Pancium ‘Northwind’ is the 2014 PPA Plant of the Year
For only the third time in the history of the Perennial Plant Association, an ornamental grass has won the outstanding perennial of the year! In 2014, the award goes to a superior form of native switchgrass, Panicum virgatum ‘Northwind’. ‘Northwind’ is a selection from Roy Diblik, owner of Northwind Perennial Farm, Burlington, Wisconsin, just west of Lake Michigan in southeastern Wisconsin. The nursery is about midway between Milwaukee, WI and Rockford, IL, and is in USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 5b: -100F to -150F in a typical winter.
‘Northwind’ is a unique and very attractive form of switchgrass due to its very stiff and upright growth habit. The medium textured foliage is olive green in appearance and the leaf blades are short to medium in length, allowing the stems to be visible between the foliage. ‘Northwind’ stems are as rigid as arrow shafts.
The showy flowers of ‘Northwind’ are borne partially ‘in the boot’, which means that the flowers expand slowly and appear lower on the plant, amid the foliage. This is attractive and makes the plant even more compact and tidy in appearance. As the flowers mature, they expand further, flower color is yellow-green.
‘Northwind’ grows between 4-6 feet in height in Minnesota. It grows well in many soil types, including heavy clay and sandy soils. Soils with more moisture will mean a taller plant. Full sun is preferred, at least 6 hours daily. Fall color is beige. Some reports of winter loss have been noted, however plants at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, USDA Zone 4a (-200F to -250F) had not been lost since planting in 2004. ‘Northwind’ is also one of 17 selections of switchgrass in the National Grass Trials which are planted in 11 states, including the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, see grasstrials.com for more information.
As a screen, background plant, or in combination with other perennials, ‘Northwind’ is an attractive and showy grass. It is easy to grow and has no pests or disease problems. It stands up well in winter and provides cover and food for birds and other wildlife. Deer do not eat switchgrass, so it is good to use where deer have been a problem. And, as a dense bunchgrass, ‘Northwind’ will not spread underground, since it has minimal or no rhizomes and forms a dense clump. Self-seeding is often seen in switchgrass, however, ‘Northwind’ is not known for heavy seed set and has not been a problem self-seeder in our trials.
Annual maintenance is simply to cut off the tops in late winter or early spring. The tops can go into the compost pile and decompose quickly. Look for ‘Northwind’ at your favorite garden center and enjoy the beauty of this native grass in your garden. For more information, see the Perennial Plant Association info page for ‘Northwind’.