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PlantFiles: Ribbon Grass, Reed Canary Grass, Gardener's Garters
Phalaris arundinacea

Family: Poaceae (poh-AY-see-ee) (Info)
Genus: Phalaris (FAL-ah-ris) (Info)
Species: arundinacea (a-run-din-uh-KEE-uh) (Info)

Synonym:Phalaroides arundinacea
Synonym:Phalaris arundinacea var. picta
Synonym:Phalaroides arundinacea var. picta

One vendor has this plant for sale.

32 members have or want this plant for trade.

Ornamental Grasses and Bamboo

18-24 in. (45-60 cm)

18-24 in. (45-60 cm)

USDA Zone 3b: to -37.2 C (-35 F)
USDA Zone 4a: to -34.4 C (-30 F)
USDA Zone 4b: to -31.6 C (-25 F)
USDA Zone 5a: to -28.8 C (-20 F)
USDA Zone 5b: to -26.1 C (-15 F)
USDA Zone 6a: to -23.3 C (-10 F)
USDA Zone 6b: to -20.5 C (-5 F)
USDA Zone 7a: to -17.7 C (0 F)
USDA Zone 7b: to -14.9 C (5 F)
USDA Zone 8a: to -12.2 C (10 F)
USDA Zone 8b: to -9.4 C (15 F)
USDA Zone 9a: to -6.6 C (20 F)

Sun Exposure:
Full Sun
Sun to Partial Shade
Light Shade
Partial to Full Shade


Bloom Color:

Bloom Time:
Late Summer/Early Fall


Other details:
May be a noxious weed or invasive
Drought-tolerant; suitable for xeriscaping

Soil pH requirements:
6.1 to 6.5 (mildly acidic)
6.6 to 7.5 (neutral)
7.6 to 7.8 (mildly alkaline)

Patent Information:

Propagation Methods:
By dividing the rootball

Seed Collecting:
Unknown - Tell us

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7 positives
5 neutrals
7 negatives

Gardeners' Notes:

Negative coriaceous On May 16, 2014, coriaceous from ROSLINDALE, MA wrote:

Spreads aggressively underground by rhizomes. This is one of the species that have given grasses a bad name as mixed border plants.

This species is naturalized through most of North America, and often forms large monoculture stands in wetland habitat. Cultivating it is prohibited in Massachusetts, where it's considered an invasive threat to natural habitat. It's been declared a noxious weed in Washington, and invasive in Connecticut.

Positive elsutor On May 16, 2014, elsutor from Penn Hills, PA wrote:

I've had a variegated ribbon grass growing in a mostly sunny area for a bit over a year. Its home is next to my hose, so it probably gets more water than most in the heat of the summer.

It doubled in size in a year, and I spaded a good portion out and moved it to a shady area about 10 inches wide between my air conditioning unit and a brick house. It transplanted nicely and I expect that I will have to maintain both patches regularly to keep it in check.

I do not live near wetlands, and in my small, Pittsburgh, PA garden, I give it enough attention that I don't see it becoming a nuisance. Ribbon grass has its purposes in my garden. If I were to move and the new owners of my house were not good at garden upkeep, I can see how this grass would take over-- something to consider for sure.

My positive rating reflects its visual appeal, manageability, and adaptability for my situation. I am willing to spade it when needed, shear it if it becomes gangly, and contain it should I need to. The only things to border my small property are neighboring houses, and I don't see it taking over those! If it is invasive in your area, by no means should it be planted. There are many wonderful varieties of grass, so do your research and choose one that suits the needs of your garden and your community.

Neutral naomiZ5b On Oct 27, 2012, naomiZ5b from Bangor, ME wrote:

I have grown phalaris in two locations within about 20 feet of each other. The first was in nice loamy soil with morning sun and afternoon shade. A healthy clump developed, very ornamental, but it was too tall (5 ' ) and wide for its spot. I divided it and moved it to a dry slope with poor soil and competition from tree roots. It has languished as a pitiful little scraggler for years without expanding. Thus the neutral rating. If I had more room I would move it back to a happier spot.

As a side note, the tall blooming stalks make great cat toys!

Neutral placands On Jul 5, 2011, placands from Hilton, NY (Zone 6a) wrote:

Have had this plant in my garden for years. Grows anywhere. It does multiply, but I don't find it invasive. After it produces seed heads, it tends to flop over (which I hate) and lose its varigation. So I cut it down and it grows right back!

Negative theNobody14161 On Jan 10, 2010, theNobody14161 from Kalamazoo, MI wrote:

This plant annihilates wetland meadows. It may be manageable in dry or shady areas, but in wet sunny areas the only plant I have witnessed beating it is Phragmites australis. It WILL win against narrowleaf cattail and I would only fathom planting it if NO suitable habitat is within seeding distance.

