- Feather Reed Grass
- Calamagrostis brachytricha
- Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’
- What Is Feather Reed Grass: Tips For Growing Feather Reed Grass
- What is Feather Reed Grass?
- Growing Feather Reed Grass
- Feather Reed Grass Care
- When to Prune Feather Reed Grass
- Cheat Sheet
- Keep It Alive
- Feather reed grass
Feather Reed Grass
The genus Calamagrostis includes perennial and annual grasses from Africa and Europe. A few species are used ornamentally. They form upright clumps and bloom in spring and early summer.
: Feather reed grass grows into a strong, upright clump reaching 5 feet in height. The dull green leaves are 2 feet long and arch slightly. In late spring, flower stalks rise 2 to 3 feet above the foliage. The 12-inch-long flower head is purplish in spring, turning to buff-colored seed heads in fall.
Use feather reed grass as a screen or as a vertical accent. The plant is well suited to wet soils around pools and streams. It is a cool-season grass that keeps its interest from spring into fall.
: Grow feather reed grass in full sun with moist, fertile soil. It tolerates poorly drained wet soils (such as at the edge of a pond) and, once established, it will tolerate drought.
: Feather reed grass is a hybrid that is propagated by division in early fall or early spring.
elated species: Foxtail grass, Calamagrostis arundinacea abrachytricha, grows to 3 feet tall and produces 12-inch-long, lavender, fluffy, foxtail-shaped flowers.
feather reed grass: Calamagrostis acutiflora stricta
Want more gardening information? Try:
- Annual Grasses; learn more about annual grasses and foliage
- Perennial Grasses; read more about perennial ornamental grasses and unusual ground cover
- Gardening; turn your garden into a lush retreat using these step-by-step instructions
FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Calmagrostis brachytricha is a clump forming cool season perennial grass. Plants form a rounded mound of narrow arching leaves. In late summer pinkish flower plumes rise above the foliage. The feathery flowers and slender leaves drift in the slightest breeze. As winter approaches, fluffy seed plumes turn creamy and then amber. Foliage maintains a golden bronze color through the fall and winter. Plants tolerate a wide range of growing conditions from moist sun to dry shade.
HABITAT & HARDINESS: Calmagrostis brachytricha hails from central and eastern Asia. In its native habitat, this grass is found most often in moist open woods and at woodland’s edge.
Plants are hardy from USDA Zones 4-9.
PLANT DESCRIPTION: In spring Calmagrostis brachytricha emerges from a winter sleep to form a dense mounding tuft of arching linear leaves.
Plants spread slowly from underground rhizomes eventually developing into beefy clumps of attractive glossy green leaves.
In summer airy flower panicles are displayed above the foliage on upright stems. The young spikelets have a rosy tinge. Later in the season the inflorescence becomes feathery and color fades to a silvery white. As fall rolls around, foliage transforms to a golden yellow with an amber colored fluffy mass of seed.
Flowering plants attain a 4’ height with 2’ spread.
CULTURAL & MAINTENANCE NEEDS: The greatest cultural achievement of Calmagrostis brachytricha is the ability to grow in shade. This is highly unusual for a grass.
Plants also prosper in full sun but only if sufficient moisture is present. They tolerate clay soils and extreme summer heat and may self-sow occasionally.
This grass needs little maintenance except to be cut or burned to the ground in late winter.
It is important to water Calamagrostis brachytricha well at initial planting and during the first growing season. After plants are established they usually do well with little supplemental irrigation. This grass may not flower the first year or until well established.
LANDSCAPE USES: Valuable as an Accent, Cut Flower and in Groupings or Masses. Plants provide Erosion Control, Fall Color, Showy Blooms and Winter Interest. Calamagrostis brachytricha is appropriate for Deer Resistant Plantings, Meadows, Rain Gardens, Low Maintenance Plantings, Perennial Borders and Shade Gardens.
COMPANION & UNDERSTUDY PLANTS: Try pairing with Amsonia ‘Blue Ice’, Aster laevis ‘Bluebird’, Penstemon digitalis ‘Huskers Red’, Solidago caesia and Chasmanthium latifolium.
Pennisetum alopecuroides is similar in appearance and cultural needs and can be substituted if needed.
TRIVIA: Calamagrostis brachytricha received the Royal Horticultural Society Award of Garden Merit in 2006.
