Native to North America (cultivar)
FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Panicum virgatum ‘Cloud Nine’ is a tall handsome selection of our native switch grass. This cultivar has arching bluish-green leaves topped by large billowing flower panicles. In late evening, the panicle spikelets seem to dance above the foliage. Foliage and flowers develop a showy gold color in fall before taking on a deeper bronzy winter patina. ‘Cloud Nine’ typically attains a 6-8’ height in sunny gardens with moist, average or dry soils.
HABITAT & HARDINESS: The parent species, Panicum virgataum, ranges through most of the southern Canadian provinces and the United States. It is indigenous to prairies, savannas, glades, rocky bluffs, stream banks, open woods, sand dunes, borders of marshes, roadsides, ditches and fields.
‘Cloud Nine’ was introduced by Bluemount Nursery in Monkton, Maryland. This cultivar is much admired for its tall stature, unique growth habit, metallic blue foliage, huge flower panicles and intense golden fall color.
Panicum virgataum ‘Cloud Nine’ is hardy from USDA Zones 4-9.
PLANT DESCRIPTION: Panicum virgataum ‘Cloud Nine’ produces many sturdy and distinctly vertical culms. Arching linear leaves are steely blue-green with bases that wrap around the stems. In autumn, blades are tinted an attractive golden yellow.
As the foliage reaches mature height in late summer it is crowned by large nebulous flower panicles. The panicles contain many small reddish spikelets displayed on wirey stems. As the spikelets mature, they take on a golden color and then turn a soft tan as the seed ripen.
This cultivar develops a coppery winter hue and maintains an upright form during winter
Plants are anchored by an extensive fibrous root system while top growth attains a 6-8’ height and 3’ spread.
CULTURAL & MAINTENANCE NEEDS: Panicum virgatum ‘Cloud Nine’ prospers in sunny sites with average to moist soil. Plants tolerate clay, alkalinity, drought and moderate salinity.
The only maintenance needed is to cut or burn this grass to the ground in late winter. Avoid excess shade, fertilizers or abundant water as these practices promote weak sprawling stems.
This species can expand to form bodacious clumps from underground rhizomes. Due to this grass’ large girth and height, it should be sited where space is available and located behind shorter companion plants.
LANDSCAPE USES: Panicum virgatum ‘Cloud Nine’ is an appealing Accent or Mass Planting for Perennial Borders or Meadows. It is an excellent native substitute for many cultivars of Asian Miscanthus spp. that provides Erosion Control, Fall Color, Winter Interest, Interesting Blooms and Showy Seedheads. Plants are appropriate for Cottage Gardens, Low Maintenance Plantings, Water Wise Landscapes and Rain Gardens.
COMPANION & UNDERSTUDY PLANTS: Try pairing with Aster oblongifolius ‘Raydon’s Favorite’, Coreopsis tripteris, Echinacea purpurea, Hibiscus moscheutos, Liatris spicata, Rudbeckia hirta or Schizachyrium scoparium.
Panicum virgatum ‘Heavy Metal’ has similar growth habit, foliage and cultural needs. ‘Heavy Metal’ is a shorter more erect plant, however, with smaller flower panicles.
TRIVIA: Panicum virgatum ‘Cloud Nine’ is commonly called “Tall Switch grass” as it is among the tallest of the Panicum virgatum cultivars.
‘Cloud Nine’ received the 2009 Theodore Klein Plant Award.
Plants host the caterpillars of several skippers. Tender young leaves are browsed by deer and livestock. Seed are eaten by a variety of birds and small rodents.