Pampas grass brings late beauty into the garden from September until February. A giant ornamental grass, it introduces style and elegance with its impressive feathery plumes held high above a dense clump of foliage. In the 1970s pampas grass was very fashionable and usually planted in the middle of a lawn. It was also a popular ornamental grass in Victorian times.
Today these strong-stemmed silver, gold or pale pink shimmering plants are often used to give height to a border. The grasslike foliage has flat and narrow leaves which are coarse with very sharp edges. The plant forms a clump from which the flower spikes begin to form in midsummer as feathery tufts. The silky plumes open completely when the stems are almost fully extended transfusing sunlight so that the plumes seem to glow from within.
Cultivars include the comparatively compact ‘Pumila’, whose silvery yellow plumes only reach 1.5m high to ‘Sunningdale Silver’ which can reach 4m, its glistening silver flowers cascading gracefully from one side of the stem, unlike the more usual upright versions.
The elegant ‘Silver Feather‘, with its creamy plumes and pale stems, and ‘Albolineata’, with its variegated leaves, both grow to about 2m. Pampas plumes can be cut and dried for flower arranging and are stunning in the winter garden, sparkling with frost.
The genus name Cortaderia comes from the Argentinean and Spanish word cortar, to cut, because of the sharp leaf edges that can cause lacerations. It is the main vegetation in the humid pampas grasslands of the Argentinean Pampean Sierras.
A genus of about 23 species of evergreen or semi-evergreen, these perennial grasses are found in New Zealand, New Guinea and South America.
To care for your pampas grass all you need to do is cut back the flowering stems and old foliage in spring.
Pampas grass looks its best when it is planted at the boundaries of a garden or at the back of a mixed border unless you have great expanses of lawn. If you plant it so that the sun sets behind it when viewed from the house or other garden viewing position you will be able to appreciate it at its most architectural effectiveness. In a large garden pampas grass can be planted in informal drifts among trees and because of its sharp leaves it can also provide an effective deterrent to intruders. Another good point is that it is extremely tough and adaptable although it prefers an open, sunny spot with good air circulation and fairly fertile, well-drained soil. It does not like it too wet. In fact, it is incredibly drought-tolerant and shouldn’t need watering apart from when it is first planted. If you want to propagate it, use a sharp spade, divide a section from the plant in spring or autumn, then pot it on or plant it in a prepared place in the garden.
Pampas grass is full hardy and an excellent plant for giving autumnal texture and movement.
Top Ten Jobs for Autumn
Take care of your flowering perennials and they will continue to produce colorful blooms well into autumn. Cut hardy geraniums to ground level, apply a sprinkling of general fertilizer and water them well to encourage fresh foliage and more flowers.
As summer ends apply an autumn lawn feed to your lawn containing phosphates and potash. Apply this two days after mowing and water it in if it does not rain within two days. Use a lawn weedkiller to control daisies and buttercups.
Stake your tall plants such as Michaelmas daisies and phlox.
A boost of plant food in your containers will ensure vibrant displays of flowers until the first frosts. Plant some freesia corms in pots by the end of September for a colorful patio display next year.
Keep camellias and rhododendrons moist so that you enjoy plenty of beautiful flowers in the spring.
It’s now time to plant those lovely altiums as well as other spring bulbs such as daffodils, muscari, scilla and crocuses.
When gladioli have finished flowering lift and clean the corms and store them for planting in the spring although you can choose to leave them in the ground,
Give roses a final deadheading when the flowers have faded. Prune rambler roses and weeping standards by the middle of September. Remove as much older growth as possible and leave the best of this year’s growth.
Once your late-flowering clematis has faded prune the plants if you think they are spreading too much. Cut back self-clinging climbers like ivy and Virginia creepers.
Sow spring cabbages, winter lettuces, spinach, broad beans and hardy peas. Lift and store onions and maincrop potatoes. Save seeds from beans to plant in the spring.