Negative purplesun On Oct 16, 2009, purplesun from Krapets
Bulgaria (Zone 8a) wrote:

This grass is on the top of my To-Remove List. I don't know about wetlands, but it grows just as lush and plump in our steppe climate.

Neutral 2zeus On Sep 12, 2009, 2zeus from (Zone 7b) wrote:

I'm of two minds about this grass - it's striking and beautiful, and all my garden visitors exclaim "I love that!" However, from a one-gallon pot with only a few sparse stems, in 3 years it has become a lush clump 4' in diameter. It's contained in a small shade bed where not much else will grow - concrete on 3 sides keeps it in check. I wouldn't want to try to plant it in a perennial bed, and keep it controlled. For that reason, when we move, I'm leaving it. I'll find a similar grass that is less invasive.

Negative mamooth On Feb 17, 2009, mamooth from Indianapolis, IN (Zone 5b) wrote:

I'm gradually trying to get this grass out of my butterfly garden (a patch of wet clay, full sun, zone 5), because it's nothing special and it takes up space. It's tough, because this grass fights back. The blade edges are sharp, and they do cut skin. Hence my negative rating.

Positive LenasGarden On May 5, 2008, LenasGarden from Tiffin, OH (Zone 5b) wrote:

I've been growing this grass for 20 some years and as I moved to 4 different houses, its moved with me. It is a perennial grass that is hardy from Zone 4-9. Height is 2'-4'.

Others who have listed information on the plant have said it is terribly invasive and its even outlawed in some states! I believe it could be invasive in ideal conditions and in other zones, however, I will give you comments of my experience with it in Zone 5. In Zone 5 it seems to behave.

I've never really had any trouble with it. In fact, I sometimes wish it would be more invasive and fill-in faster. That being said - I do have it planted in my PROBLEM spots, so that must help keep it contained. When all other plants fail for me in a spot, I try the ribbon grass there - I use it as my problem solver plant.

It's never traveled for me more than the clump getting larger or a few springs here or there. Its easy to contain each spring if a few springs wander close by - just dig out what you don't want . It doesn't form those woody tough roots which are impossible to dig up - as some grasses do (at least in zone 5, it doesn't ). It produces seeds, but I've never had it pop up in any area of my yard where it wasn't planted

My experience in Zone 5 in different types of soil and sun:

Clay - Impossible, thick & wet - semi-shade: it grows well and is not invasive.

Moist Loamy soil - shade to semi-shade and under trees in shade garden row: it grows well and is not invasive.

Dry, Hot Sun: grows slowly, but well.

Dry Shade or Semi-Shade - under trees - does not grow well - it will grow, but it is very, very sparse, and a little sickly looking - however, it comes back each year - it just doesn't thicken up, so its not as pretty.

I've never planted it in a moist sunny area as those spots in my yard are short in supply and I use them for other perennials, so I can't address those conditions - but perhaps there - in zone 5 - it could become invasive.

Ribbon Grass gets taller through the summer & stays green & white. In the winter it turns straw colored and wilts down. You can either cut in back in the late fall or leave it be. It is best to transplant it in the spring before it gets too hot. It is considered a cool season grass, which I assume means it grows fastest in the spring. It dies back in the winter and will poke up in the spring through all the dried grass from the season before.

Last year I planted a few springs of it in pots with my annuals and it looked great! I expected it would die over the winter in the pots, but it came back, I was so surprised it would survive above the freeze line.

Negative AnalogDog On Apr 15, 2008, AnalogDog from Mountlake Terrace, WA (Zone 8a) wrote:

Due to its invasive qualities it is illegal to sell this plant in the state of Washington.

Negative distantkin On Mar 15, 2008, distantkin from Saint Cloud, MN (Zone 4b) wrote:

The Minnesota DNR has Reed canary grass (Phalaris arundinacea) listed on it's invasive species list.
"Ecological Threat:

* Reed canary is a major threat to natural wetlands. It out competes most native species.
* It presents a major challenge in wetland mitigation efforts.
* It forms large, single-species stands, with which other species cannot compete.
* If cut during the growing season a second growth spurt occurs in the fall.
* Invasion is associated with disturbances, such as ditch building, stream channeling sedimentation and intentional planting.
* This Eurasian species has been planted throughout the U.S. since the 1800s for forage and erosion control. It is still being planted."

Neutral Malus2006 On Feb 21, 2008, Malus2006 from Coon Rapids, MN (Zone 4a) wrote:

I only rated it a neutral because it is a very lovely tough plant that will do well in a island bed with clumping perennials and small shrubs and trees and also maybe next to a house. Island bed meant that the garden bed is surrounded by lawn or hard landscape features - but it's alway best to reduce the number of cracks or spray weed killer once in a while if it tries to sneak through the cracks of the hard landscape features.(hard landscape features meant brick paths, paved stone paths, concrete, etc). Otherwise, it is not a good plant for most landscape features - it grows too aggressively for most species of plants, choking them out. Also it is hard to weed out other grass species out of the patches.

