Flowers, Foliage

Pampas Grass: Growing Cortaderia Selloana In Gardens


C selloana Sunningdale Silver

The striking, feathery blooms of pampas grass are prized by floral arrangers and gardeners alike. It’s even been used by float decorators for the annual Tournament of Roses parade in Pasadena, California since the early 1900s!

Named for its original home in the grassy plains of Pampas, Argentina, this tall ornamental grass was first introduced to Europe sometime between 1775-1862. It arrived in California in about 1848, going into commercial gardening shortly thereafter, and has become a common sight in coastal areas. In the 1940s, it was even planted to help prevent erosion.

But if it’s not kept in check, this tall landscape grass is known to spread like wildfire – and may become a fire hazard itself. Here, you’ll find ways to manage your pampas grass plants and ensure that your plants flourish in garden beds or containers.

Pampas Grass Overview

Horse-drawn float covered with pampas grass in the 1903 Rose Parade
Pampas grass covered horse-drawn wagon in 1903 Tournament of Roses Parade. Source: USC and California Historical Society
Common NamePampas grass, tussock grass, cortadera, paina, pluma
Scientific NameCortaderia selloana
FamilyPoaceae
Height & Spread4-10 feet high and 4-6 feet wide
LightFull sun to partial shade
SoilWell-drained sandy loam
Water1 inch per week
Pests & DiseasesLeaf spot

All About The Pampas Grass Plant

Pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana) is also commonly known as tussock grass, cortadera, paina, and pluma. This feather duster shaped grass is native to the Pampas region of Argentina, South America, and also to Brazil and Chile. Today people grow pampas grass as an ornamental privacy screen, a garden border, or as an accent. It is invasive in much of North America, which is why it’s best for many growing pampas grass to do so in pots and raised beds.

This ornamental grass is a perennial evergreen year-round in every temperate zone. In those regions with cold winters, it loses its evergreen status. The green leaves of pampas grass are razor-sharp, and can easily slice – so watch out! In spring, lovely seed heads in the form of feathery plumes emerge from the grass clump. As the wind scatters seeds, they germinate, rooting deep into the earth.

Pampas grass is dioecious, and it’s difficult to tell which plants are male or female until the plumes emerge. Female flowers are much wider and flayed at the sides. Female pampas grass catches pollen from the more compact male flowers via wind and insects. Those who want to grow new plants should purchase separate plants that include both male and female flowers.

However, gardening both sexes of plants is not recommended in the temperate zone in North America because pampas grass is classed as an invasive species, and it’s listed as 1 of the 16 Invasive Species Sold at Garden Centers in one of our posts. The clumps form so densely in areas where it remains evergreen that native plants have trouble gaining or retaining an ecological foothold due to lack of space. When people plant pampas grass in a zone or space that doesn’t have cold winters, they risk the spread of thick stands up to 20 miles away.

One great way to control the spread of these ornamental grasses when you’re gardening it is to cut the plumes from either male or female plants as soon as they emerge for floral arrangements. Another way to control this perennial grass is to only purchase female plants, which won’t be pollinated and won’t spread like wildfire – or provide fodder for wildfire.

Pampas Grass Varieties

C selloana Sunningdale Silver
C. selloana ‘Sunningdale Silver’. Source: je wyer

While the majority of pampas grass falls into the selloana species and subdivides into roughly 25 varietals, there are other species that also use the common name pampas grass. Here are some varieties, as well as two “imposter” plant types.

C. selloana ‘Aureolineata’, ‘Gold Band’

A slow-growing, compact evergreen plant which grows to a large size of about 6 feet. Grows golden-tan to white plumes in spring. Tolerant of both heat and cold, and well suited to container gardening.

C. selloana ‘Albolineata’. ‘Silver Stripe’

Similar in most ways to Gold Band, but features white stripes along its leaves. Topped with white plumes of seed heads with a silver sheen.

C. selloana ‘Pumila’, ‘Dwarf Pampas Grass’

One of the dwarf varieties. Blooms pale yellow to ivory white plumes. Grows to about 1.5 meters, or 4.9 feet. Some suppliers offer plants that don’t produce seeds to reduce the risk of invasive spread. A dwarf pampas grass well suited to container gardens.

C. selloana ‘Sunningdale Silver’

Another variety of white pampas. Features silvery plumes not impacted much by rainfall, as pannicles are less prone to clumping. Stems grow to 10 feet.

C. selloana ‘Rendatleri’, ‘Pink Feather’

A true pink plumed pampas. Grows from seedlings to an average of 8 feet. Search for Rendatleri for stunning pink feather blooms and lovely foliage!

