Got a big ugly space in your yard
that needs filling? Adding yet another evergreen shrub
seem boring? Consider pampas grass! It's a big beauty of a plant, one that -- like all ornamental grasses -- is frequently overlooked by home
Here are a few reasons why I love pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana
1. It grows fairly fast
, so is an ideal choice for filling in large, barren landscapes.
2. It grows nice and thick, creating an effective privacy screen, wind break or sound barrier
3. Its long, graceful blades and delightfully fluffy pannicles (flower plumes) are beautiful
4. Its vertical angles evoke the tropics
, bringing an exotic feel to suburban yards and otherwise drab mall parking lots. Its long blades also create a dramatic and pleasing visual contrast
with other garden shrubs and trees. Meanwhile, its rounded and slightly wild shape makes it an excellent softener of hard urban surfaces, like brick walls or metal signs. (See the photo above for a perfect example of this.)
5. It is tough
. Pampas grass is pest-resistant. It is also highly drought-resistant and, once established, never needs watering. It will grow in most soils, too.
6. It attracts wildlife
, reptiles, insects, and small mammals all find refuge in any large garden plant
. Anytime you grow something big and dense, you are encouraging wildlife in your neighborhood.
7. Low to no maintenance
. Yes, you can shear ornamental grasses each winter so that new growth comes out clean in Spring. You can do this every other year or less often if you like. However, you don't need
to do any of that if you don't want to. The worst that will happen is your grasses will look a little messier if left uncut.
8. It's pretty cheap
. I've seen big pots of pampas grass for sale at the Home Depot for about $10. My local garden center is selling them right now for about $6 (small one-gallon pots) or $13 (large three-gallon pots). Not bad value considering its eventual size.
9. Kids love to play
with the flower plumes. They are so soft and fluffy! And the stems make great swords for the more war-game-oriented kids
10. It will grow on hot slopes
where nothing else will. Much better than a thinning, dry lawn, huh?
First, pampas is suited to warmer climates and is recommended for US zones 7 to 11
. Pampas grass prefers a sunny spot, but will tolerate a certain amount of shade. It needs well-drained soil and will not grow in soggy ground. You don't need any fancy soil amendments to grow pampas grass -- any old garden soil will do fine. (Low-maintenance gardening: don't you love
Second, the end of your driveway is not a good spot because pampas grass grows so big it will inevitably obstruct your view of the road...and other drivers' view of you as you leave your driveway.
Third, another size-related caution: be sure the location you choose allows plenty of room for your pampas grass to spread out. It needs a space about 10x10 feet in order to reach maturity without crowding out other plants.
If those last two concerns are a problem for you, never fear: a miniature variety of pampas grass is readily available. Or consider another, smaller, species of ornamental grass, such as maiden grass or fountain grass.
Choose your planting site carefully and measure the spot just to be double-sure it is roomy enough. Let me repeat: this plant grows big and wide! Next, start digging. Now, as is always the case when planting trees
, shrubs or ornamental grasses, dig a nice wide hole. Aim for a hole about three times wider than the plant's root ball.
Depth is less important. You will know the hole is deep enough when the ground is level with the crown of the plant. Break up large chunks of soil as you go. There is no need to add organic material or fertilizer
Next, prepare the plant. Water
it well, then gently slide it from the pot. Examine the roots. Ornamental grasses tend to have tough, tightly-woven roots
. You will want to loosen them to speed the growth process. Pry the roots loose with a blade, cutting through when necessary. Then spread the roots outwards.
Place your plant in the ground and examine it from all angles. Make sure it is sitting straight and that it is facing forward. Check the roots a final time, then water thoroughly. Now it's time to fill in the hole with soil. When you're done, tamp down the loose dirt so the plant is nice and secure in its new home. Water again, then mulch
That's it! You're done. Now just wait and see how your pampas grass takes to its new location. Don't forget to water it regularly for the first few weeks. Over the next few months, water it whenever there is a long dry spell. Do this to help it along until the roots are fully established. After that, it should need no human help whatsoever.
Check out my photo gallery for a visual guide to planting pampas grass!
Finally, the Downside to Pampas.
Some people consider pampas grass to be a bit evil. Here's why:
1. It is flammable. Not a good choice for those living in wildfire-prone areas!
If you live in such an area and really want one anyway, be sure to plant it as far as possible from your or any other houses.
2. It can be invasive
, self-seeding everywhere. This is less of a problem if your pampas grass is surrounded by lawn, because regular mowing will whack the tips off seedlings before they become established.
3. The blades have razor-sharp edges. This is one plant you don't
want near your home's entrance way or anywhere you might be brushing against it on a regular basis. Instead, keep it for that out of the way spot where you can admire it from a distance.