials can be planted in full sun or partial shade and they will flourish in slightly acidic soil with lots of moisture.
It is usually best to grow Siberian irises in the front of your garden beds so the vivid purple flowers can stand out. Just remember to leave plenty of room so these flowers can expand.
What NOT to Grow with Switchgrass
Switchgrass won’t grow well in deep shade and can flop over and become unsightly in these shaded positions. Because it needs so much direct sunlight, it is usually best not to pair it with shade-loving species like hostas, begonias, or ferns.
The grass variety can survive spells of drought but prefers moist soil. This makes it an unsuitable companion for plant species like succulents or lavender that require dry conditions to survive.
Landscaping Ideas for Switchgrass and Companions
There are lots of great ways to use switchgrass in agricultural or ornamental gardens. Here is a quick look at the best ways to create interesting spaces with this lush grass variety.
Switchgrass is a good grazing food for animals and can be mixed with other crop plants like barley or oats to create charming and beneficial grazing fields for farm animals.
While you can mix these food plants together in the same area, it is usually best to grow them separately with a fence that splits your grazing plants so you can have more control over how much of each variety your animals consume.
Switchgrass will add lots of texture and movement to gardens with lots of rocky features like dry rocky rivers, fountains, rocky walkways, gravel driveways, and areas with large boulders. You can grow clumps of this fine textured grass amongst the rocky features to create a lively effect.
Pair flowering species like irises, globe thistle, or asters among the rocky features for a more colorful and interesting effect.
Switchgrass can be combined with florals like irises, asters, firetails, and globe thistles to create interesting mixed borders.
These mixed borders can be helpful for concealing unsightly areas on our property or to make walkways stand out.
There are lots of interesting plants that can grow well alongside switchgrass. Companion plants like grazing crops, new england asters, firetail, globe thistle, Siberian irises, and tall verbena will all help you create much more interesting and useful spaces.
We hope that our guide helped you find suitable plants for your garden and that you will now be able to create spaces that are full of interest, movement, and life.
*image by sun_house_ann/depositphotos