C. selloana ‘Silver Fountain’

Cortaderia selloana Silver Fountain
C. selloana ‘Silver Fountain’. Source: Anna Ruiter

White pampas grass color. Features densely-packed long, green leaves with white stripes. Produces large heads of silky, silvery plumes on 2-meter tall stems in the late summer.

C. selloana ‘Splendid Star’

A dwarf pampas grass with golden-streaked leaves. Hardy pampas grows well in containers or as a border plant. Flower stalks are filled with fluffy white pannicles.

C. selloana ‘Monvin’, ‘Sun Stripe’

Has several yellow stripes along its leaves, and shoots up 6 to 7-foot tall plumes tipped with silvery-white flower pannicles in the fall. Commonly used as a windbreak plant.

C. selloana ‘Patagonia’

Produces bluish gray-green foliage in tight tussocks. Blooms rise to six feet and are full of feathery and silver-white flowers in the fall.

C. selloana ‘Silver Comet’

Grown more for its leaves which feature white striations along their edges. White flower plumes barely crest above the 4 to 6-foot leaves.

C. jubata ‘Purple Pampas Grass’, ‘Andean Pampas Grass’

Not a selloana species, but a relative. Grows to 7 meters or 22 feet tall! Flowers start pinkish or purplish, then mature to become ivory or white. Individual plants are female. Reproduces by apomixis rather than by seed or division.

Saccharum ravennae “Erianthus’ ‘Hardy Pampas Grass’

Not a true pampas grass but is similar. Forms thick clumps of tall ornamental grass 9-12 feet in height. Purplish-bronze or white flowers bloom in early summer, turning to silver feather in fall. Leaves have a single white stripe down the center and turn bronze and red in the fall. Perfect landscape grass.

Planting Pampas Grass

Cortaderia selloana Patagonia
C. selloana ‘Patagonia’. Source

In many areas, planting these tall ornamental grasses may not be allowed. Hawaii and New Zealand  have banned pampas grass. It’s on the invasive species list for California and Texas as well as parts of the UK and Australia. Despite these warnings, it can be grown under controlled conditions, so check with your local agricultural extension before planting!

When to Plant Pampas Grass

If you’re starting from seed, use cell packs or flats rather than direct sowing. Plant your seed in a well-draining soil in mid-winter indoors. Press the seed into the surface of the soil, but do not cover. This seed requires light to germinate. Kept at 65-75° Fahrenheit, it takes 14-28 days for germination.

Transplant seedlings in the spring after the last hard frost. USDA zones that are warmer than zone 7 and that don’t get damaging cold may plant earlier.

Where to Plant Pampas Grass

Pampas grass can be planted either in containers or directly in the ground. Either way, plant well away from areas where pets and small children will be unsupervised, as the grass has sharp edges and can cut tender skin. Pampas grass can be extremely flammable. If you live in an area where wildfires are a concern, plant it away from homes or outbuildings.

If you have a tall variety for a border or windbreak, pick a suitable area with sandy, loamy soil. Plant six feet apart, and no deeper than it was in its container. It will spread to fill in the available space.

Dwarf varieties are suited to large containers, which prevent spreading. Large containers can be moved indoors during cold periods. Some dwarf varieties are sterile, and will not reproduce through seed, making this a non-invasive species planting option. Use a well-draining container for the best growth.

Pampas Grass Care

Cortaderia jubata
Cortaderia jubata, ‘Purple pampas grass’ or ‘Andean pampas grass’. Source: SEINet

Pampas grass care is pretty simple! Let’s discuss how to grow pampas grass in your own garden, and how to keep this low-maintenance plant under control.

Sun and Temperature

Grow pampas grass in full sun to partial shade. Ideally, select an area where it will receive 6 or more hours of light per day. It is hardy in zones 7 through 11, and some varieties may even subsist well in zone 6. It thrives in temperatures between 65°F to 90°F. It will survive in frosts in late winter or early spring, but it requires some maintenance. To avoid most diseases related to pampas grass, bunch it together in dormancy, and transplant a portion to overwinter in a container. Then move a bunch indoors to eliminate the chance of water buildup in stalks that can occur in late winter or early spring frost.

Water and Humidity

For the first year after planting or transplanting, water regularly but not heavily, once to twice a week. Water slightly more in hotter climates, but know this grass handles drought. Pampas grass can tolerate salt spray, which makes it very suited to coastal growth. In most areas, the amount of irrigation that comes from natural rainfall is plenty after it is established. Pampas grass can tolerate extreme drought as well. Not only is it drought-tolerant, but it handles a range of humidity as well.

Soil

Cortaderia selloana (pampas grass) can grow almost anywhere but thrives in sandy, loamy well-draining soil. Your plant will benefit from the aid of some compost before planting but does not require heavy fertilization. As long as you are working in well-drained soil, poor soil is adequate to support pampas grass. The optimal pH range to grow pampas grass is between 5.4 and 6.5. There is no need to mulch.

