June’s GBFD and Thursday’s feature: Arundo Donax

I feel like I’m cheating with this double post, but between Christina’s Garden Bloggers Foliage Day and Kimberley’s Thursday Feature I didn’t have the strength to choose just one… and ran out of time to do both.  So here’s the best I can muster, a feature plant which highlights foliage!

arundo donax variegata

A patch of Arundo donax ‘variegata’ in the street border.  The bold white variegated foliage accents the corner and contrasts the different foliage colors and forms of its neighbors.

Arundo Donax is not a plant for the meek or overly sensible.  It’s a large vigorous grass which overwhelms its neighbors and requires a backhoe or moving van for the owner who tires of it.  It’s listed as invasive in a few more Southerly regions but here on the Northern edge of its hardiness range it just comes across as enthusiastic.  There is a plain green form, but the ‘variegata’ is just straight cooler with it’s crisply bright color and its almost-as-vigorous growth.  13 feet tall (4 meters) is not unusual here in zone 5/6 NE Pennsylvania.

Arundo (giant reed grass) appreciates plenty of moisture but can also handle a considerable amount of drought.  It does NOT enjoy a late freeze.  Half of my patch surprised me by actually dying back this spring when a late freeze came just as the roots were emerging from winter dormancy.  Heat is what this grass prefers but just keep in mind that in the ‘Variegata’ form the bright white will fade to yellow and green when the thermometer goes above 90F, and if that bothers you chose the slightly less vigorous ‘Peppermint Stick’  which keeps the white all summer.

arundo donax variegata in perennial border

Arundo donax ‘variegata’ later in the season (August).  A relatively cool summer kept the variegation from fading completely.

You’re either going to love this grass or hate it and I won’t judge you regardless.  Arundo is not a plant for everyone just as Great Danes are not a dog for all households, but it does make a statement and I’ll leave it to you to decide whether that statement is a bold splash of color front and center or if it’s a rude, overwhelming haystack.  In either case I think you’ll agree it’s both foliage and a feature and if you’d like to explore other (possibly more tasteful) uses of foliage please visit Christina at Creating My Own Garden of the Hesperides on the 22nd of each month and if you’d like to see what plant features best this week visit Kimberley at Cosmos and Cleome each Thursday.  If you have the time you may want to consider joining in, there’s always room for one more and it’s always fun!

17 comments on “June’s GBFD and Thursday’s feature: Arundo Donax

  1. Chloris says:

    I have admired your variegated Arundo donax before and been rather envious of it. Here the variegated one is not reliably hardy and each spring mine dithers for ages, trying to decide whether to die or not. So far it has lived, but not with any enthusiasm. I love both of yours, great foliage.

    • bittster says:

      I don’t think I made it very clear that both pictures are of the same plant, just taken at different ends of the growing season.
      I’m not sure if I would enjoy it half as much if it struggled. One of its other great qualities (for me at least) is how it requires nothing more than a chopping back in the fall and then it explodes again next year to this awesome size -with or without my help

  2. Christina says:

    Great choice; I admire both yours but imagine that they would want more water than is available to them here. I particularly like the blue one, it would look great here if it would grow. thanks for joining and I don’t mind it being a post for two memes when it fulfils the brief, which this does!

    • bittster says:

      I think you’re right in that it will need more water than you have to spare for it. Mine tolerates drought but does need a wet spell to get started.

  3. It looks great in your garden, but I just can’t get myself to appreciate the ornamental grasses. (Remember, you said you wouldn’t judge!) Although, something a little smaller and less enthusiastic than that might be just the ticket for a couple open spaces in my Terrace Garden. Food for thought! Thanks for joining in!

    • bittster says:

      Thanks for hosting!
      I didn’t know you were a non-grasser. I will try to stick to my non-judgemental principles but be forewarned that on your next visit I’ll be pointing out and extolling the virtues of every clump of ornamental grass we pass 😉

  4. 13 feet??? *gulp*

    I am easily intimidated by a 6-foot Miscanthus ‘Morning Light’….

    • bittster says:

      It may be taller but it doesn’t have the sharp leaf blades of a miscanthus. I’m beginning to get a bit tired of my miscanthus, the form is awesome but the spring cleanup is a hassle.

  5. Hmm. IF I were to try it (and it sounds like it might not be hardy for me) I would want to try ‘Peppermint Stick’. It looks a bit like ribbon grass on steroids and sounds like it acts like it, too. On second thought, I’ll just enjoy it in your garden.

    • bittster says:

      Ribbon grass on steroid is just about perfect, but I think it short changes just how big this gets… unless it’s like comparing todays horsetails to the 40 foot dinosaur era horsetails. It’s like steroids plus mutation plus some kind of Incredible Hulk gamma radiation!

  6. Cathy says:

    This is definitely a feature Frank, and a very lovely one too. I love variegated things and had no idea the heat can change the colour. I have a variegated Phalaris, which everyone warns me is invasive, but some of it has died back this year and I wonder if it was also due to the late frosts. It is easy to keep in check where it stands. I might feature that one week too.

    • bittster says:

      My Phalaris is also relatively well behaved although it’s not in the best spot which helps. Yes, variegation has been a weakness of mine as well. Anything with yellow variegation is even more tempting and I’ve imposed a temporary ban on adding any new yellow plants to the garden 🙂

  7. Your comparison to Great Danes is so perfect. I also smile a bit when gardeners are gleeful newfully putting in grasses. Don’t get me wrong, grasses are great plants and many do wonderfully in dry areas, but like you said, one needs a backhoe to remove them. One needs lots of space too. After years when they die out in the middle and need dividing or seed/run to send out numerous prodigy, I look at them and wish I could burn them down.

    • bittster says:

      hehe, I used to burn down the dry winter stalks of a few of my ornamental grasses…. it only made them come back stronger!
      Miscanthus is one grass which I’m starting to think twice about planting. I’m getting tired of trimming them back each spring, and although I love a nice clump here and there I do not love their semi-sharp leaf edges. The Arundo is my baby though. It’s easier to trim back because the stalks are bigger yet fewer in number and for me I can throw them on the compost pile and ignore them for months as they break down. You do need room for it though. It takes up the space of a good sized rhododendron… at least!

  8. Very interesting grass, though a bit too evocative of the tropics to fit into my garden. Always clever to cover two memes with one post.

  9. Peter/Outlaw says:

    Oh yes! Love variegated Arundo donax but don’t have it in my garden…yet. Thanks for the reminder to get it. Now can you come and find an available space. Plant lust has my garden fully cramscaped.

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