What Is Calamagrostis?

L. Baran

Calamagrostis is a type of reed grass known for its unique ability to grow vertically to significant heights. Also known as Karl Foerster, this ornamental grass is often found in moist areas such as bogs and wetlands. It is renowned for its dramatic movement on a windy day, its deer resistance, versatility and time in bloom.

Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

Karl Foersters are typically used in larger borders, behind small plants like roses and lilies, as hedges, or to provide screening. Due to their quick growth rate, many see them as an excellent choice for landscapes needing immediate screens. The average height of a calamagrostis with flowers is 60 to 80 inches (1.52m to 2m). They are often planted in long rows for a dramatic effect. While these plants can tolerate almost any type of soil, they thrive in moist environments and clay soils.

One of the first bloomers of the spring season, the calamagrostis provides an array of colors as the seasons change; it can last until winter, with some blooms withstanding the first winter snowfalls. The foliage is a medium to dark green, while the tips of the grass can be brown, tan, off-white, pink or even purple in color. As a result of its hardiness and varying colors, this type of grass is a popular choice for picking and creating indoor arrangements. Grass stems can last for months indoors if cut before the spring bloom.

Seeds from this reed grass are sterile, so the plant cannot self-seed and spread. This ensures that the grass cannot take over a landscape or shelter other smaller plants. Calamagrostis should be planted later in the spring or early in the fall. Once established, this reed grass requires very little maintenance and should only need to be watered every two weeks with average rainfall amounts. In early spring, the grass should be cut back to promote healthy new growth.

In 2001, the calamagrostis was the winner of the Perennial Plant of the Year. It is rare for a grass to win this type of award. The plant was chosen for its attractiveness, low maintenance requirement, color variance and unique movement patterns. The Karl Foerster can be found growing naturally in almost all North American states, with the exception of the most southern states. This plant is regularly one of the best selling ornamental grasses throughout the country and is popular with novice gardeners and professional landscapers alike.

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