Caren White is a Master Gardener and instructor at Home Gardeners School. She has been associated with Rutgers Gardens for over a decade.
What is Pampas Grass?
Pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana) is a flowering grass that is native to the southern regions of South America including Brazil, Argentina and Chile. It is a very fast growing grass that has become invasive in the regions where it has been introduced. Its prodigious seed production and fast growth enables it to outcompete the native flora and take over. This tendency to replace native flora means that the biodiversity is reduced, harming the local fauna also.
The blades of the foliage are extremely sharp and can harm birds that feed on it. But those sharp edges discourage deer from eating it. If you live in an area with a lot of deer, you should consider adding this grass to your landscape.
Pampas grass is hardy in zones 7 – 11 and marginally hardy in zone 6. It grows in large clumps that can reach 10 feet high and 6 feet wide. In the fall, the flower stalks add another 2 – 3 feet in height. The flowers open in August and last through February. The edges of the leaves are sharp enough to cut human skin. You should always wear long sleeves and long pants as well as thick gloves to protect yourself when you are working around this plant.
Pampas grass is dioecious, which means that there are male plants and female plants. The female plants have the large white fluffy flowers for which the grass is known. The male plants have much smaller, thinner flowers. Both are needed to produce seed. As you can imagine from the size of the plumes, female pampas grass produces extraordinary amounts of seed.
You can prevent this grass from becoming invasive if you grow only the female plants. Without the male plants to fertilize the female flowers, no seeds will be produced.
The female flowers can be harvested for use in fresh or dried arrangements.
How to Grow Pampas Grass
Pampas grass is usually purchased from a local nursery as a plant. Make sure that you are buying a female plant. It should be on the label. If not, ask someone.
If you are planting more than one clump of this large grass, space them 8 feet apart. It may look a little silly in the spring, but this is a fast growing grass so your garden will look less sparse by the fall.
Pampas grass grows best in full sun, but will tolerate a little shade. It just won’t be as spectacular in the shade. The soil should be well-drained. These are drought tolerant plants. Water them regularly the first year as they settle into their new home. After the first year, you will only have to water during periods of prolonged drought.
Fertilize your grass four times a year with a balanced fertilizer such as 10-10-10.
How to Harvest Pampas Grass Flowers For Drying
The secret to harvesting and drying pampas grass flowers is to harvest them as soon as they are fully open. If you wait, they will begin to shed and lose their fluffiness. Remember to wear thick gloves and dress in long sleeves and long pants to avoid injuring yourself on the sharp edges of the leaves. Use pruners to cut the stems of the flowers a little longer than you want them to be. You can always cut off extra length but you can’t replace length if you cut them too short.
Spray the flowers with hairspray to prevent them from shedding as they dry. You should also spray them if you are using them in a fresh flower arrangement.
How to Prune Pampas Grass
Pruning should be done in the late winter before the start of the growing season. Pruning removes dead leaves that would attract insects and encourage disease. Wear long sleeves and long pants as well as thick gloves to avoid being cut by the sharp edges of the leaves. Using a hedge trimmer or lopping shears, cut all the foliage off close to the soil.
How to Divide Pampas Grass
After you prune in the late winter is a good time to divide your grass. You can use a sharp spade to cut the clumps into smaller clumps which you can then dig up and transplant to another area of your yard. Water well to help them settle in, then continue to water regularly for the first year. After that, you will only have to water during prolonged periods of drought.
How to Grow Pampas Grass From Seed
You can grow pampas grass from seed but that will result in both male and female plants. You will not know which is which until they bloom. At that point you will want to remove the male plants and only leave the female plants.
Start your seeds indoors 4 – 6 weeks before your last frost. Fill a container with soil and water it well. Then surface sow your seeds. Do not cover them. They need light to germinate. Place the container inside of a plastic bag to create a mini greenhouse and put in a sunny window. Mist the soil regularly to keep it moist. Germination will be quick – 1 -2 weeks.
You can transplant your seedlings outdoors after your last frost when they are 3 – 4 inches tall. Plant them in small bunches, spacing the bunches 8 feet apart. Water them regularly the first year. After that, you will only need to water during periods of prolonged drought.
© 2021 Caren White
Caren White (author) on January 07, 2021:
I have the same problem! I don't have a lot of space to garden so I have to be very choosy about what I grow.
Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on January 07, 2021:
A well written and informative article about Pampas grass. They look so beautiful. I would love to grow them, but don't have that much space.
Thank you for sharing this.
Caren White (author) on January 06, 2021:
You are so welcome! I hope that your pampas grass can be revived.
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on January 06, 2021:
We had Pampas grass and our neighbors had a fire in their backyard, which burned our Pampas grass this past summer. Your article will help me to restore it to it's former beauty. Thank you, Caren.
Caren White (author) on January 05, 2021:
It's a statement plant.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on January 05, 2021:
We have grown pampas grass at a former home of ours. Those showy blooms are so pretty.