The generic name Calamagrostis is from the Greek Kalamos meaning ‘reed’ and agros meaning ‘field’. Brachytricha is from the Latin brachy meaning ‘short’ and tricha meaning ‘having hair’.
When compared to the widely planted Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Forester’, Calamagrostis brachytricha is later flowering, has a pinkish open feathery inflorescence and is a warm season grass. ‘Karl Forester’ has earlier more slender inflorescences with golden color and is a cool season grass.
Calamagrostis brachytricha is also known as Stipa brachytricha, Achnatherum brachytricha and Calamagrostis arundinacea var. brachytricha.
- Attributes: Genus: Calamagrostis Species: brachytricha Family: Poaceae Life Cycle: Perennial Recommended Propagation Strategy: Division Country Or Region Of Origin: Central and Eastern Asia Particularly Resistant To (Insects/Diseases/Other Problems): deer resistant Dimensions: Height: 3 ft. 0 in. – 4 ft. 0 in. Width: 2 ft. 0 in. – 3 ft. 0 in.
- Whole Plant Traits: Plant Type: Ornamental Grass Habit/Form: Arching Clumping Erect Growth Rate: Medium Maintenance: Low Texture: Coarse
- Fruit: Fruit Type: Caryopsis
- Flowers: Flower Color: Cream/Tan Pink Purple/Lavender Flower Value To Gardener: Good Cut Flower Bloom Time: Fall Winter Flower Description: Pink tinged tinged flower plumes appear in late summer atop stems rising well above the foliage clump to 4 feet tall. Plumes mature to a light tan as the seeds ripen, but tend to disintegrate by early winter.
- Leaves: Leaf Color: Green Leaf Feel: Glossy Deciduous Leaf Fall Color: Gold/Yellow Hairs Present: No Leaf Length: 3-6 inches Leaf Width: < 1 inch Leaf Description: Mound of narrow, stiff, green leaves (1/4 to 5/8 inch wide). Foliage turns yellowish beige in fall.
- Stem: Stem Is Aromatic: No
- Landscape: Landscape Location: Woodland Attracts: Songbirds Resistance To Challenges: Black Walnut Deer Pollution Rabbits Salt Wet Soil
Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’
Feather Reed Grass
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Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ is the first ornamental grass to receive the Perennial Plant of the Year Award® (2001), earned for good looks, long-lasting plumes and undemanding growing requirements. Green foliage grows in a neat, 2-foot clump. In early spring, stalks rise up to 6 feet, capped with elongated, wheat-colored seed heads. In addition to intrinsic beauty, Feather Reed Grass exhibits tolerance for heavy clay and compacted soil and will not reseed (seeds are believed to be sterile). Plant Feather Reed Grass in sunny, dry locations and use as a backdrop for flowering perennials. Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ was named in honor of the late great nurseryman, Karl Foerster (1874-1970). Mr. Foerster was responsible for introducing this grass, as well as many other acclaimed plants during his distinguished career in horticulture.
This revered selection has been awarded Handpicked for You® certification, which promises better reliability and performance in the landscape.
What Is Feather Reed Grass: Tips For Growing Feather Reed Grass
Ornamental grasses provide amazing texture, motion and architecture to the landscape. Feather reed ornamental grasses are excellent vertical interest plants. What is feather reed grass? These elegant additions to the garden provide year around interest and are easy to care for. Most ornamental reed grass just needs maintenance a couple times per year. Try this perennial for maximum impact in the garden but minimum impact on your yard work chores.
What is Feather Reed Grass?
Feather reed grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora) is a clumping ornamental grass with numerous cultivars. It is a deciduous plant but is one of the first of the family to show foliage in early spring. Feather red plant may grow 3 to 5 feet tall and produces an inflorescence in June that starts green and slowly blushes to purple or pink. The flower head becomes grain-like seeds within a few days. These grain heads can persist well into the winter, but gradually they scatter off the stalk.
Growing Feather Reed Grass
Feather reed ornamental grasses are suited for USDA plant hardiness zones 4 to 9. They are very adaptable to wet or dry areas with full to partial sun.
This marvelous plant needs little special care and its site requirements are very versatile. Choose a location with rich moist soil for the best performance, but the plant can also take dry poor soils. Additionally, feather reed ornamental grasses can tolerate heavy clay soils.
