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Gardening Q&A

Tall grass that looks like corn is giant reed

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Arundo donax

Arundo donax. Photo courtesy of Missouri Botanical Garden

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Q • At a nearby garden there is a grass growing that is approximately 30 feet tall and looks like a corn plant; however, it is not. This grass is beautiful and we call it “corn grass.” Do you know what the name of it is?

A • From your description, but without the benefit of seeing it, my guess is that you are describing giant reed (Arundo donax). Arundo is an ornamental grass of European origin that produces large bamboo-like canes with corn-like foliage. It can grow quite tall in a single growing season.

Arundo grows best in moist, well-drained soils in full sun. Established clumps are very drought-tolerant, but the foliage is liable to scorch without supplemental water in summer. Severe winter cold may kill stems back to the ground, but the roots are likely to survive, so it will benefit from mulch over its roots to pull it through the severest cold spells.

Where it is fully hardy, it can spread aggressively and may become invasive if not controlled. Unlike running bamboos, its roots are relatively easy to dig to curb its spread. The old canes may survive mild winters, but the spent foliage often hangs on with an untidy appearance until pushed off by new growth. For this reason, the canes are best cut back to the ground every spring to keep the clump neat and attractive.

Write to Chip Tynan of the Missouri Botanical Garden at chip.tynan@mobot.org or Horticultural Answer Service, 4344 Shaw Boulevard, St. Louis, 63110. Check his blog at mobot.org/gardeninghelp/hilight.asp

Write to Chip Tynan of the Missouri Botanical Garden at chip.tynan@mobot.org or Horticultural Answer Service, Department PD, P.O. Box 299, St. Louis, Mo. 63166. Check his blog at: mobot.org/gardeninghelp/hilight.asp

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