Pampas Grass: Grow and Care for Cortaderia Selloana

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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 1900’s!

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 production shortly thereafter, and has become a common sight in coastal areas. In the 1940’s, 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 to ensure that your plants flourish in garden beds or containers.

Pampas Grass Overview

Pampas Grass-covered horse-drawn wagon in 1903 Tournament of Roses Parade.
Pampas Grass-covered horse-drawn wagon in 1903 Tournament of Roses Parade. source
Common Name(s) Pampas grass, tussock grass, cortadera, paina, pluma
Scientific Name Cortaderia
Family Poaceae
Origin South America (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay)
Height 4-10 feet depending on variety
Light Full sun to partial shade
Water Low to moderate
Temperature 65-90 °F
Humidity Drought-tolerant to high humidity
Soil Well drained sandy loam is ideal, but tolerates other soil types
Fertilizer None to balanced medium
Propagation By seed or division, may be invasive
Pests None, but may house pests

Types of Pampas Grass

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 of Cortaderia selloana, as well as two “imposter” plant types.

Cortaderia selloana ‘Aureolineata’, ‘Gold Band’

Cortaderia selloana ‘Aureolineata’, ‘Gold Band’
Cortaderia selloana ‘Aureolineata’, ‘Gold Band’. source

This is a slow-growing, compact evergreen pampas grass which grows to a height of about 6 feet. Its name references its slender leaves which have narrow stripes of yellow. The flowers range from white to a golden tan in color. Tolerant of both heat and cold, and more compact and erect than the ‘Monvin’ varietal, it’s well suited to container gardening.

Cortaderia selloana ‘Albolineata’. ‘Silver Stripe’

Cortaderia selloana ‘Albolineata’. ‘Silver Stripe’
Cortaderia selloana ‘Albolineata’. ‘Silver Stripe’. source

This white pampas grass is similar in most ways to Gold Band, but features white stripes along its leaves and is topped with a white feathery pannicle of flowers with a silver sheen.

Cortaderia selloana ‘Pumila’, ‘Dwarf Pampas Grass’

Cortaderia selloana ‘Pumila’, ‘Dwarf Pampas Grass’
Cortaderia selloana ‘Pumila’, ‘Dwarf Pampas Grass’. source

Dwarf pampas grass that flowers in a range from pale yellow to ivory. It grows to a maximum height of about 1.5 meters, or 4.9 feet. Some suppliers offer non-reseeding plants to reduce the risk of invasive spread. Well suited to container planting.

Cortaderia selloana ‘Sunningdale Silver’

Cortaderia selloana ‘Sunningdale Silver’
Cortaderia selloana ‘Sunningdale Silver’. source

This variety of white pampas grass features silvery flowers which are not impacted much by rainfall, as their pannicles are not as dense and less prone to clumping. Also marketed as Sundale Silver, the stems can grow to 10 feet in height, which makes it quite impressive.

Cortaderia selloana ‘Rendatleri’, ‘Pink Feather’

Cortaderia selloana ‘Rendatleri’, ‘Pink Feather’
Cortaderia selloana ‘Rendatleri’, ‘Pink Feather’. source

While many inferior seedlings are sold as pink pampas grass, this is the true pink-flowered pampas. Its rosy pink blooms spring from tightly-clumped foliage from midsummer through autumn, and it grows to an average height of 8 feet. Be sure to specifically search for Rendatleri for stunning pink blooms!

Cortaderia selloana ‘Silver Fountain’

Cortaderia selloana ‘Silver Fountain’
Cortaderia selloana ‘Silver Fountain’. source

This white pampas grass features densely-packed long, green leaves which have white stripes like Silver Stripe. It produces large heads of silky, silvery flowers on 2-meter tall stems in the late summer.

Cortaderia selloana ‘Splendid Star’

Cortaderia selloana ‘Splendid Star’
Cortaderia selloana ‘Splendid Star’. source

A dwarf varietal, the Splendid Star has brilliant golden-streaked leaves. This hardy pampas grass grows well in containers or makes a good border plant. The flower stalks are filled with fluffy white pannicles.

Cortaderia selloana ‘Monvin’, ‘Sun Stripe’

Cortaderia selloana ‘Monvin’, ‘Sun Stripe’
Cortaderia selloana ‘Monvin’, ‘Sun Stripe’. source

An excellent border plant, Monvin 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. Also commonly used as a windbreak.

Cortaderia selloana ‘Patagonia’

Cortaderia selloana ‘Patagonia’
Cortaderia selloana ‘Patagonia’. source

Unusual for the species, the Patagonia produces bluish gray-green foliage in tight tussocks. Its flowers rise to six feet and are full of feathery and silver-white flowers in the fall.

Cortaderia selloana ‘Silver Comet’

Cortaderia selloana ‘Silver Comet’
Cortaderia selloana ‘Silver Comet’. source

The Silver Comet is grown more for its beautiful leaves than its flowers. The leaves feature white striations along their edges. Its white flower plumes barely crest above the leaves, and often are removed to heighten the distinctive look of the leaves. 4-6 feet in height.