Divide the crowns in late winter to early spring. Growing feather reed grass from seed is not recommended. The seeds are generally sterile and will not germinate.
Feather Reed Grass Care
This plant has almost no pest or disease problems and feather reed grass care is easy and minimal. These grasses are so flexible about site and soil condition, with a resistance to pests and disease, that their requirements are limited and make them perfect for urban or container gardeners.
Young plants will need to be watered until they are established but the mature grass can withstand long periods of drought. If soil is poor, fertilize in early spring with a balanced plant food.
Feather reed ornamental grasses should be pruned back to allow new foliage to soar above the crown in spring. Divide mature plants after three years for better growth and to produce new plants.
When to Prune Feather Reed Grass
There is some discussion on the appropriate time to trim deciduous grasses. Some gardeners like to trim them in fall when the flower heads are failing and the general appearance is untidy. Others feel you should allow the old foliage and inflorescences to protect the crown from cold weather and trim away the debris in spring.
Take the old foliage off in February to March if you decide to wait. There really is no correct way as long as you take the old foliage off before the new growth begins to sprout.
Use a hedge trimmer or grass shears to cut the old spent blades and stems back to 3 to 5 inches from the ground. This practice will keep your ornamental grass looking its best and producing new flower stalks and foliage for the most attractive appearance.
C. stricta does not get quite as tall as ‘Karl Foerster’ and it spreads in a garden (rather than growing in clumps). Hardy in USDA growing zones 3 and warmer, it prefers full sun and damp soil (it’s a favorite for wetlands gardens).
Above: Mix-and-match perennial grasses get along well on a slope; shown here are Mexican feather grass (Stipa), New Zealand wind grass, ‘Karl Foerster’ feather reed grass, and lavender in Joel Baluyot’s San Francisco garden, an entry in our 2017 Gardenista Considered Design Awards contest. See more in A Young City Garden.
Grasses, when interplanted, can create a lovely tapestry of undulating textures against a fence or on a slope.
Above: Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Overdam’. Photograph by Drew Avery via Flickr.
Perennial in USDA zones 4 to 9, ‘Overdam’ also prefers a sunny location.
- For companion plants, consider the sorts of wildflower perennials that grow well on a prairie: black-eyed Susan, veronica, and coneflower mix well with feather reed grasses.
- Leave dried flowers in place until the end of January to add structure to a winter garden; cut back to encourage early spring growth.
- Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf planted clumps of C. x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ in his own garden to create a strong vertical plane. See more of his garden in 10 Garden Ideas to Steal from Superstar Dutch Designer Piet Oudolf.
Above: Fountains of feathery grass dominate here in the Plume Garden, underpinned by Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ and interspersed with Verbena bonariensis,” writes our contributor Kendra Wilson. See more at Le Jardin Plume: A Modern Impressionist Masterpiece in Normandy. Photograph by Claire Takacs.
Keep It Alive
- Plant ornamental grasses in well-drained soil after tilling it to remove weeds (which are trickier to eliminate after grasses become established and provide camouflage for them).
- Calamagrostis prefers damp soil, making it a good choice at the edge of a natural swimming pool, on the banks of a pond, or in a boggy corner of a backyard.
- In late winter, cut back last year’s growth to a height of six inches.
Above: Calamagrostis brachytricha. Photograph byDominicus Johannes Bergsmavia Wikimedia.
See more growing tips in Feather Reed Grass: A Field Guide to Planting, Care & Design in our curated design guides to Grasses 101. Read more:
- Expert Advice: 8 Tips for a Meadow Garden from Grass Guru John Greenlee
- Pink Grasses: 11 Ideas for Muhlenbergia in a Landscape
- Fountain Grass: A Field Guide to Planting, Care & Design
‘Karl Foerster’ feather reed grass.
Feather reed grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora) is a dramatic ornamental grass used in many types of landscapes. Probably the most common culitivar is ‘Karl Foerster’. When the Perennial Plant Association named this as their Plant of the Year 2001 they called it “one of the most versatile, attractive, and low maintenance ornamental grasses.”
Deep green foliage early in mid-spring.
This is a cool season grass, hardy in zones 3-9, so the deep green, glossy foliage appears early in the spring. In cold climates the color lasts through late fall or early winter when it turns a golden tan color, but in mild climates the foliage may remain green. The plants grow erect, in a narrow clump 2-3 feet tall and less than 2 feet wide.
