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Invincible! North Creek Nurseries outside of Philadelphia says that of the thirteen Switch Grasses in their trial garden, Northwind was the only one left standing after Hurricane Floyd struck in 1999. Northwind stands strong and proud, with relatively wide, thick, blue-green leaf blades that turn a luminous gold color in the fall. In late summer, tight, upright, pinkish plumes emerge that fade to cream. This sturdy Fringe keeps its military-straight posture throughout the winter, too. Use it to give structure to the beds and borders around your home. A block of Northwind Switch Grasses also makes an effective and sharp-looking seasonal privacy screen.
- Hardiness Zone: 5-9
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Switch Grass is an American Fringe that is native to basically the whole country except for the West Coast states, Alaska, and Hawaii. It is most fondly associated with the midwestern tallgrass prairie, where it once stood shoulder-to-shoulder with perennial Sunflowers, Big Bluestem, and other prairie plants for miles in all directions. This particular selection was introduced by Wisconsin nurseryman Roy Diblik. Diblik collected seed from a plant growing by the railroad tracks near South Elgin, Illinois, in 1982. One seedling he grew from those seeds had a remarkably rigid, upright habit. He named it after his nursery, Northwind Perennial Farm.
In 2014, the Perennial Plant Association named Northwind Switch Grass their Perennial Plant of the Year. It was only the third Fringe to receive this honor (the other two were Karl Foerster Feather Reed Grass and Aureola Japanese Forest Grass). In making their selections, the PPA looks for widespread adaptability, ease of culture, multi-season interest, and resistance to pests and diseases.
How to Grow
Northwind Switch Grass is bulletproof. Simply plant it in a sunny location in any type of soil and provide regular irrigation during the establishment period. Once it has put down roots, it will be fairly drought tolerant. Northwind is also tolerant of periodic flooding, making it a good component in a rain garden. Icy weather doesn’t faze it either—ice may flatten it temporarily, but as soon as it melts, this perky Fringe pops right back up again. In late winter or early spring, cut back the old growth with manual or electric hedge trimmers or a bow saw to clear the way for new growth. Be patient—Switch Grass is one of the last plants to emerge in spring.
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