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24 September 2014

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You are in: Lancashire > Nature > Features > Ask the gardener: Pampas grass

Bill Blackledge

Ask the gardener: Pampas grass

All you need to know about your pampas grass plants...

Warton's Bill Blackledge is one of the county's most popular and sought after gardeners.  If it's green and needs watering, Bill can tell you about it.  He has been answering BBC Radio Lancashire listeners' queries for over thirty years, which means he's been there nearly as long as the transmitter!

His knowledge is encyclopedic. After training at the under the then Ministry of Agriculture, Bill spent over twenty years at the Department of Biological and Environmental Services at Lancaster University.  Now, he's a regular course tutor at Alston Hall, Longridge and Lancaster Adult College.

For three decades, Bill has travelled the county with fellow judges as a regional judge for North West in Bloom.

So, whatever the problem, we like to think Bill can sort it out... at least that's the theory!

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Sharon Warwick asks...

My pampas grass is now very large (about 10 years old) and although I have been pulling out as much of the dead foliage as I can for the last few years in spring time it is now almost impossible to access the centre of the plant to clear out the dead material. I see you recommend pruning using shears/secateurs. If I cut the plant right back to the centre so I can clear out the old dead material will I do it any harm? Previously I have only pulled out the worst leaves, leaving any newer growth still attached. Many thanks.

Bill replies...

I would not cut right back your Pampas Grass to its centre especially at this time of year Sharon (May), new flowering shoots will now be forming.  The time for removing any dead material, especially from the old central area, is January/February time when any old and dead material can be cleared out.  I realise the difficulty you will have in reaching the centre of the plant but, as mentioned above I would refrain from cutting right back at this time of year.

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Jenny Rice asks...

What type of plants can i plant next to my pampas grass if any?

Bill replies...

You will Jenny need to choose a plant which will be compatible with your Pampas Grass and which can also tolerate dry conditions.  One plant which would 'fit the bill' is a Yucca plant, these plants are easy to grow and the smaller species Yucca Gloriosa Variegata will grow to a height of approximately three to four feet producing beautiful spiked flowers.  A larger variety is the plain green Yucca Gloriosa which, again, produces beautiful spiked flowers but will grow into quite large plants.  The other alternative would be to grow along side your Pampas Grass other grass species such as Miscanthus Sinensis or the Zebra Grass (Miscanthus Zebrinus).

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Judy asks...

Our Pampas Grass is growing well and full of lovely plumes (2 Feb), which are usually quite bedraggled by August when we are having a garden party. If I prune the plumes, will it flower again by end of July?

Bill replies...

There are approximately 20 species of Pampas Grasses Judy and these species will flower throughout the summer months and also late autumn time and, with your Pampas Grass presently full of plumes it could one of the late autumn flowering species.  Unfortunately it is difficult to give you a precise answer to your question of whether cutting off the plumes now will encourage new plumes by end of July.  Part of the problem is what species of Pampas Grass is growing in your garden but, as you will be probably aware if you do cut any flowers back you will encourage more flowering stems to form and this could be the case with your Pampas Grass.  I am sorry that I cannot be of any more help and I am afraid that it will just have to be trial and error.

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Ann Wardrop asks...

I planted 2 small pampas in my front lawns in September, they haven't grown which I expected given the season and are now reduced to a bunch of creamy paper textured leaves.  Are the plants dead or will I see the plants recovering in the spring?

Bill replies...

Pampas Grass (Cortaderia) loves to grow in a sunny position and in a well drained soil and, if your two small plants are growing in water logged conditions the roots could quite easily have rotted off.  But, during this time of year quite a number of leaves of Pampas Grasses do turn brown and have a creamy paper texture and I would therefore leave your plants until early springtime to see if any new shoots appear. 

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Malcolm Hogg asks...

What is the best medium for striking pampas grass seed and then potting on?

Bill replies...

You can sow your Pampas Grass seed early springtime in a general seed and potting compost.  The seeds are reasonably easy to germinate and when the seedlings are large enough to handle they can be repotted into a three and a half inch to four inch pot again, using a multipurpose purpose compost.  If you then need to repot into a larger container I would use a soil base compost such as John Innes No2/3 with ten to fifteen per cent additional grit sand added.  Pampas Grass thrives in well drained soil and a sunny position.

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Sam Porter asks...