The tall flower heads eventually turn a tan color.
In early summer flowers stems 5-6 feet tall appear. This cultivar blooms a few weeks earlier than common feather reed grass. The heads of the loose, feathery inflorescences emerge green, then open to airy, rosy-pink plumes. After a few weeks the color changes to dark maroon, then to bronze, and finally to golden tan. The plants flower stalks remain upright through the winter to provide winter interest.
C. x acutiflora is reported as a natural hybrid of C. epigejos (native to Europe, Asia and Africa) and C. arundinacea (native to Eurasia, China and India) that occurred in the Hamburg Botanical Garden. It was introduced to the industry as an ornamental in 1950 by German nurseryman Karl Foerster. It was brought into the United States from Denmark in 1964. It is almost identical to C. x acutiflora ‘Stricta’ (so identical that these plants are often confused by some nurseries) but ‘Karl Foerster’ does not self seed.
‘Karl Foerster’ feather reed grass is a good addition to a sunny perennial garden.
C. x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ is excellent as a specimen plant, providing a vertical accent in the landscape or as a massed planting. The slightest breeze sets this grass in motion and the graceful movement is a highlight for any landscape. In heavy rain or wind the stems may flop in all directions but quickly return to vertical when dried off.
Feather reed grass performs best in full sun
Put it in a spot where the afternoon sun will shine on the seedheads, making them appear almost golden in color, for a dramatic effect. It is also useful in patio pot containers, as a backdrop fro roses or as a seasonal hedge or screen. ‘Karl Foerster’ feather reed grass combines well with other perennials, especially late summer and fall-blooming perennials such as Coreopsis, Echinacea, Liatris, and Rudbeckia.
This grass is a low-maintenance perennial.
This grass is also good for use in fresh or dried arrangements. Stems cut before the flowers mature will last for months in an arrangement, maintaining the golden tan color.
This long-lived perennial grass grows best in full sun to partial shade and prefers well-drained, fertile soils with sufficient moisture, but is somewhat drought tolerant once established. Unlike many of the other ornamental grasses it does well in heavier clay soils. Fertilization may be required to produce maximum height in infertile soils. It has no serious disease or insect problems and is not favored by deer. It may flop over if grown in shade.
Growth begins early in the spring, so the clumps should be cut back in late winter.
Little maintenance is required except to cut back the stems to about 6 inches annually. Since this plant starts it’s growth early in spring, the previous year’s growth needs to be cut back in late winter or very early spring to avoid damaging the new growth.
This grass is best propagated by division in the fall or spring. Large clump division may be done in the fall with a good show of flowers the following spring. Smaller clumps will require a second growing season to fully develop a mature flowering effect. This cultivar is sterile so there will never be seedlings in the garden.
– Susan Mahr, University of Wisconsin – Madison
Grass Family (Poaceae)
Phragmites communis, Phragmites maximus, cane grass, common reedgrass, giant reed, quilrod, reed grass.
Origin and Distribution:
Common reed is a native, emergent aquatic grass found in temperate regions around the world. It occurs throughout most of the U.S. and southern Canada, and more locally, in central and northeastern Ohio. This plant grows in wet, moderately fertile soils, such as along the banks of lakes, ponds, streams, marshes, ditches and roads, and in wet fields. Farm and road machinery help to distribute its rhizomes across the landscape, and once established, common reed will spread quickly over an area. Common reed is tolerant of stagnant and gently flowing water, and of both brackish (slightly saline) and alkaline conditions. However, it is not tolerant of high salinity or drought.
Common reed is a large, bamboo-like, sod-forming perennial grass that reproduces primarily by rhizomes (horizontal underground stems), sometimes by stolons (horizontal stems at the surface of the ground that root at the nodes), and rarely by seeds. This plant grows to impressive heights of 20 feet, with stout, cane-like stems and large, purple, feathery clusters of flowers. Common reed often forms dense patches.
Common reed has long, stout, scaly, creeping rhizomes (horizontal underground stems) that form extensive mats. Rhizomes typically grow 1 to 3 feet below the soil surface, but can reach depths greater than 6 feet. Roots are produced at the joints (nodes) of the rhizomes.
