pvecholane

Panicum virgatum ‘Hot Rod’

echolane
October 15, 2018
last modified: October 15, 2018

I just ordered three more of this plant from Santa Rosa Gardens, partly inspired by this photo I cam across of it displaying its extreme fall color.



I do have one plant of Hot Rod already and I know it’s never going to color like that for me (darn!), but it does throw a lot of deeply colored blades of Burgundy and that’s good enough. I also like its smaller size from the species, so I ordered three more. I am going to try something new and plant all three as though they were one plant. My plant is finishing up its second season for me. It’s been a very slow grower, so I’m thinking I will plant all three “babies” spaced an inch or two apart and hope they will grow together and provide a matching visual to my older one.

Comments (33)

  • GardenHo_MI_Z5

    You may want to rethink that.

    Keep in mind plants sleep yr one, creep yr 2, then leap yr 3.

    Your single grass will then look small in comparison to the three planted together.

    What I’d suggest is to divide from the single one once the three get larger. Then you will have 5 (or more depending on its size) close to the same size.

  • GardenHo_MI_Z5

    This has become my favorite grass...Stipa tenuissima. Surprisingly it survives our winters with no worries of being invasive.

  • echolane

    You may want to rethink that.

    Keep in mind plants sleep yr one, creep yr 2, then leap yr 3.

    Your single grass will then look small in comparison to the three planted together.

    What I’d suggest is to divide from the single one once the three get larger. Then you will have 5 (or more depending on its size) close to the same size.

    I had thought of that but my present Hot Rod is too small for me to consider dividing. If the threesome begins to look too robust after a couple of years, I figure I can make it smaller pretty easily.

  • echolane

    I agree that it is a pretty grass. You’re really lucky that Stipa tenuissima doesn’t seed about prolifically like it did on my property. I had to get rid of it. And it took me a few years to get rid of all its seedlings.

  • GardenHo_MI_Z5

    SRG’s are quite small. Isn’t your current one larger?

  • echolane

    SRG plants are quite small.


    If I counted the number of grass blades on my two year old Hot Rod plant and then counted and added up the grass blades on the three new ones, I think the totals would be very close. So I think it’s going to work out. At the moment I really want only two Hot Rods and can’t forsee a need for more so I’ll just have to hope the grasses won’t mind growing together.

  • GardenHo_MI_Z5

    Ok gotcha...good luck.

  • dbarron

    As a rule, crowding multiple plants together, doesn't result in as vigorous growth as it would if each had no competition. And even though they're clones, there are often little discrepancies.

  • texasranger2

    Barron as a rule thats true but I have done the same thing--plant three 4" plugs from SRG to create one clump of panicum grass.

    When you dig a mature panicum grass up to divide it, you discover its made up of small sections that pull apart easily, each section individually rooted and each would fit nicely into a 4" pot like they sell at SRG. I usually plant 3 or 4 plugs in a hole to start a new plant much quicker than you would with just a small plug.

    I ordered and planted three plugs to get one good sized 'Dallas Blue' and three to get a good size clump of 'Shenandoah'.

    Hot Rod is so ridiculously slow growing I'd even consider planting 6 plugs to get a good sized plant more quickly. I don't think Hot Rod has the spunk and tenacity that other named varieties have, it seemed like a weak grower to me and then mine died. I read somewhere that the red makes for a weaker grass. Maybe thats why all the red ones are so much shorter?

  • echolane

    Tex - Nice to get some assurance that planting several to become one will work out. I haven’t tried this before, but when I thought about how lawn grasses grow together from seed or plugs, it just seemed to me it ought to work.


    Hot Rod is ridiculously slow. I wouldn’t stick with it except for its very attractive late summer into fall coloring and it’s smaller height. I would have purchased five from SRG except they didn’t lower the price that much for their late season sale, from $11.99 to only $7.99, so even with just three plants, it’ll be an extravagantly pricey simgle. I’ll have to hope a gopher doesn’t get it. I lost three Festuca mairei’s to gophers this summer.

  • texasranger2

    My worst grass pest hands down is June bug grubs. One or two grubs can wipe out an entire plant in a season. You start noticing the grass looks dry and you find you can lift the entire plant like a hat. The roots are gone all the way up to the soil line and there is always at least one grub, sometimes two, chomping away at the roots. A lot of grubs can just about wipe out a lawn in a season too. Their favorite grass is blue fescue but they aren't picky, they'll eat any kind of grass. At the end of the season I go out and lift all the brown rootless fescue plants which usually accounts for most of them, you don't even have to tug at the plants, they lift right up. To have it each year I have to rely on volunteer seedlings.

    I think it would take years to finally get a good sized plant from a single plug with Hot Rod and multiple plugs would be the best way to go.

