How to Grow Pampas Grass
The gorgeous, shiny, fluffy tufts of pampas grass floating all over rolling, sunlit meadows and fields are always spectacular. No wonder those who don’t know what they are, are always eager to know more about them and long to have them, as are those who know about them.
Growing pampas grass in one’s garden can be a striking addition to the collection of flowering and ornamental plants and landscaping, and its soft, dense tussocks can enhance the beauty of flower arrangements and serve as excellent home decoration elements.
Published: October 18, 2022.
Pampas grass is a tall reed-like perennial plant in the family Poaceae, originally belonging to southern parts of South America. Its botanical name is Cortaderia selloana. It has around 25 species, but the C. selloana variety is commonly known as Pampas grass.
The grass can reach a height of up to 4 meters (13 feet) and has long leaves with sharp edges, and form a compact tussock (tufted bunch). The tussocks are originally creamy white in color, but can be sprayed to achieve the colors one desires. This plant is dioecious, which means that it has separate male and female plants.
Female plants produce clusters of silver-colored plume-like flowers called tussocks that are around 30 to 90 cm (1 to 3 feet) in length. Seeds are feathery and are freely dispersed by the wind. Tussocks produced by male plants are less showy and less soft and silky than female plants.
Pampas grass is native to the Pampas plains, after which it is named. It’s grown for ornamental purposes in warm areas but is considered to be an invasive plant in some areas outside its native area, including South Africa, New Zealand, and the southwestern United States.
It’s cultivated worldwide because it’s highly adaptable and can thrive in a wide variety of environments and weathers, including wind, drought, and salt sprays (hence it’s seen in coastal regions too).
Pampas grass is an ornamental plant and is planted to add beauty to one’s garden or home. The plant grows very tall and wide, and its plumes are dense. Hence it’s also planted as privacy screens around the yard or pool, or on patio borders, besides adding beauty to the garden.
Pampas grass normally blooms in early September; however, it’s normally available year-round. Also, the flowers look fresh for months.
The plumes of pampas grass last for up to 3 years in vases.
Plant Hardiness Zones
Pampas grass can grow in USDA plant hardiness zones 7 through 11. However, zone 7 is the best for the plant, including states like Massachusetts, Alabama, and New York. In many other states, however, like Hawaii, it’s considered an invasive species.
If well protected, it can even grow in Zone 6. The cold region is not suited to it unless it’s grown in pots and moved indoors in the winter, and replanted outdoors in spring. However, this is not very practical given its large size.
Types of Pampas Grass
The most common types of pampas grass include Pink Feather, which has rose-colored blooms, and Gold Band, which has white plumes.
Cortaderia selloana pumila is a dwarf pampas grass species.
There are also two pampas grass varieties that don’t belong to the selloana species: C. jubata, also called purple pampas grass or Andean, and Saccharum ravennae, or hardy pampas grass.
How to Plant Pampas Grass?
Although it’s possible to overwinter on pampas grass indoors with an appropriate mix of sun and light, it gives less-than-perfect results and needs a significant amount of space due to its height and sharp leaves. Therefore, it’s advisable to grow pampas grass in one’s garden. Here are steps to plant this grass in an open garden.
When to Plant?
Being perennial, pampas grass goes dormant in winter months, and new growths appear in early spring.
Once one gets good pampas grass seeds, they should take them indoors during early springtime and press them in cell packs or flats containing well-draining soil.
Gardeners should make sure there should be ample light and warmth (65-75 degrees Fahrenheit) available to the sown seeds. Once seedlings emerge, they should transplant the seedlings of female plants (having fuller plumes and not producing seed) in the spring.
Seeds can also be sown outside. However, the grower should not cover them with soil in order to let them get direct sunlight and water. If the grower’s area has a lot of birds who can eat the seeds, the grower should cover the planting area with a bird net.
Choosing Planting Site
Pampas grass needs plenty of sunlight to grow. Hence the planting site should be such that it’d get at least 6 hours of direct sunlight every day. It will also grow in partial shade; however, the plant may be less healthy.
Pampas grass is an extremely adaptable and invasive, self-seeding plant, to the extent that a single plant can form a million seeds per year which, when flown by the wind, can grow wherever they drop.
Hence one should make sure there is a lot of space between their new plants and their neighbors’ gardens.
Where Not to Plant?
Some other points should also be considered while choosing the planting site. For example, it should not be planted where people usually frequent or where children play because its razor-sharp leaves can cause cuts.
- It should also not be planted along driveways because, being very tall and dense, it can obstruct the driver’s view.
