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Majestic Pampas Grass
by Stacey Mollus - posted 10/14/12

“Graceful and fluid, ornamental grasses also add a sense of movement and soft, soothing sound to the garden. Movement may be seen as waving or shimmering, or heard as rustling, whispering or sighing. The sounds of ornamental grasses often differ with the seasons.” — Missouri Botanical Garden      

With that type of description, who wouldn’t want to plant pampas grass, also known as Cortaderia selloana, in their yard?      


Pampas grass, also known as Cortaderia sellona.

Pampas is actually a perennial grass, native to South America. It grows in large clumps 8 to 10 feet tall with silvery white, rose, purple or pinkish silken plumes that look like feathers sitting atop long stalks. There are dwarf varieties that grow to a height of 4 to 5 feet tall, which seems to be preferred by those gardeners with a smaller space.      

There is a great debate on whether or not pampas is hardy in Missouri’s Zones 5 and 6. After much research, I found that the growers say no, but the homeowners say yes! Todd Howe, a Master Gardener and owner of Old Mill Garden Center, says, “Missouri is full of very well established pampas grass plants.” Just drive by most golf courses and you can see glorious specimens of these majestic plants. If hardiness is of concern to you, some folks plant the Ravenna grass or plume grass (Saccharum ravennae), which is a similar plant that is hardy in Missouri.      

There are actual male and female varieties of pampas grass, and the obvious differences are in the plumes. The female plants have very fine silk hairs on their plumes. Those hairs give them a long, thick, flowing appearance. Male plumes lack the tiny hairs that form the flowers, so they appear thin and narrow.      

These sun-loving plants can be planted from seed or from dividing a previously established clump. Division of pampas grass is best done in the spring, as they require a lot of sunlight to become established. Pampas grass is one of those plants that you will love to share with your friends.      

As we enter into the colder months, I get asked all the time, “Should I cut down my pampas grass now that winter is approaching?” I always offer the same advice. To me, there is very little visual interest in a garden during the colder months and because of that, I say leave the pampas alone because it is stunning during the winter.      

The snow and ice hang beautifully from the plant, turning it into an “ice sculpture.” The cold does not affect the plant at all. And besides, the winter birds love to roost in these plants, and rabbits also use the thick leaves as a place to hide.      

For those reasons alone, I suggest pruning in the spring. The plant will become brown and dried up due to freezing temperatures, so all you need to do is cut them back. (A word of caution: wear gloves, glasses and cover yourself well before pruning. The blades of the grass are very sharp and can actually cut you. Plus, the fine hair can get into your eyes and irritate them.) All pruning should be done before the new growth of the green leaves start to sprout in the spring.     

A lot of gardeners prefer to lightly burn the crown to encourage new growth. The University of Missouri Extension suggests that gardeners don’t do this in consecutive years or it may cause damage to the plants. The extension also recommends that you check your city ordinances before burning, as some cities and towns have laws that ban some types of outdoor burning.      

Because the crown of this plant can become so dense, it can choke itself out and begin rotting in the middle, causing a “donut effect.” To prevent this, each spring before the plants begin to turn green, take your shovel and dig out a pie-shaped piece of the crown and either plant it somewhere else, toss it or share it with your nice neighbor. The plant will fill back in, and if you rotate the area you remove each year, your plant should be healthy and happy for years to come.

From State-by-State Gardening October 2012. Photos courtesy of Stacey Mollus.

 


Stacey Mollus is a humor columnist who believes laughter is the best form of exercise. She is a gardening diva who hates worms, but loves to get her fingers in the dirt. Besides gardening, she loves her family, chocolate and clothes that are stretchy. You can find her on Facebook at Queen of Chocolates.