  • peren.all Zone 5a Ontario Canada

    Interesting to hear 'Hot Rod' is slow. When I planted 'Shenandoah' it took right off. I put in 3 (1 gallon) and spaced them a bit closer together than recommended so that it would look like one large clump after a couple of years. It is a great plant.

    TR I think I recall perhaps you saying yours never attained good colour in your climate?

  • texasranger2

    peren.all I said Shenandoah doesn't get red here (I think you are asking about that one). I don't know about Hot Rod because it died last winter after a whole summer of just sitting there and not growing so I don't know how it would have done---it was the punkiest grass I've ever grown. I used to have that old German red one--- Rostalbausch (spelling?? ) and in 4 years they never get red at all, not even a blade or two. It would just go from green to dormant yellowish brown. The June bugs finally got most of it and I took out what was left around the perimeters.

    I just looked out the window and the Shenandoah isn't very red at all. Its more of a green+yellow green with brownish leaves here and there and a few red tips on some leaves. It still early for coloring up here though and I'm curious to see if all the rain we've had makes a difference on the Shenandoah. All the panicum's are still green here---Northwind's are still dark green and Heavy Metal is blueish green. The only red I have are the bluestem's and the stalks on the big bluestem which is kind of nice because they are in front of the Heavy Metal.

    ps--Shenandoah was a fast grower for me too.

  • echolane

    It’s interesting to note how different the advance of fall is in our respective gardens. My Heavy Metal is fully straw colored and Top Hat after showing some nice dark burgundy colors has only traces of green here and there at its base but is 95% straw colored. Panicum Northwind is still mostly green.

    In general, it’s an odd fall. The Pin Oak is losing its leaves weeks earlier than usual and with very little color in the leaves. My Fothergillas are strongly colored but less brilliant than usual while it’s companion Iteas and Hydrangeas and Japanese Maples, which usually color up at the same time as the Fotherfillas, are not colored at all yet.

    As for June bugs!!, I haven’t seen one since I left Illinois for California in 1973. I don’t miss them at all! Gophers have a similar effect on my grasses, leaving a drying but still upright canopy sitting on top of the soil but with no roots.

  • texasranger2

    The Big Bluestem grasses (all of the named varieties) have suddenly turned red down to the leaves. It is really red and I am happy to say the photos are not hyped, the color is dramatic. Of the two survivors up front one is unbelievably red and the other is a bit less red -- when the late afternoon sun hits them they glow and really stand out as bright red.

    The ones I planted out back in front of the 'Northwind' switch grasses are making a nice strong contrast since the 'Northiwnd' are still deep green. Those should begin to turn yellow any time now. 'Shenandoah' is showing some color but is still mostly green with yellow rather than red highlights. I am liking it better and may make some new plants by taking divisions off of that clump since it seems to be spreading out quite nicely.

    The Big Bluestem's stayed short with stiff straight leaves all summer but now are what I'd have to call a big grass, the leaves seem to have increased in length and curve midway as they put up bloom stalks and since these are still young plants, eventually they will be quite large in fall. I notice that unlike other types of native grass they don't have much presence in winter because they dry out and crumble down but it makes them easy to trim back. They do stand up well to heavy rain so that is a plus. The Little Bluestem is much more ornamental in winter but this year the rain has turned mine into tall grasses and many are lodging this year. I'm not happy about that.

    I've decided to get rid of 'Dallas Blues'. It reminds me of corn and with my limited space its just not appealing to me. Maybe if I had a space to devote to it with some distance I'd feel different but as much as I've studied the possibilities, I can't seem to visualize a place for it in my garden. It tends to lay down badly in rain and looks quite ugly. Frankly, I'm tired of seeing that.

    Gardenho--- the stipa grass reseeds like crazy in my garden in the areas where it is growing. I don't consider it a pest but it really is an aggressive seeder. The seeds tend to form mats on the ground like dog hair. They are short lived (about 3 years is what I expect) and I pull out the older ones which start looking ratty with lots of unattractive dead parts which you can easily pull out to let new ones replace them. In spite of the seeding (and weeding out), I love the grass for the blonde color and soft texture in summer.

  • peren.all Zone 5a Ontario Canada

    Yes echolane normally colour is a huge part of fall here. This year not so much. The forest is usually ablaze with colour as well as the Ornamental grasses and many other shrubs and perennials. We had a very dry year here and the tree foliage started to turn yellow and then drop their leaves. It was the same with most other plants too.

    Yes TR it was P. 'Shenandoah' I was referring to. Here it always displays some burgundy leaves and tips then intensifies over summer until the entire plant is approx. 85% burgundy. Quite a poor showing this year relatively but still showy.

  • echolane

    Fall is BY FAR my favorite season and remains disappointing this year. Thankfully at least the Fothergillas are putting on a decent show. And my new Nyssa sinensis (not the more familiar sylvatica) is putting on a blazing red display. Other than that it’s fairly blah.


