Pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana) is native to South America. It is hardy through USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 8, although some varieties are hardy farther north. Its magnificent flowery plumes stay on the plant well into winter, while the foliage turns golden brown in cold weather and after being touched by frost. Pampas grass plants can be either male or female, with the female plants having the prettiest flowers.
Pampas grows an upright clump with many long, narrow strap-like leaves. It often reaches 20 feet high and resembles a fountain from a distance. In late summer, silvery-white flower plumes that are 2 to 3 feet long bloom on long stems that grow high above the mounded mass of leaves.
Plant pampas grass in full sun in a site with well-drained soil. It will grow in nearly all soil types, as long as water drains readily after a rainstorm. Pampas grass will grow in partial shade, but its size will be smaller. Although they can be planted at the back of the perennial border, the plants make an effective living fence and are at their most spectacular when grown as a single specimen plant. Do not plant near walkways because the sharp edges of pampas grass can cause small cuts, which can become inflamed with a form of dermatitis.
Pampas grass grows to a height of about 12 feet but dwarf varieties are available, including C. selloana Pumila. Other varieties exist with pastel-colored flowers or variegated leaves. Try the varieties Silver Stripe or Gold Band.
Care and Culture
Most ornamental grasses are drought-tolerant and pampas grass is no exception. However, it will benefit from supplemental waterings during times of drought. Fertilize with a granulated high-nitrogen fertilizer in early spring, applied around the base of the plant. Remove dried foliage in early spring to make room for the current year's growth. Propagate by root division in spring or fall.
Pests, Diseases and Problems
Pampas grass is rarely affected by pests or diseases. It can become invasive in hot, dry climates and should not be planted in these types of environments.