Ribbon grass (Phalaris arundinacea), also known as reed canary grass, is pretty easy to identify because it has interesting striped foliage. This ornamental grass is terrific for adding lots of color and texture to gardens and containers and it is also often grown as a hay crop for forage.
Gardeners adore these perennials because they are easy to maintain and they grow rapidly to cover spaces. They are very popular container specimens all over Eurasia and North America.
The showy grass is considered invasive in certain countries and it is completely banned for sale in various west coast states because it does have an invasive habit and its quick growth rate can make it challenging to control.
In this guide, we are going to take a look at how to grow variegated ribbon grass and we share some great care tips to help these ground covers flourish.
|Scientific name||Phalaris arundinacea|
|Common names||Ribbon grass, Gardener’s garters, Feather reed grass, Reed canary grass|
|Plant Type||Ornamental Grass|
|Height and Width||2–4 ft. tall, 2–5 ft. wide|
|Origin||Northern America and Eurasia|
|Flower colors||Pink or white|
|Foliage color||Variegated with cream, green or white|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun to Partial Shade|
|Soil Type & pH||Well-drained sandy, clay, loamy or moist soil with any acidic level|
|Special features||Low maintenance, Good for Containers, Modder plant, mass planting, garden filler, and drought tolerant|
What Does Ribbon Grass Look Like?
These clump-forming grasses produce slender foliage with a height of about 12 – 18 inches tall. The variegated leaves are brightly colored with beige or white and green stripes along the length of the leaf blade. Some varieties of ribbon grass do produce all green foliage but the striped varieties are much more common.
The grass can produce showy purple or white blooms in summer but the flowers don’t appear too often.
The deciduous grass will grow rapidly in spring and summer but the foliage will become unattractive as the seasons become cooler. In winter, the foliage will die back to the crown and will re-emerge again in spring.
Where Does Ribbon Grass Grow?
Ribbon grass plant originates from Eurasia and North America and it is naturally found in streamside locations, natural wetlands, or at the edge of forests or woods.
The grass can tolerate a wide range of growing conditions and is easy to care for. Because of its growing nature, it is often used as a filler plant in ornamental gardens and it grows very well in containers.
How to Grow Ribbon Grass
Landscapers enjoy using ribbon grass because it is pretty easy to propagate and establish. Here is a quick look at the best way to grow this showy grass.
Variegated ribbon grass varieties do not produce available seeds and tend to spread via rhizomes. There are some varieties of ribbon grass that will produce small black seeds but they are not as common as the colorful ‘Picta’ or ‘Feesey’ varieties with their broad white stripes.
The grass is pretty easy to propagate through division but you will first need to wait for it to mature before you can start propagating. Mature plants can be lifted from the soil and divided with the use of a sharp cutting tool. These new plantings can be placed in prepared soil and should be kept moist until new growth appears.
The cool season grass prefers moist soils but it can also survive in dry conditions once it is fully established. You can plant ribbon grass in any type of soil including sandy soil, loam soil, or even clay soil types as long as the soil drains well.
You only need to prune ribbon grasses once a year in late winter when the foliage becomes dormant. Some gardeners do, however, also prune and remove scorched leaves throughout summer because these plants can easily develop leaf scorch in the intense summer heat.
How to Care for Ribbon Grass
These ornamental grasses are beloved because they are so easy to care for. Let’s take a quick look at the type of maintenance you can expect from this type of grass.
This plant species can survive short dry spells but it will grow best in moist soils with frequent watering and it will even grow well in standing shallow waters. Its high tolerance to moisture makes it a perfect grass to include in or around water features.
The cool season grass prefers light shade positions, however, it can also grow well in full sun positions in colder zones. In warm regions, the foliage can become scorched with brown patches in the direct sunlight and it should be grown in partial shade.
Temperature and Humidity
This interesting grass can survive a wide range of temperatures but it doesn’t take well to intense heat. Reed canary grass typically germinates at around 60 degrees F and the rhizomes will survive extremely cold temperatures of up to -31 degrees F.
This grass variety will grow well in any regular soil and it usually isn’t necessary to fertilize the plant. Some gardeners do like to add a little bit of fertilizer to the garden once a month during its growing season because this can help the leaves develop much quicker.
Pests and Diseases
This native species doesn’t have too many pests and it is mostly disease free. These grasses can sometimes develop fungi but the biggest issues tend to be scorched leaves since they can be so sensitive to intense heat.
A fungal infection on this plant can result in decaying roots, infected leaves, or mushy spots on the foliage. Fungal growth is rare but it can sometimes occur.
Ribbon Grass Companion Plants
Ribbon grass doesn’t make a good companion plant in borders because it spreads rapidly and tends to smother other plants in your garden. If you are doing companion planting then you should monitor your grass so it won’t take over too much.
Some of the best ribbon grass companions include plants like cannas, irises, leopard plants, golden creeping jenny, or calla lilies.
Landscaping Ideas for Ribbon Grass
The showy grass has many different garden applications and it is frequently used to create the following landscaping concepts.
Pond or Water features
Ribbon grass can grow in shallow standing water which makes it ideal for a water feature. You can grow this grass on the bank of a lake, pond, or waterfall with some growth overstepping into the shallow waters.
This grass variety can grow well in containers. You can plant them in a large and showy container to create a focal point in your garden or use this grass as a filler plant along with other interesting species to create beautiful mixed containers.
Common Varieties and Cultivars
The variegated ribbon grass variety is the most common but there are some other cultivars. Here is a quick look at the most common varieties.
- ‘Strawberries and Cream’
Ribbon grass is one of the most beautiful ornamental grasses that you can include in your garden spaces and it is very functional for moist or watery locations. In mass plantings, the showy grasses will add lots of texture and color to your spaces.
We hope that our guide gave you a little bit more insight into how to grow and care for this interesting plant so you can create showy spaces filled with lots of lush growth.
USDA – Fire Effects Information System – Phalaris arundinacea – https://www.fs.usda.gov/database/feis/plants/graminoid/phaaru/all.html#:~:text=TAXONOMY%3A,canarygrass%20is%20Phalaris%20arundinacea%20L.
Glansis – Phalaris arundinacea – https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/greatlakes/FactSheet.aspx?Species_ID=2938
North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox – Phalaris arundinacea – https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/phalaris-arundinacea-picta/
North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox – Phalaris arundinacea Gardener’s garters – https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/phalaris-arundinacea/
Gerald Kilngaman – Plant of the Week – Ribbon Grass – https://www.uaex.uada.edu/yard-garden/resource-library/plant-week/ribbon-grass-7-23-10.aspx
*Image by cindhyade/depositphotos