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How to Grow Northwind Grass

By Sylvia Cochran ; Updated September 21, 2017

Northwind or switch grass—known to hobbyists as Panicum virgatum Northwind—is a perennial ornamental grass that grows to a height of 4 to 6 feet. From July to February it carries yellow blooms and later on beige seed panicles, which make it very attractive in borders and other landscape features. Hobbyists find it to be a low-maintenance ornamental that can handle wet conditions and thrives in full sun or partial shade. Learning how to grow Northwind grass is quite easy.

Turn over the soil with a spade and remove rocks and weeds. Even though Northwind grass is not very picky about soil conditions, it does grow deep roots that need room to spread. Rocks and weeds can stunt the growth of—as of yet non-established—new grass.

Plant the Northwind cultivar in flower beds that offer full sun or partial shade. The plant is useful for the prevention of soil erosion. Consider it also as an alternative to non-native plants in the landscape. It is not necessary to augment the soil in an effort to alter acidity or alkalinity. Panicum virgatum Northwind does well in sandy, heavy clay and other soil types.

Prune the grass down to the ground early in spring; there should be no more than 6 to 8 inches of old growth remaining. This annual cutting encourages vigorous new growth each year. Make sure to use pruning shears with very sharp blades to avoid injury to the stems that may result in rips and tears.

Divide growing clumps of Northwind grass after three to four years. Use a sharp spade for a clean cut. Plant the newly separated clumps in other areas of the landscape, place them in containers or compost them. This prevents the ornamental grass from spreading too much within the flower bed or choking portions of itself and becoming unsightly. Remember that this grass initially covered the grass prairies and as such, it is natural for it to spread. Within the well-maintained landscape this presents problems.

Remove beige panicles in fall with sharp pruning shears. Place the panicles into a trash receptacle immediately. These panicles contain seeds that spread easily to other areas of the landscape through gusting winds. Within the immediate vicinity of the Northwind they also result in plenty of new seedlings. This can quickly lead to overrun and unsightly flower beds that lack definition. Cutting off the panicles before the seeds have a chance to spread curtails this problem.


Things You Will Need

  • Spade
  • Pruning shears
  • Trash receptacle


  • Instead of bagging up the seed-containing panicles for the trash, consider saving the seeds for bird food during the winter months.

About the Author


Based in the Los Angeles area, Sylvia Cochran is a seasoned freelance writer focusing on home and garden, travel and parenting articles. Her work has appeared in "Families Online Magazine" and assorted print and Internet publications.