Fertilizing

Annual (late winter) application of organic fertilizer is useful, but not always necessary when you grow pampas grass. If you do want to fertilize, apply a balanced 8-8-8 fertilizer at 2 pounds per 100 square feet.

Pruning

Any time you’re planting pampas grass or working within your common pampas grass clump, wear long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, and sturdy leather gardening gloves to protect your skin. The blades are tough to cut through, so long-handled loppers or even a chainsaw may be your best choice for tools. When you grow pampas grass, annual pruning is needed to hack back the old parts of the plant and promote new growth. Late winter or early spring is ideal before the pampas plant starts to send up new growth and enters its active growing season. Poke a stick or other long item repeatedly into the base of the plant, as small animals may have used your plant as a nesting site over the winter. Once you’re sure nothing’s in there, cut through the heavy leaves while keeping about 6-8 inches of foliage intact. This promotes fresh growth. Occasionally, your pampa plant will form extra clumps around the main cluster. Remove these when you do your annual pruning. Also, thin your plant every three years or so by removing about a third of the foliage and roots. This is a tough job on an established plant and may require the use of a heavy-duty saw or quality ax to get through the root cluster.

Propagating Pampas Grass Plants

Pampas plants are best divided when new growth appears in the early spring. However, it can also be divided in the autumn in warmer zones. To divide plants that are 2 to 3 years old, carefully dig up your plant and gently remove it. Separate segments of the root ball which have both root and grass stalks attached, and then replant them. If your plant is 4 to 5 years or older, use a shovel to cut a smaller segment from the larger root mass, and transplant the smaller segment into a new planting location. If you wish to use the flowers for dried arrangements, harvest the pannicles as soon as the flowers have fully emerged, but before they mature and begin shedding. They can be used in interior design, after spraying the plumes with hairspray to prevent shedding.

Harvesting the Flowers

If you wish to use your pampas grass flowers for floral arrangements, harvest the pannicles as soon as the flowers have fully emerged, but before they mature and begin shedding. They can be used immediately or dried for later use. When using, spray the plumes with hairspray prior to setting them in place. This helps prevent shedding.

Troubleshooting

Pampas grass flowers
Pampas grass flowers. Source: IrisDragon

Pampas grasses are pretty low maintenance. In most areas, insects, and diseases aren’t huge issues. To keep these grasses as a viable focal point in your garden, take care to look out for the following.

Growing Problems

Most gardeners have problems keeping these grasses in check in their garden. That’s why many regions are not suited for planting pampas seedlings in the ground. Sometimes gardeners inherit a property where someone thought it was a good idea to grow pampas grass, when in fact planting pampas grass in their garden was a mistake. To adequately control it, put on your protective gear. Then wait for a rainy day, and begin pruning all the seed heads or plumes in every developmental stage. Ensure each of these does not touch the ground as the seeds within them will germinate if they touch the ground. After you prune, put seeds and all in a garbage bag. Then firmly grab the base of the foliage and pull them up by the roots. Place all the blades in your garbage bag.

Pests

When it comes to insects and small mammals in the grass, it is more likely to house them than to be bothered by them – small rodents, flea beetles, and spider mites may make your pampas grass their stronghold, but nothing tries to eat it.

Diseases

This plant may occasionally be subject to helminthosporium leaf spot, but otherwise is disease-free. Early use of a fungicide to treat this will reduce the spread and prevent further leaf losses in your plant.

Frequently Asked Questions

Pampas grass plume
A feathery plume of pampas grass. Source: welshmackem

Q: Do pampas grass come back every year?

A: This plant is pervasive in the garden, to say the least. In some areas, it never leaves! But the grass will re-emerge from the soil in spring if it died back in winter.

Q: Is pampas grass poisonous to dogs?

A: While it’s not poisonous, it’s dangerous due to its sharp leaf margins. Do not let your pets or children near it to prevent injury.

Q: How long does pampas grass last?

A: It lasts as long as it is allowed to last. Most people look for expert tips about how to control it.

Q: Where does pampas grass grow best?

A: It grows best in its native range, in South America.

Q: Can pampas grass survive winter?

A: It can. In gardens, it re-emerges from the soil in spring if it died back in winter

Q: Is pampas grass illegal in US?

A: No, but it is classed as an invader, and should not be planted in areas without adequate space or among other ornamentals. It’s harmful to birds and other animals that ingest it, and landscaping pampas grass is best grown in pots.

Q: How do you keep pampas grass fluffy?

A: You can prune the plants that have the pampas grass colors you like and lay them in the sun on a dry day. They’ll plump up in that process.

Q: Does pampas grass attract bugs?

A: It does. Insects may take up residence in your grass.

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