FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Panicum virgatum 'Cape Breeze' is a switch grass cultivar that is known for its compact size and upright habit. In late spring airy yellow-green flower panicles rise above the deep green arching leaves. The panicles turn bronze in autumn while foliage develops reddish purple tips and remains green until late in the season. This handsome cultivar thrives in sunny sites and tolerates drought and salinity after establishment.
HABITAT & HARDINESS: The parent species Panicum virgatum ranges through most of the southern Canadian provinces and the contiguous United States. The species is indigenous to prairies, savannas, glades, rocky bluffs, stream banks, open woods, sand dunes, marsh borders, roadsides, ditches and fields.
Renowned Massachusetts Landscape Designer, Paul Miskovsky, discovered this grass in an Oak Bluffs garden on the island of Martha's Vineyard in 2008. Miskovsky grew the plant for several years and propagated it asexually (by division) to assure that it was stable. ‘Cape Breeze’ was then trialed by North Creek Nurseries of Landenberg, Pennsylvania for three years.
In 2014, after favorable evaluations, the cultivar was patented and introduced by North Creek Nurseries. ‘Cape Breeze’ is notable for its compact habit, early bloom time, showy golden inflorescences, retention of green foliage late in the season and resistance to rust.
Panicum virgataum ‘Cape Breeze’ is hardy from USDA Zones 4-9.
PLANT DESCRIPTION: Panicum virgatum 'Cape Breeze' is a sturdy compact switch grass cultivar with multiple seasons of interest.
In spring, erect stems are clothed in attractive deep green foliage. The ½” wide arching blades rise to 2’ by late spring and are topped by airy pale green panicles. The flower panicles develop bronze hues and persist into the autumn.
Leaf tips acquire burgundy color in autumn and blades remain green until winter. When the green color wanes, leaves and seed heads develop an attractive amber winter glow.
Plants are 24-30” tall with an equal spread.
CULTURAL & MAINTENANCE NEEDS: Panicum virgatum 'Cape Breeze' prospers in sunny sites with average to moist soil.
Plants tolerate drought, salt and clay, sandy or infertile soils. Stems are sturdy and usually remain upright without staking even in windy coastal sites.
Plants are resistant to rust and unpalatable to deer and other herbivores.
The only maintenance needed is to cut or burn this grass to the ground in late winter.
LANDSCAPE USES: Due to its uniform habit and healthy persistent green foliage, Panicum virgatum 'Cape Breeze' is an appealing Accent, Grouping or Mass Planting for Perennial Borders, Coastal Gardens. Roadsides or urban Meadows. Plants provide Erosion Control, Winter Interest, Showy Blooms and Attractive Seedheads and are appropriate for Containers, Cottage Gardens, Low Maintenance Plantings, Rain Gardens and Water Wise Landscapes.
COMPANION & UNDERSTUDY PLANTS: Try pairing Panicum virgatum 'Cape Breeze' with Aster laevis ‘Bluebird’, Aster oblongifolius ‘Raydon’s Favorite’, Echinacea purpurea, Rudbeckia fulgida var. fulgida, Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’ or Schizachyrium scoparium ‘Standing Ovation’.
If a substitute is needed, Panicum virgatum 'Shenandoah' would offer similar foliage color, height and have comparable cultural needs.
TRIVIA: Paul Miskovsky, the inventor of this cultivar, has theorized that ‘Cape Breeze’ may be a hybrid of Panicum virgatum and an unidentified Panicum spp. As a result, this cultivar is sometimes known as Panicum ‘Cape Breeze’.