How to Grow Phalaris — Ribbon Grass

Ribbon grass, Phalaris arundinacea
Ribbon grass, Phalaris arundinacea

Phalaris, commonly called ribbon grass–is a tough, bamboo-like ornamental grass with broadly linear and flat pale to mid-green leaves. It is commonly planted as a groundcover or at the side of a pond or stream.

Phalaris spreads via rhizomes and can be invasive; there are cultivars that are less invasive than the species. Phalaris forms a thick mass of stems and the leaves can grow to several feet tall. There are variegated forms.

Phalaris is a genus of about 15 species of tufted grasses, some are annuals, some are rhizomatous perennials. Only one, P. arundinacea, is commonly used in gardens as a ground cover.

Phalaris are native to North America, Europe, Asia, and North Africa.

Get to Know Phalaris

  • Plant type: Rhizomatous perennial grass
  • Growing zones and range: Zone 4 to 9
  • Hardiness: Hardy to Zone 4
  • Height and width: Grows to 3 to 5 feet (1-1.5m) tall with indefinite spread if not contained
  • Flowers: Compact panicles of ovate spikelets each with 1 to 3 flowers
  • Bloom time: Summer
  • Uses: Groundcover, margin of ponds
  • Common name: Ribbon grass
  • Botanical name: Phalaris
  • Family name: Poaceae
  • Origin: Temperate regions worldwide

Where to Plant Phalaris

  • Plant Phalaris in full sun or partial shade.
  • Phalaris will grow in average soil, from dry slope to moist pond or lake margins.
  • Phalaris will thrive were is is occasionally flooded.
  • Phalaris is a good choice for an area that needs to be seasonally cleared, perhaps for snow removal.
Phalaris arundinacea Picta
Phalaris arundinacea Picta

When to Plant Phalaris

  • Set Phalaris in the garden in spring or autumn.

Planting and Spacing Phalaris

  • Space Phalaris 36 inches or more apart; it spreads quickly by rhizomes.
  • To control Phalaris place a barrier in its path or grow it in a container.

How to Water and Feed Phalaris

  • Phalaris grows best just moist soil, but it wil grow in dry soil.
  • Phalaris usually needs not fertilizing.

Phalaris Care

  • Phalaris once established is difficult to eradicate. Like running bamboo, it can be controlled by a physical barrier placed in the ground.
  • Phalaris can be mowed in midseason to encourage a flush of new growth. T

Phalaris Pests and Diseases

  • Phalris is susceptible to ergot, rust, smut, brown patch and a variety of leaf spot.

Phalaris Propagation

  • Divide Phalaris from midspring to midsummer.

Phalaris Varieties to Grow

  • Phalaris arundinacea. Ribbon grass. Tough, bamboo-like grass that spreads aggressively by underground runners to form spreading, 2 to 3-foot-high clumps; deep green leaves turn buff in fall; airy flower clusters are white, aging to pale brown. Cultivars include: ‘Picta’ has green leaves with longitudinal white stripes. ‘Dwarf Garters’, a slow spreader half as tall as the species; and 1 ½ to 2-feet tall. ‘Mervyn Feesey’ (‘Feesey’s Form’) has white variegation strongly blushed with pink.


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