    My biggest chore right now is keeping the copious falling leaves of the Pin Oak out of the grass foliage. This is Calamagrostis foliosa covered with leaves and is typical of the problem I have in keeping the grasses from being smothered.




    As for my grasses, the best show by far is with the Little Bluestems, Standing Ovation and Blue Heaven. They have lots of red and deep burgundy blades mixed with green and look spectacular. And their show has been lasting for weeks and weeks. If only they were bigger. Still, I’m very happy with them; I’ll just need to relocate them where they will be more noticeable. I’m quite impatient to do it now but I worry that I might lose them. Here’s an example of Standing Ovation. It looks flashier with a little sun on it, but you can see it’s quite colorful anyway.



    Next best is my long time favorite, Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’. Its fall show is so reliable. No fancy colors, just a nice gradual and lengthy color change from green to straw and they look good almost all winter. As you can see in the photo below, it’s still fairly early.



    I can’t forget to mention Muhlenbergia dubia. Thanks to Tex and others talking about them I bought three last year and they are putting on the most wonderful show with their wide spreading display of flowers. I think they will remain evergreen for me.


    Restios are a group of very showy grass like plants and I have two big ones of Thamnochortus insignis that I can see at every meal through the big glass panes in our eating area. They are just gorgeous! But I can’t take a photo good enough to show them off because they have no background to set them off. in the foreground you can see some of the many arching flower stems of Muhlenbergia dubia.



    I have quite a few more grasses, but not worth mentioning for any Fall display.

    I am still a little disappointed in Thin Man. He did almost no growing last year, partly because my two starts were so tiny, but also because they weren’t well located and didn’t get as much sun and water or they might have prospered somewhat better. So I put them in big containers this spring and in a much sunnier location and they did so much better. But they are still smallish and hard to rate as to whether they are keepers or not and deserving of precious space in my garden. Their fall show was decidedly unspectacular and one is collapsing already.

  • texasranger2

    I need to post some pictures. Your Thin Man will come around, trust me. Mine really leaped this year. Its in full sun at the bottom of the slope where the water drains. Reliably vertical which is the best part considering that huge "spider" going in all directions that I bought from SRG. I'd gladly sacrifice the bluer color of the one they carry for the greener Thin Man. I've got a huge Flamigo muhly on the hell strip, all the rain has created a giant monster. Its a bit ridiculous this year and it fans out in every direction.

  • echolane

    You DO need to post some pictures! And thanks for the reassurance on Thin Man.


    Next year is going to be a visibly “grassier“ year in my garden, meaning many of my young grasses will be in their third year and some in their second year, and all ready for a bigger show. I have also divided some grasses to add to the population. I am so looking forward to next spring when I can rearrange some of them for a better show, especially those Little Bluestems.

  • texasranger2

    I'm doing a lot of editing too. I purchased 8 Northwind in fall of 2016. Last year they were small sprigs but I noticed they looked "off" compared to the mature ones I already had. I purchased them to to go behind the Big Bluestem grasses along a wall out back to complete a row (I already had 6 mature ones). Turns out they are not Northwind at all, I think they are the un-named species because they don't look like any of the named varieties. I went back and forth about contacting SRG because its been so long since I ordered them but finally decided to take it as a loss and start some new plants from the mature ones I already have. I feel quite ripped off however. They look messy behind the Big Bluestem.

    What would you do? I pose that question to anyone who wants to answer. I would have complained last year if I'd known I'd gotten the wrong grasses.

    As it is I've lost two seasons of growth and every time I look at the messy ones I ended up with, I want them gone. I even cut a few down to the ground.

    I've got several Blue Heaven in a spot that is just too shady in summer, the verdict is in on that score. Its full sun in spring and fall but shady in summer. The plants don't look happy so I plan to move them up front replacing some of the not so well behaved ones I have up there. I like it so much better than Prairie Blues which is rather blah in color and less well behaved (it seeds about a lot too).

    Also I'm going to take some rooted starts of Thin Man from the edges where they are coming up close to but a bit of a distance from the main plant and start some new ones to replace other grasses I'm thinning out.

    I have done a lot of thinning this year. A lot. I have a lot more to do.

    I need to take a shot of the Gulf Muhly grass that is growing close to the Splitbeard Bluestem. They bloom at the same time, pink ethereal cloud on a mounding grass in front of very white "Christmas tree-like lights" on very vertical grasses. The white fluffy puffs really catch the sunlight. It wasn't planned, just one of those happy accidents and the combo is a knockout. I got the Splitbeard out in the country, dug up three small plants so these are volunteers. They mature rather quickly too which is nice. You can't beat FREE $$. It seeds about modestly compared to Little Bluestem which seeds quite a lot for me (Echo---that's a warning).

