This is a relatively low maintenance plant, and is best cut back to the ground in late winter before active growth resumes. It has no significant negative characteristics.
Purple Tears Switch Grass features airy plumes of gray flowers rising above the foliage from mid summer to mid fall. Its attractive grassy leaves are light green in colour with hints of silvery blue. As an added bonus, the foliage turns gorgeous shades of orange and red in the fall. The purple seed heads are carried on showy plumes displayed in abundance from late summer to mid fall. The tan stems can be quite attractive.
Purple Tears Switch Grass is an herbaceous perennial grass with an upright spreading habit of growth. Its relatively fine texture sets it apart from other garden plants with less refined foliage.
Purple Tears Switch Grass is recommended for the following landscape applications;
This impressive selection forms a narrow, upright clump of striking light green leaves; airy, gray colored plumes appear in mid-summer, followed by splendid purple seed heads; perfect as a landscape accent, or along borders.
Purple Tears Switch Grass will grow to be about 3 feet tall at maturity extending to 4 feet tall with the flowers, with a spread of 24 inches. When grown in masses or used as a bedding plant, individual plants should be spaced approximately 18 inches apart. It tends to be leggy, with a typical clearance of 1 foot from the ground, and should be underplanted with lower-growing perennials. It grows at a medium rate, and under ideal conditions can be expected to live for approximately 15 years.
This plant does best in full sun to partial shade. It is very adaptable to both dry and moist locations, and should do just fine under typical garden conditions. It is considered to be drought-tolerant, and thus makes an ideal choice for a low-water garden or xeriscape application. It is not particular as to soil type, but has a definite preference for alkaline soils, and is able to handle environmental salt. It is somewhat tolerant of urban pollution. This is a selection of a native North American species. It can be propagated by division; however, as a cultivated variety, be aware that it may be subject to certain restrictions or prohibitions on propagation.
Illustration: Elara Tanguy.
Switchgrass happens to be my go-to tall grass for the back of a border, but ‘Purple Tears’ only gets around 3 feet tall (4 feet when it is in bloom), so it fits the bill in almost any sunny border situation. Piet likes to use big sweeps of plants, but for most of us, three to five plants is enough to emphasize the outstanding color contrast between the leaves and the seeds—and to get all the exciting movement that big grasses provide. The graceful swaying with the slightest breeze is true poetry in motion.
The foliage of this grass is light green, and in late summer to early fall you will be delighted to see gray-tipped flowering spikes with a distinctive purple seed head. It tends to be a heavy bloomer, which makes it even more showy. The habit is upright, but with the seed heads it turns into a great see-through plant.
‘Purple Tears’ is a warm-season grass that meets the requirement of most gardeners: it is easy to grow. It can take sun or partial shade, it can thrive in soil that is moist or dry as long as it’s well drained, it plays flopsy and mopsy when you overfertilize or overwater, and it needs no special care in winter. Doesn’t this sound like a perfect beginner’s plant or a plant that will flourish with benign neglect? It is so adaptable and functional that it can grow anywhere from a parking lot to a rain garden. Now that’s true flexibility for designers and homeowners. All gardeners love plants like this.
Zones: 4–10 Conditions: Full sun; well-drained soil Native range: Dutch selection of North American species.
Painting Clay Pots.
I happened to be looking in a magazine recently when this caught my eye: “the Piet Oudolf Collection.” Piet started as a designer and plantsman in Hummelo, Netherlands. His gardens use lots of American native plants, yet they don’t quite look like our designers’ landscapes. He has created numerous outstanding gardens in Europe, and he has been instrumental in creating the High Line in New York City and the Lurie Garden in Chicago. As I looked over the plant collection with his name on it, I became intrigued with ‘Purple Tears’ switchgrass.
Sources • Digging Dog Nursery , Albion, CA 707-937-1130; diggingdog.com • Plant More Natives , Richmond, VA plantmorenatives.com.
Stephanie Cohen has spent most of her life trialing, speaking about, and teaching all things plants. The author of several books, she lectures extensively around North America.
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‘Purple Tears’ switchgrass ( Panicum virgatum ‘Purple Tears’)
Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’ is the most likely parent based on appearance and proximity in the growing area. But whereas ‘Shenandoah’ has dark green foliage that develops red-orange color, ‘Purple Tears’ offers a lighter green color that persists across the season. Its purple seed heads, gray-tipped flowering spikes, and graceful habit stood out for Oudolf in his garden.
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Renowned plantsman and designer Piet Oudolf brings us a Switchgrass that’s destined to be a classic. He discovered this delightful selection of our native species in a nursery plot in Hummelo, Netherlands. Panicum virgatum ‘Purple Tears’ bears flowering spikes with soft gray color at the top, followed by splendid, purple seed heads. With a manageable height of 4’, its narrow, upright habit make it perfect for a range of landscape applications. It has the same toughness and adaptability you’ll find in other Switchgrass cultivars.
We are happy to be the first nursery in the U.S. to offer Panicum virgatum ‘Purple Tears’. Capture some of the magic Oudolf and his designs bring to landscapes with this exciting, new Switchgrass.
Licensed through Future Plants, asexual propagation without permission is prohibited.