- It should also not be planted near a flame source, such as an outdoor grill, because it can easily catch fire.
- It should also not be planted near an air-conditioning unit because its threads are highly likely to get caught in the machine fan.
Preparing the Soil
The soil should be rich and moist but well-drained for pampas grass to grow. One can till and apply a balanced fertilizer or mulch to their garden or add quartz sand to help with drainage.
Planting the Seedlings
Once seedlings are ready, one should dig a hole that’s around 15 inches deep. Before planting the seedling, the root ball should be gently massaged in order to loosen the roots so they can establish themselves well in the soil.
Now the grower should place the plant in the hole and fill the hole with soil. If one is planting multiple seedlings, one should ensure that there is a gap of at least 6 feet between every two plants to provide them sufficient room to grow.
The grower should deeply water the planting site to let the soil settle and help the roots of the seedlings establish. Once the roots are established, the plant will only need water every few weeks during its first year of planting.
Caring for Pampas Grass
The female pampas grass plants will need propagation after around 5 years so as to remain healthy. It should be done in late August or early September before winter arrives.
However, propagating during early spring is advisable, i.e., after the last frost lands on the ground. This gives the plant an entire growing season to develop a strong root system.
Propagating will require the grower to cut the stalk down to the roots to show new shoots within the old plant. Then they should remove the remains of the old plant and replant the new shoots at the same depth. Then they should water deeply and keep the soil moist until the young plant starts thriving.
Pampas grass grows fast. It should be kept under control, for which pruning is essential. The grower should prune the grass stalk to the ground using gardening shears in late winter or early spring.
Dry, damaged, and dead leaves also should be cut from the dense tussocks at the base of the plant. The leaves are sharp, and hence one should wear gloves and long-sleeve clothes to protect themselves.
Pampas grass doesn’t need a lot of water. Once it’s established, water from the natural rainfall is sufficient for it.
Is it Possible to Grow Pampas Grass in Containers?
Since pampas grass can grow up to 13 feet, one may wonder if they can grow these huge-sized plants in containers. But yes, it is possible to grow them in containers.
The container should be large, and positioning it in the right place is very important. Since the plant is large and its leaves have sharp edges, placing them near entrances is not advisable.
If placed on a patio or terrace, it should be placed on the outermost border as a privacy screen so that it can’t cause any harm to passersby.
Size of Container
Even though one plans to change the container to bigger ones as the plant grows, ultimately, they will need a larger container to hold the big plant.
The size of the container should be at least 10 gallons. This also means that it will need a lot of soil, and eventually, the container will be very heavy.
The location to place the container should be sunny and also protected from wind or winter because it’s just very difficult to move the huge container and plant.
But one can solve the problem of moving by placing the container on a trolley. The location should also not have any fire source as the plant can quickly become a fire hazard.
Potting soil is fine for container-grown pampas grass. But one should add a little sand or grit to it to add to drainage.
Caring for Pampas Grass in Containers
Although pampas grass is drought tolerant, when planted in a container, it needs regular watering, particularly in the summer.
Typically, these grasses don’t need to apply fertilizers if there is sufficient nitrogen in the soil. However, when it comes to decorative plants in containers, nutrients in the soil get quickly used up and leach out; hence it’s necessary to feed the plant with a high-nitrogen fertilizer in early spring.
The leaves of pampas grass can get torn or just die back in the winter. The grower should prune pampas leaves from later winter to early spring to make the plant look neat and enable new leaves to emerge.
Pests and Diseases
Pampas grass doesn’t serve any animals like rabbits or deer as food. However, several birds and insects tend to make nests in it, so one should be careful while pruning or propagating it in the early spring.
However, infrequently pampas grass can catch a fungal infection that appears as spots. The fungus typically shows during warm and rainy periods. A general fungicide can cure the problem.
How to Dry Pampas Grass?
The grower should cut the stems when pampas grass is in its first full bloom, i.e., normally in September. They should choose a dry day and harvest after noontime when the dew has dried.
Then they should make a bunch of 3 or 4 stems together using a string. A loop for hanging should be made.
Then they should hang the bunch upside down in a dry, warm spot. It should be ensured that air circulates around the bunch.
The bunch should be left for 2-3 weeks.
Once the plumes are completely dry, the grower should take them down, fluff them gently with fingers and apply a spurt of hairspray, and then should display the bunch in a beautiful vase or glass carboy.
The fluffy tussocks of pampas grass look gorgeous while swaying with a breeze in one’s garden as well as when placed in bunches in vases around one’s house.
Planting pampas grass and seeing these charming tussocks grow is sheer joy, and every gardener should experience it.