How to Grow Ribbon Grass – Phalaris

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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.


Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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