As I traveled around the county last week, I saw numerous cases where the pampas grass in yards had been pruned back.
Pampas grass is either loved or hated. I get about the same number of calls from people who want to take better care of their pampas grass as I do from those who want to remove it from their yards.
Most of the people who want to get rid of the plant do so because the plant is in the wrong location. Most of the time, it will be planted in an area that is too small for it.
Pampas grass is a large perennial grass native to Brazil, Argentina and Chile. It grows in large clumps eight to 10 feet tall and six to seven feet in diameter. In late summer, it will produce silvery-white or pinkish silken plumes that rise to a height of 12 feet. So if it is planted in the wrong place, it can become a nightmare to deal with.
But pampas grass can be very attractive and functional plant when used correctly in the landscape. It can be used as a specimen plant in isolated locations on large lawns. Since it grows very rapidly into a massive plant, pampas grass is an excellent screening plant for sunny locations.
There are many ornamental forms of pampas grass. Some forms have rose or purple flowers, and others are smaller plants that grow four to five feet tall. These dwarf varieties are better suited for smaller areas. There is one dwarf variety that has a very narrow, grass-like leaves. This makes this variety unusual, since most people plant pampas grass because of its plumes.
One of the questions I get about pampas grass is the difference in the plumes. The caller might have a pampas grass that has small plumes while a neighbor's pampas grass has large plumes.
The difference is one is a male plant and the other is a female plant. The ones with the broad and full plumes are the female plants. This is due to the silky hairs covering the flowers. The male plants' plumes don't have these hairs and are narrower. There is no way to tell which plant is a male or female until they produce plumes. If you want a female plant, you need to find someone who has one and propagate the plant by dividing it.
The plumes of pampas grass are highly prized for indoor decorations. Plumes should be cut as soon as they have fully emerged. If you wait until the plumes are mature to bring indoors, they will shed their flowers. This can be worse than a cat or dog shedding inside the house. You can spray the mature plumes with hair spray to keep them from shedding.
Those who are thinking about planting pampas grass need to consider very carefully where to plant it. The leaves of pampas grass have very sharp, saw-like edges that can cut anyone who comes into contact with the plant. It should be planted away from walkways or property borders. Also, pampas grass should be planted where it will receive full sun. The more sun it receives, the more plumes it will produce.
Once established, pampas grass is nearly trouble-free. They have no pest problems or disease problems. It will grow in most soils and is very drought-tolerant once established. To obtain good growth and plume development, pampas grass should be fertilized with a complete fertilizer such as 10-10-10, using a rate of 2 pounds per 100 square feet of bed area.
There is some maintenance involved with pampas grass. To keep the plant in check, it should be pruned each spring. It can be pruned back as far as needed. New leaves will emerge and the plant will grow back to its height very rapidly. If the plant is being used as a screen, pruning it won't take away the screening for very long.
Also, it is recommended that the plant be divided each three to four years. This is the best way to keep the plant in check. This also will provide more pampas grass to use elsewhere in your yard or you can give it to neighbors.
When working with pampas grass, wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants and heavy work gloves. The leaves can cut. If you are pruning the plant back each year, you can use shears for the job, but I have seen situations where it is necessary to use a chain saw to prune them.
Columbia County Extension Agent Charles Phillips can be reached at (706) 868-3413 or by e-mail at email@example.com. The Extension Web address is www.ugaextension.com/columbia.
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