Written by Dawn Hummel
Category: Seasonal Gardening
There are certain garden chores that once placed on my “to do” list; never seem to actually get checked off. Due to time, expense or shear dread to tackle the task – invariably it gets pushed off to another season or year. One such task is tackling the very mature and overgrown pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana).
Junior Needs a Haircut
Due to this year’s winter destruction the time finally came to rejuvenate, replace and revise major elements in the garden. After the New Zealand flax (Phormium tenax) and California Lilac (Ceanothus thrysiflorus) were pruned back, the pampas grass looked like a high school boy with an overgrown mop of hair in desperate need of a trim.
Going on the Attack
Part of the reason why this task slipped through my fingers is the need for battle armor and heavy equipment. Covering head to toe with not a whisper of skin showing is critical to keep hungry blades from slashing and creating wounds to heal. Even light brushes with the leaves can result in cuts that can become inflamed.
Help on the Way
Fortunately, I happened upon a neighbor boy with time on his hands during spring break. When I posed the suggestion he could tell his school buddies he got to play with power tools and get paid - a small smirk and gleam in his eye appeared. Quickly, he reappeared ready to work. Covered head to toe, we began the task of encircling and cutting the feathery seed heads down first. Followed by his steady hand on the electric hedge trimmers, sliced grass blades quickly fell to the ground.
Taking back a pampas grass creates a mountain of green waste. What did not fit in the compost heap, was placed in leaf litter bags. In order to maximize space in the bags, we bundled the steely blades by folding them in half and then into thirds. Wrapping loose ends around tightly fitted bundles stacked on top of one another filled six bags total. Once the main portion was sheared, we pulled bundles of dead blades and ribbon-like shavings out from the sides. Towards the middle, we were watchful of any “rustling” noises. Pampas grass houses nesting birds, field mice and other small creatures in its tussocks.
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Native to: NewZealand, Brazil, Argentina & Chile
Size: 6ft x 10ft
Light: Full sun to light shade
Moisture: Provide occasional water during times of to keep plant looking good.
Very drought tolerant.
Hardiness: USDA Zones 8 - 10
- Eye protection
- Long pants
- Long sleeves
- Work gloves
- Electric hedge trimmer
- Hedge shears
- Leaf bags
- Weed trimmer
It is always a good idea to pause and check one’s work as pruning work progresses. Make sure the remaining mound is level, even and groomed properly, For one large, overgrown specimen the cutting, bundling, shearing and clean-up work took two people and four hours to complete.
Divide and Conquer
Once established, pampas grass is tough to eradicate. A machete, pruning saw, strong back and copious amounts of Advil are needed. To divide into smaller mounds, dig small sections out from the sides. A six inch section can triple in size and produce billowy blooms in as little as three years.
If you are looking to hide areas in your yard, pampas grass might be a solution. Site placement is critical. One thing to note is to not plant it too close to the house. Pampas grass needs room to grow into a large mound and will do so quickly.
When pampas grass sways in the wind it lends a beach feel to the landscape. It can be used as a green fencing material. Due to the sharp leaf edges do not locate pampas grass near sidewalks, swimming pools, benches or play areas.
Our pampas grass is a foil backdrop to hide the hammock nestled under a Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata). The evergreen tree provides shade from sweltering August summer sun. It also hides the neighbor’s backyard and provides a focal point in the dead of winter from the back patio.
Plumes of Glory
Plumes come in colors ranging from white to wheat to a pale, pink blush. Flower stalks appear in late summer/early fall and are dramatic when grown in front of dark backgrounds.
For dried arrangements there is nothing better than silken, fluffy plumes of pampas grass. Cut plumes as soon as possible after they blossom for durable dried specimens. To keep the plumes from dispersing in the house, spray them lightly with hair spray. Or spray paint flowers bright and colorful colors to match your interior décor.
In less than a month, new blades have pushed forth over a foot of growth. Depending on when pruning occurs, you may or may not see plumes in the fall. Since we waited until late spring, I’m not expecting to see frothy plumes towering skyward this fall. Pampas grass provides years of easy care and architectural breeziness to the garden. Keeping it well-groomed every few years is worth the effort for the amount of pleasure this evergreen grass delivers.
BeeDazzled Gardens & Designs Specializes in creating fragrant, organic, low maintenance garden vignettes that add value and pleasure to a home or business exterior and landscape. Our specialty is staged, perennial bed planting designs, seasonal potted containers and garden renovations. Learn more about Dawn at her profile on the Mulch.
Photo credit on all photos: Dawn Hummel