I still have tiny patches of ribbon grass popping up since I have tried to get rid of the whole thing. That tell you how hard it is to contain this species if you are trying to include it in a mixed bed, formal beds, etc.

Positive Joan On Jul 30, 2005, Joan from Belfield, ND (Zone 4a) wrote:

I've had this growing for 3 years in a sunny location, but also a fairly dry area of the yard. It's been pretty well behaved. The clumps have increased, but not gotten out of hand.

Negative landspirit On Oct 11, 2004, landspirit from Seattle, WA (Zone 8b) wrote:

Phalaris arundinacae is, in this area, one of the most invasive wetland weeds. It is on the State of Washington Noxious Weed list. It becomes a monoculture in partly sunny wetlands, crowding out almost all 'marginals'. Habitiat for wetland wildlife is being adversely impacted throughout the state. In some areas it is possible to drive for 50 miles and see nothing but Phalaris in wetlands.
Seeds last for decades, are carried great distances, and are produced in the hundreds of thousands per hundred square feet.
The variegated forms are less invasive but produce viable seed. They can be quite beautiful in early season growth. Planting these is not justified by the potential destruction of wetland habitat. With global warming Phalaris has the potential to overwhelm habitat elsewhere in the US.

Positive Linnea On Oct 10, 2004, Linnea from Tilton, NH (Zone 4a) wrote:

We have this in our garden, have had ever since we moved here, and in thirteen years it has made itself at home without being too aggressive.

We call it ribbongrass, which is what my great-grandmother called it when she gave us starts of it from her garden. I know she had grown it for a very long time, because she talked about growing it on the banks of the Siuslaw river, where she raised her children, close to seventy years ago. She was very proud of her striped grass, and a varieagated holly, and was sad that after they moved, the relative who bought the house destroyed all the varieagated plants because he thought they were diseased.

Positive henryr10 On Jul 25, 2004, henryr10 from Cincinnati, OH (Zone 6b) wrote:

I've been growing this for about 15 years.
It's definitely a thug if in the sun and well watered.

In partial dry shade it will die out rather quickly.
In partial wet shade it is very manageable.

It can get untidy though in these conditions.
We cut ours down to 8" or so in mid Summer.
It regrows perfectly fine w/ bright new foliage.

Another good thug for it to duke it out w/ is Northern Sea Oats.
About an even match.

Positive youreit On Mar 17, 2004, youreit from Knights Landing, CA (Zone 9b) wrote:

So far so good. I've only had this plant in the ground since late last summer/early fall, and it survived. I live on the border of Sunset zones 8 & 14 in California, and I planted it in part sun in a raised bed near a man-made creek. It hasn't spread yet, but I would rather that it did, since it's pretty bare in that area at the moment. When it was still in the pot, I left it in the shallow shore-end of our pond for a few weeks, but it started turning brown, so I pulled it out and watered it myself. I can't wait to see what happens next.

Positive Happenstance On Sep 18, 2003, Happenstance from Northern California, CA wrote:

Good pond or bog plant or in a situation where it can be contained. It can be VERY invasive if let loose. Spreads by underground "bulblets"/rhizomes and will crowd out most everything within two seasons in 9b. The underground runners and growth reminds me of a potbound Asparagus Fern or Spider Plant - tough as nails!

Dies back in the winter and rests up for being a thug in the Spring. I pull "all" of it and dig some so that each year I end up with just a reasonable amount around the pond. Moneywort gives it a run for its "money" in the thug department and the two seem to be able to live in harmony together.

Neutral lupinelover On May 26, 2002, lupinelover from Grove City, OH (Zone 6a) wrote:

Given full sun and loose soil, this plant runs wild. Given adverse conditions it is contained, making it suitable as a vertical accent in shade gardens.


This plant has been said to grow in the following regions:

Huntsville, Alabama
Clayton, California
Fairfield, California
Knights Landing, California
Brighton, Colorado
Marietta, Georgia
Godfrey, Illinois
Greenville, Indiana
Indianapolis, Indiana
Delhi, Iowa
Bangor, Maine
Pikesville, Maryland
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Rosemount, Minnesota
Saint Cloud, Minnesota
Waynesboro, Mississippi
Piedmont, Missouri
West Plains, Missouri
Tilton, New Hampshire
Buffalo, New York
Hilton, New York
Jefferson, New York
Worcester, New York
Belfield, North Dakota
Bucyrus, Ohio
Cincinnati, Ohio
Jay, Oklahoma
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Sumter, South Carolina
Olympia, Washington
Seattle, Washington
Porterfield, Wisconsin

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