Cortaderia jubata ‘Purple Pampas Grass’, ‘Andean Pampas Grass’

Cortaderia jubata ‘Purple Pampas Grass’, ‘Andean Pampas Grass’
Cortaderia jubata ‘Purple Pampas Grass’, ‘Andean Pampas Grass’. source

Not a selloana species, Cortadera jubata is referred to as purple pampas grass or Andean pampas grass. This pampas relative can grow to an incredible seven meters or 22 feet tall! Its flowers start out pinkish or purplish in hue, but mature to become ivory or white in color. It is a common invasive weed along the west coast of the United States, especially in northern and central California, and is completely banned from sale or propagation in New Zealand. All individual plants are female, and it reproduces by apomixis rather than by seed or division.

Saccharum ravennae “Erianthus’ ‘Hardy Pampas Grass’

Saccharum ravennae “Erianthus’ ‘Hardy Pampas Grass’
Saccharum ravennae “Erianthus’ ‘Hardy Pampas Grass’. source

Commonly referred to as hardy pampas grass, ravenna grass or plume grass, this is not a true pampas grass at all, although it is similar. Saccharum ravennae, formerly known as Erianthus ravennae, forms thick clumps of tall ornamental grass and can grow 9-12 feet in height. Its flowers bloom on central stalks in early summer and are purplish-bronze or white, turning to silver-gray in fall and often lasting into the winter. Its leaves have a single white stripe down the center, and can turn bronze and red in the fall. Often considered to be an invasive tall landscape grass in the Pacific Northwest.

Planting Pampas Grass

In many areas, planting this tall ornamental grass may not be allowed. Hawaii and New Zealand are two areas which 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 generally 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 type requires light to germinate. Kept at 65-75° Fahrenheit, it takes 14-28 days for germination to occur.

As pampas grass is formed of a mix of female and androgynous plants, and requires both types to create viable seed, seed collected in the wild may or may not germinate. It’s best to purchase your viable seed.

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 if desired.

Where to Plant Pampas Grass

Pampas grass can be planted either in containers or directly in the ground. Either way, be sure to plant well away from areas where pets and small children will be unsupervised, as the grass has quite sharp edges and can easily cut tender skin. Be aware that pampas grass can be extremely flammable, so if you live in an area where wildfires are a concern, plant it away from homes or outbuildings for safety.

If you have a taller variety that you wish to use as a border or windbreak, pick a suitable area with sandy, loamy soil. Plant these taller varieties six feet apart, and no deeper than it was in its container. It will spread to fill in available space.

Dwarf varieties are particularly suited to large containers. This also prevents spreading. As large containers can be moved indoors during cold periods, this is well-suited for people in colder climates. Some dwarf varieties are sterile, so they will not reproduce through seed, making this a non-invasive planting option. Use a well-draining container for best growth.

Caring For Pampas Grass

Pampas grass is surprisingly self-sufficient, and can thrive in a wide variety of conditions. However, there are some ideal conditions for best growth.

Sun

This plant type prefers full sun, but will also do well with partial shade. Ideally, select an area where it will receive 6+ hours of light per day.

Soil

Pampas grass can grow almost anywhere, but thrives in sandy, loamy soil that drains well. Your plant will benefit from the aid of some compost before planting, but does not require heavy fertilization. Annual (late winter) application of fertilizer is useful, but not always necessary.

Water

For the first year after planting or transplanting, water regularly but not heavily, once to twice a week. Water slightly more in hotter climates. Pampas grass can tolerate saltwater spray, which makes it very suited to coastal growth.

Pruning

Wear long pants, a long sleeved shirt, and sturdy leather gardening gloves when pruning pampas as the grass blades are extremely sturdy and are razor sharp. They are also tough to cut through, so long-handled loppers or even a chainsaw may be your best choice for tools.

Pampas requires annual pruning to hack back the old parts of the plant and promote new growth. Late winter is ideal, before it starts to send up new growth.

Begin by poking 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, and you don’t want to discover any surprises! 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.

After pruning, broadcast a 8-8-8 or 10-10-10 fertilizer around the base of the plant. A couple handfuls will do – pampas grass does not require heavy fertilization.

Occasionally, your 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 axe to get through the root cluster.

Propagation

Pampas grass is 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 2-3 years old, carefully dig up your plant and gently remove it. Look at the root cluster and separate segments which have both root and grass stalks attached, and then replant at the same depth it was originally replanted. If your plant is 4-5 years or older, use a shovel to cut a smaller segment from the larger root mass, and transplant the smaller segment into a new location.

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.

Pests And Diseases

Surprisingly, pampas grass has very few problems. It 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. As for pests, it is more likely to house them than to be bothered by them – small rodents, flea beetles, and different types of mites may make your pampas grass their stronghold, but nothing tries to eat it.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Is pampas grass annual or perennial?

A: Pampas grass is a perennial in most warmer climates. In zones 7 or colder, it is an annual.

Q: How fast does pampas grass grow?

A: It grows quite rapidly, even the varieties that are considered slow-growing. From a pruned plant that is only 6-8 inches above the ground, it can easily reach heights of six feet or more during the year. It also has a tendency to try to spread out, and can easily reach widths of 4-6 feet across if not regularly pruned or thinned.

Q: How do I prevent pampas grass seed spread?

A: Cut flower heads once they have fully emerged, but before they set seed.

Overall, this tall ornamental grass is quite stunning, and may be the perfect addition to your landscaping efforts. It will certainly turn heads, and you’ll have a neverending supply of the perfect late summer or fall decor for your home or table!


The Green Thumbs Behind This Article:

Kevin Espiritu
Founder

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