    I have thinned out hundreds of Little Bluestem grasses so you might want to dead-head them sometime in winter before they completely shatter spreading seeds everywhere.

  • echolane

    I don’t have time for a full response now, but have to put in my $.02 on contacting SRG and describing what has happened. No sense in going around feeling ripped off and not saying anything. But regardless, I have found Jude to be generous when something goes wrong. Besides, you have been a good repeat customer. As for the amount of time elapsed, that’s fairly easy to explain as there is no easy way to tell one grass cultivar from another. Occasionally it becomes obvious after growing for awhile, as in your case, but only because Northwind is so distinctive.

  • texasranger2

    I think I just needed someone to tell me to do it because complaining about stuff like that is not my strong suit. I can take a picture of the grasses and send a copy of my order. The difference in the two grasses is dramatic. There is no way those grasses are 'Northwind' because they are taller, the leaves are wider spaced and curved and the blooms are way high above the foliage. Echo, remember how that was one thing you didn't like about it? That, along with the stiff, straight, vertical leaves are the features that sets the form apart from the Big Bluestem.

  • echolane

    Northwind is so distinctly different it hardly looks like a Panicum or at least any other Panicum. I don’t see how you could have any difficulty getting a refund. Unless they have a time limit. But even so, it would be hard to deny the mistake. But be sure to include photos and be sure to mention your frequent purchases.


    Look at the difference between Panicum Heavy Metal



    And Panicum Northwind




    And the much punier Panicum Hot Rod in its second season, though to be fair it was planted in the fall of 2017 so it didn’t have a full summer season to grow up.




    PS Scroll up to an earlier message because I added a couple of photos.

  • bella rosa

    Gardenho, I really like your .Stipa tenuissima. Where did you purchase it? Also, are you in zone 5?

  • Jay 6a Chicago

    Gardenho, I too really like your Stipa, no wait, there's been a binomial name change NASSELLA grass. Always time for pedantry lol.

  • GardenHo_MI_Z5

    Bella yes I’m in zone 5 and surprised they survive our winters. I did lose some in the shady areas though.

    I get them from a greenhouse that my coworkers turned me onto. It’s a bit of a drive but well worth it. They sell their perennials for a dollar. They are tiny but I am patient :)

    They also have gorgeous hanging baskets that people practically stampede the place to purchase. They buy them by the truckloads!

    I always go on opening day as spring is in the air and I’m anxious to see what they have :D I’ve learned to go later in the day to avoid the crazy herds!

    Funny thing is..the tiny newly purchased stipa grow much better/faster that the ones from the previous year. They like the heat so the old ones are very slow to green up and the new ones pass them up by far!

  • Jay 6a Chicago

    I was surprised it was hardy in zone 5 too. That's why I haven't tried it yet.

  • GardenHo_MI_Z5

    I never imagined they’d survive so I never tried them either until I found them at the greenhouse. For a dollar a piece I thought what the heck. I’m so glad I found them as I find they really soften the looks of the beds...

  • texasranger2

    They are gorgeous in spring so I still keep a few of them. They do well in this very dry area under a tree where they get plenty of afternoon sun. If you grow them in too much shade they look like wet dirty dogs, especially when it rains. The plants in this picture were shot in spring but have now been culled out and the next batch is up and running, ready to take over next spring-- they are evergreen here in zone 7. Here in Oklahoma they tend to go dormant in summer, as do many cool season grasses, and look ratty with age. I've grown this grass in various spots all over my yard over the years. Once you have it, you always have it, Its kind of a throw away plant that ends up replacing itself nicely with new fresh ones. One year I had about 50 plants massed in and it was a sight to behold when the wind blew.

    Nowadays I only keep a few because... well, just because.

  • Jay 6a Chicago

    Texas Ranger, beautiful as always. So happy you brave the heat and thorns to give us this eye candy. You inspire me, really, thank you. Have one last group of seeds to order, mostly from Native American Seed. All inspired by you, but I have to tweek it for my more northerly clime. Can't grow no Ephedras and most cacti and aloes up here nope. Have to be creative. I think you should talk to the folks at SRG too. You are probably by far their best costumer, and you went and faced your con artist aloe rustler after a long amount of time so this should be a piece of cake. Not that it's any of my buisiness, but I hate seeing good people get taken.

  • echolane

    Tex, as always, your photos are so inspiring. One thing I especially like is that you are willing to give plants space. I struggle with spacing; I need to work on that.

  • Jay 6a Chicago

    Echo, I echo your thoughts (pun intended). The bigger grasses look so majestic when they stand alone, of course the colorful assortment of surrounding players is what comepletes the painting.

  • bella rosa

    Can you grow Stipa from seed?

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