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One study in Minnesota found that reed canarygrass may be reduced when postfire herbicide treatments are timed to coincide with periods of optimal carbohydrate accumulation (see Seasonal development) to facilitate translocation of herbicide to rhizomes. To control a near monoculture of reed canarygrass, researchers combined May prescribed fire with various herbicide treatments. A native mix of graminoid and herbaceous species was seeded on the site shortly after the fire. Reed canarygrass biomass was reduced when fire was followed by either spring (mid-May) or fall (late August and late September) applications of herbicide. Reed canarygrass biomass was 75% less in the spring-herbicide treatment than in control plots and 90% less in the fall-herbicide treatment. Differences were attributed to improved translocation of the herbicide to the rhizome during periods of carbohydrate accumulation. However, reed canarygrass continued to dominate the site, preventing native species from establishing, even after 2 seasons of spring burning and fall herbicide application [1].

In North America, reed canarygrass begins to grow in early spring, typically April [5,133,157,294,301]. One report from the Great Plains [117] and another from New Jersey [171] indicate that reed canarygrass seedlings emerge in the spring. In the Pacific Northwest, reed canarygrass may begin to grow in late winter (review by [5]). Reed canarygrass continues to grow vertically throughout the spring and early summer ([301], review by [133]) and then may start to expand laterally via rhizomes (review by [133]). In Oregon, reed canarygrass grows substantially in the spring before flood waters recede [301]. Various reviews from the Pacific Northwest [148], Illinois [133], and Wisconsin [157] indicate that reed canarygrass’ growth peaks in mid-June and declines by mid-August. On an experimental site in Ohio, reed canarygrass rhizome production peaked in June and declined through August. Peak rhizome production was associated with a decline in culm production [62,63].

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Fire adaptations: Reed canarygrass establishes rapidly after fire on sites where it occurs in the prefire plant community (see Plant response to fire), suggesting that it is adapted to survive and regenerate after fire. Few studies describe fire characteristics or indicate whether postfire establishment of reed canarygrass is from sprouting or seed germination.

Few studies have investigated the behavior, properties, and influence of wildfire in riparian areas. Riparian forests generally have more available moisture and may differ in understory vegetation, fuel loads, and fuel moisture from adjacent uplands. In these communities, especially in moist forest types, fire typically has longer return intervals and is less severe than in adjacent uplands [61].

Reed canarygrass spreads within established populations by creeping rhizomes ([80], reviews by [133,184,228,277]) and tillers [46,153,193,219] and colonizes new sites by seed (review by [184]). Ribbon grass may be sterile [14].

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Two studies have evaluated sethoxydim—a grass-specific herbicide— in conjunction with other treatments to control reed canarygrass [260,305]. Researchers in Illinois used sethoxydim in conjunction with with prescribed fire, glyphosate application, and native plant seeding to control a monotypic stand of reed canarygrass [260]. In 2006, an early March prescribed fire was followed by a 10 May application of glyphosate. A second fire was conducted on 8 June 2006 to reduce thatch left unburned by the March fire. Then the site was seeded with a native sedge and forb mix. Sethoxydim was applied on 15 August 2006, when reed canarygrass was about 15 cm tall, and again on 18 May 2007. Plots were burned again on 18 April 2008, and sethoxydim was applied on 6 May 2008. In late July 2008, control plots averaged 88.3% reed canarygrass cover and 9.5% native graminoid cover, while treated plots averaged 14.4% reed canarygrass cover and 86.7% native graminoid cover. The author anticipates that regular prescribed fire and spot applications of glyphosate to reed canarygrass clumps will maintain the planted native sedge meadow [260].

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Typically, reed canarygrass persists and spreads in mid- to late succession [66,71,221,228]. In the Great Plains, reed canarygrass invaded 80% of restored prairie potholes (n=41) within 10 years after restoration efforts were completed and was the dominant shoreline vegetation in nearly 50% [221]. In Norway, reed canarygrass was initially uncommon on a lakeshore undergoing permanent drawdown; however, it became increasingly dominant over a 12-year period [228]. Reed canarygrass germinates better in light than shade, and reports of its establishment in later succession are limited to a field study from Great Britain: reed canarygrass established in a previously cultivated wet grassland undergoing secondary succession on a site where it had not previously occurred for 35 years [25].


Invasive populations of reed canarygrass occur in many areas throughout its range, particularly in the northwestern [35,66,188,234,248] and north-central [15,145,196,240] United States, and increasingly in eastern North America [170]. It is generally thought that invasive populations are comprised of either nonnative strains or hybrids between nonnative and native strains [58,196,205,246,271]. Researchers in Ontario [58] observed noninvasive populations of reed canarygrass in “native habitats” along the shores of the northern Great Lakes and the upper Ottawa and French rivers, as well as invasive populations in anthropogenically altered landscapes. They speculated that noninvasive populations were native, while invasive populations were the progeny of European cultivars [58]. A genetic analysis of populations in Europe and North America (Vermont and New Hampshire) indicates that invasive populations of reed canarygrass in North America are comprised of genotypes resulting from multiple introductions of European cultivars and subsequent interbreeding of these populations [169]. The long history of repeated introductions of reed canarygrass into North America has resulted in substantially higher within-population genetic diversity in its introduced range as compared with its native range, allowing for rapid selection of novel genotypes and increased invasive potential [169]. See Genetic variability for a discussion of variable traits that may influence the invasiveness of reed canarygrass.

As mature reed canarygrass plants senesce late in the season, litter accumulates and forms thick, impenetrable mats [119,294]. Fire may be used to reduce this litter ([69,305], review by [277]), even when standing reed canarygrass is green. In near-monocultures of reed canarygrass (>80% relative cover) in an experimental field in Wisconsin, litter comprised more than 80% of total biomass in unburned plots in May but less than half of total biomass in unburned plots in August. Fire behavior was more variable on August-burned plots in this sutdy than on May-burned plots. The year after a single burn, productivity did not differ significantly between May-burned, August-burned, and unburned plots. However, the year after a second burn, productivity was greatest on spring-burned plots, less on summer-burned plots, and least on unburned plots (P<0.05) [129]. In a dense stand of reed canarygrass in Minnesota, researchers did not get a “good burn” during a June prescribed fire, which they attributed to the high moisture content of the litter [240].

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After reed canarygrass seed matures and is dispersed, the heads and stem die back to the upper leaves, but the rest of the plant stays green [301]. In the Great Plains, reed canarygrass’ panicle may turn brown by midsummer and the lower leaves may die and form a thick mat [294]. A vegetation management guideline indicated that in Wisconsin, reed canarygrass’ shoots collapse in mid to late summer, forming a dense, impenetrable mat of stems and leaves [119]. Reed canarygrass may undergo a period of additional growth in the fall ([157], review by [119]). Buds form on the rhizomes in late summer or fall and may develop into flowers on the culms during the next growing season [121]. New shoots develop primarily in the fall and the following spring [63].