The stiff, smooth, erect stems are hollow, round, and unbranched. Stems can grow 1/5 to 3/5 inch wide and 2 to 14 feet tall, sometimes reaching heights of 20 feet. The stems can be almost woody, and are sometimes purplish. Roots grow from the base of flooded stems.
Leaves are rolled in the bud. The leaf blade (free part of the leaf) (2 to 24 inches long, 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches wide) is broad, stiff and flat, with rough margins. The leaf surface is hairless and ridge-veined above, and hairless or sparsely hairy below. Leaf blades taper to a long point and narrow slightly toward the stem. The leaf sheath (the part of the leaf surrounding the stem) is smooth, except for fine hairs along the margins. The sheath margins usually overlap and are often purple. The ligule (projection inside on the top of the sheath) is composed of a short membrane crowned with a ring of short, dense, white hairs and long, silky hairs; however, the long hairs fall off as leaves mature. Auricles (appendages at the top of the sheath) are absent.
The feathery, plume-like flower head is 5 to 16 inches long and composed of many long branches that point upwards. Narrow clusters of flowers are arranged densely along the branches. The flowers are surrounded by silky white hairs, and are purplish at first, becoming tawny to dark brown at maturity.
Fruits and Seeds:
Seeds are brown, thin and delicate. A long, narrow bristle is attached to each seed. The seed and bristle together measure approximately 1/3 inch long.
Common reed may be confused with johnsongrass (Sorghum halepense) and reed canarygrass (Phalaris arundinacea). All 3 are large perennials with creeping rhizomes, but common reed grows taller than both. In addition, it has a feathery, dense flower head and thin seeds, compared to the nonfeathery flower head and plump, oval seeds of johnsongrass. Common reed has a hairy ligule, while the ligule of reed canarygrass is completely membranous.
Flowering occurs from July to September, which is later than for most other grasses. Common reed spreads primarily by rhizomes, and new plants can easily establish from rhizome fragments. Once established, this plant can form large, dense, monospecific colonies. Common reed can encroach into standing water up to 6 feet deep
Common reed is usually a problem in or near fresh or brackish water, but it can also be troublesome on sandy to loamy soils with damp subsoils. Large clumps of grass can block flow in irrigation channels and flood mitigation systems. However, common reed does provide some benefit to the ecosystems that it inhabits. Fish and water birds find shelter and breeding sites in the dense reed stands, and the interwoven networks of rhizomes and roots help to prevent erosion along lakeshores and river banks.
Facts and Folklore:
The genus name, Phragmites, is derived from the Greek word for ‘fence’, and refers to common reed’s fence-like growth along the banks of streams and ponds.
Redwing blackbirds preferentially nest in common reed stands.
Common reed was used in earlier times to make pen points (quills). Today, the dried stems are used in the Southwest and Mexico for thatching, mats, cordage and arrows. This species is grown for paper production in Russia.
Feather reed grass
Size and Form
This is a fairly narrow, upright grass. It grows about 3 feet tall in foliage and up to 5 feet tall when in flower and fruit.
Best growth is obtained in a sunny site with a moist soil. It is low maintenance as it is a clumping grass and does not produce viable seeds. Tolerates heavy clay soils.
Although this is a cool season grass, it tends to act more like a warm season grass in northern climates and is most active growth occurs in summer. It will remain standing in winter and can act as winter interest
Since this grass remains attractive through winter, it should not be cut back until early spring, before new growth begins. At that time, it can be cut down to the ground.
Disease, pests, and problems
No serious problems.
Disease, pest, and problem resistance
Will not self-sow like many other grasses, so seedlings are not a problem.
Native geographic location and habitat
Of hybrid origin.
The long slender leaves are dark green in summer, turning tan to buff in winter.
The tiny flowers are numerous and held in upright, fluffy clusters. Flowers clusters open green with subtle undertones of silvery and purple. Flowering time is late May into June.
The small fruit (caryopsis or grains) form along the upright clusters that held the flowers. They start out golden yellow and then mature to a tan or buff color for winter.
Cultivars and their differences
Avalanche (Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Avalanche’): This cultivar has varigated foliage (a white stripe in the center and green edges).
Eldorado (Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Eldorado’): A variegated cultivar with green and gold stripes.
Karl Foerster (Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’): A slightly more compact cultivar that blooms slightly earlier than the species.
Overdam (Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Overdam’): Variegated leaves with green and creamy white stripes. A more compact variety (3 to 4 feet when in flower).