Pampas grass is an impressive ornamental grass that attracts all eyes. Here you can find some planting and care tips.
Profile of pampas grass:
Scientific name: Cortaderia selloana
Plant family: grass family (Poaceae)
Other names: –
Sowing time: late spring
Planting time: late spring
Flowering period: August to November
Soil quality: sandy to loamy, nutrient rich, humus rich
These information are for temperate climate!
Use in: flowerbeds, single position, privacy screen, flower garden, roof garden, courtyard, natural garden
Winter hardiness: hardy, USDA Plant Hardiness Zones: 8 (-10 °C / +15 °F)
Bee and insect friendly: No
Plant characteristics and classification of pampas grass
Plant order, origin and occurrence of pampas grass
The pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana) is one of the most conspicuous representatives among ornamental grasses and inspires in summer with large, white flower panicles. Like the other 14 or so species of pampas grass, it originates from the tropical and temperate zones of South America and New Zealand, where it occurs on sandy and alluvial soils. It belongs to the grass family (Poaceae). It is not completely hardy and needs winter protection.
Characteristics and look of pampas grass
The leaves of the clump-forming grass grow to a height of only about 80 centimeters, but the flower panicles can reach growth heights of up to 250 centimeters. The individual leaves are grey-green, narrow, sharp-edged and wintergreen. They are quite stiff, but hang over arching in the upper part. The pampas grass reaches its peak during its flowering period from August and then far into winter when the magnificent flower panicles, which are visually slightly reminiscent of feather duster, rise above the foliage. They can also be cut and are a beautiful ornament in tall vases and vessels when dried. The best time to do this is before the flowers have fully opened. Then you should dry the stems in a shady place for two days before arranging them in the vase.
Pampas grass – cultivation and care
The optimal location for a pampas grass is sunny and sheltered from the wind because the long stalks bend slightly.
Pampas grass also prefer a nutrient-rich, deep and humusy soil, which does not dry out completely in summer and is permeable. Under no circumstances should the soil be too moist, as this leads to rotting and sooner or later means the certain death of the grass. For this reason, you should not put the pampas grass in a place in the garden where moisture can easily accumulate, for example directly at the foot of a slope or a slant.
Planting pampas grass
If you avoid the biggest mistakes in pampas grass care, you can enjoy the decorative grass for a long time. The best time to plant pampas grasses is late spring, as they need warmth to grow and are very sensitive to low temperatures, especially in the first winter. Perfect is therefore a time after the last frosts. Since ornamental grass needs a nutrient-rich soil, you should add some compost directly at planting if the soil is a little poorer.
Care / Watering / Fertilization
Pampas grass loves nutrient-rich soil and is one of the few ornamental grasses that – if the soil is too poor – require additional fertilization. Only then do they develop their striking flowers in full splendor. Organic fertilizers such as compost are best suited for this purpose, which is spread thinly every year at the beginning of the shoot. You can also continue to fertilize the plant regularly until flowering. However, be careful not to overfeed the plant, as this can lead to a massive growth.
If your pampas grass is part of a perennial plantation, you can fertilize it together with the other plants. As a guideline, you should apply about 50 to 80 grams of organic fertilizer per square meter and there should be several weeks between each application. An exception to this rule are specimens planted in pots. They must be supplied with fertilizer every two weeks to compensate for the nutrients rinsed out by the watering water. In general, pampas grasses should only be watered sparingly, as they cope better with dryness than with wetness.
Since the foliage serves as a winter protection, you should cut your pampas grass in late spring, as soon as no heavy frosts are to be expected. Always wear work gloves for this work because of the sharp-edged leaves.
When cutting, all stalks are removed about 15 to 20 centimeters (6 to 8 in) above the ground. In mild climates, the leaves are wintergreen – therefore they are only cleaned out with the fingers. Take care not to damage the new shoots.
Pampas grass is most easily propagated by division. Although sowing is also possible, this method of propagation has some disadvantages. First of all, the seeds can only germinate for a very short time and require temperatures of about 20° C / 68 °F. A large part of all pampas grasses offered in the trade originates from vegetative propagation, i.e. it is cloned. The reason for this is that the offspring then have the same characteristics as the mother plant. Since this plant has been cultivated for quite some time, it has already adapted somewhat to colder temperatures and is accordingly hardier in winter.
A further advantage of dividing the plant is that since a purchased specimen is most likely a female one, the offspring of divided plants will also be female and thus flower more beautifully. When sowing, however, the sex of the plant is uncertain. It is best to divide the plant in late spring, as the offspring need warmth to grow. To do this, simply prick off a section of the mother plant of any size and then plant it in a pot to grow. If you have the option of wintering the offspring in a greenhouse, you can also divide your pampas grass in autumn.
Diseases and pests
Pampas grasses are less susceptible to diseases and pests. Their greatest enemy is rather wetness in the root area. However, you can counteract this with an optimal location and appropriate winter protection. Occasionally, an infestation by aphids can also occur, resulting in sooty mold.
Pampas grass, which originates from South America, needs winter protection in cooler regions in order to overwinter and survive the cold season unharmed. However, it is not so much the low temperatures that cause problems for the plant, but rather the winter dampness. For this reason, it should not be cut back in the fall, because the winter green leaves protect the heart of the plant. If it were missing, water could easily run into the cut stems and freeze there. Instead, the leaves are tied together in autumn as soon as the first frosts threaten. This also looks very decorative. Then you should surround the plant with dry leaves and cover it with brushwood.
Then wrap the grass in fleece – that way it is well prepared for the winter. However, do not use foil for this, as liquid can easily build up underneath. And because there is no exchange of air, the plant starts to mold. Only when planting in a pot you should surround the pot with an insulating layer of bubble wrap. After the last heavy frosts you can remove the winter protection (March/April) and cut back the pampas grass as described above.
Use in the garden
Due to its stately appearance, pampas grass is an eye-catcher in every garden and its beauty is best appreciated in a single position. It can also be integrated into perennial plantings, but you should bear in mind the size of the ornamental grass over the years. Diameters of well over one meter (40 in) are not uncommon here. Perennials with filigree growth, such as Gaura or purpletop vervain (Verbena bonariensis), form a particularly beautiful contrast. Otherwise, when looking for suitable partners, you should pay particular attention to the fact that they have a similarly high nutrient requirement and the same location requirements as the pampas grass. This includes many herbaceous perennials, which also prefer the habitat areas bedding and open spaces.
In addition to the species, some varieties are also available in the trade, which can differ significantly in their growth height and flowering. Almost exclusively female plants are offered, since only they form the striking flowers.
- The variety Cortaderia selloana ‘Pumila’, which grows very compactly and whose flowers reach a height of only 150 centimeters, (5 ft) is particularly common. ‘Pumila’ is also the most robust pampas grass, although, like all species and varieties, it is also sensitive to waterlogging and needs winter protection.
- The variety ‘Sunningdale Silver’ is considerably larger, growing up to 250 centimetres (6 ft 4 in) high. In this stately variety, the silver-white flower panicles stand clearly above the leaf crest.
- The variety ‘Rosea’ has very decorative flowers, because they are – as the name suggests – strikingly pink in color compared to most other varieties.
- Patagonia’, on the other hand, is a delight with its reddish shimmering flower panicles.