My husband gave me a tiny pampas grass to plant at the side of our garden, next to the border, two years ago. It has done very well and is a nice size. It also achieved two plumes, although one was broken off by the children! As it has grown, it has taken up a fair amount of lawn. This is not a problem at the size that it is now, but I do not want it to get any bigger. Do I have to dig it up and split it every few years, or will cutting it back keep it at a certain size? Also, I do all of the gardening, but my husband will be upset if I cut the grass back. I need expert advice explaining why I should cut it back. Please advise, thanks.

Bill replies...

Depending on the variety of Pampas Grass you have in your garden Sam the size will vary from five to eight feet tall and four to six feet wide and, to keep your Pampas Grass under control in late winter early springtime trim back all the dead foliage and comb out any dead material from the centre of the plant.  An old method used on the dead foliage was to burn the Grass in the winter months but this is now frowned upon as Ladybirds and Hedgehogs hibernate in the foliage during the winter period.  If you feel that your plant is becoming too large you can trim back some of the tussocks to keep it under control and propagation of Pampas Grass can be easily be done by dividing the tussocks early springtime and from seed sowing during March/April time.

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Tracey Preston asks...

I have had a pampas in a tub for 2 years now. I want to plant it in the garden, when is the best time?

Bill replies...

It is far too wet at the present time (January) Tracey to transplant your Pampas Grass (Cortaderia) but, as soon as the weather improves and the soil is warmer - and not frosty - you will then be able to transplant your Pampas Grass into your garden. I would work into your soil some well rotted manure and also a liberal dressing of a general base fertiliser.  Pampas Grass will grow in a wide range of soils providing that the soil is well drained and, they are a very tough plant but a general feed with a base fertiliser such as Fish Blood and Bone Meal early spring should suffice.

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Rob Gough asks...

I am shortly moving to a small semi-bungalow which has an old large Pampas Grass with a stem aleast 2/3 feet in diameter, growing in the front garden about 3/4 feet from the front bedroom window of the bungalow and also close to my neighbours wall as well. Do you think this plant's roots could damage these bungalow's foundations being so close? If I want to get rid of it, could it be cut off just below ground level and poisoned to kill it? Would appreciate any help or views you may have.

Bill replies...

Pampas Grass produces very tough spongy compact roots and not a lot of actively vigorous tap roots which can be troublesome to foundations during very dry periods.  But, as you have mentioned your large Pampas Grass is only three to four feet from the front bedroom window and although it is highly unlikely, the roots could still be troublesome to your bungalows foundation and your neighbour's wall.  You mention 'poisoning' your Pampas Grass and there are weedkillers available but you will need to be careful if there are plants in close vicinity.  If however you have no plants in close vicinity to your Pampas Grass, I would recommend the weedkiller Rootout.  If there are plants close by I would cut your Pampas Grass back and when new shoots and leaves appear I would spray with a glyphosate weedkiller such as RoundUp or Tumbleweed - taking care to protect nearby plants from spray drift.

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Brian Passey asks...

I have moved a Pampas Grass about two months ago (May). It seems to have survived the move but nearly all the leaves have brown tips - the end nine inches or so. Is this the result of the move, the fault of all the rainfall we have been having, or just something that will repair itself in time.

Bill replies...

You will find Brian that Pampas Grass is a very tough plant and I am sure even though the leaves have brown tips your plant will soon recover and the problem will have arisen due to you transplanting your grass.  Once your Pampas Grass has become established the new leaves which will appear will I am sure be healthy and next Spring any old leaves can be cut back to encourage more new growth.

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Jackie Whitmarsh asks...

After trimming my Pampas Grass, I find it appears to be all paper and rotted stumps, in the centre at ground level. What can I do to rectify this, if anything? Many thanks.

Bill replies...

Pampas Grass (Cortaderia Selloana) is a very tough plant Jackie and will thrive in a wide range of soils but, the plant does not like waterlogged conditions and I am just wondering if this could be the problem with your Pampas Grass.  You will need to remove all the dry leaves from the central area of the plant - which will in turn encourage new shoots to appear.

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Sandra asks...

I have a relatively small pampas grass where some off the plumes have been blown over by very strong winds.  Do I need to remove these plumes?

Bill replies...

If your Pampas Grass Plumes are completely bent over Sandra you are far better cutting these off at base level and although I am not an expert on Floral Art I have been told that if you dry the plume stems at room temperature you will be able to use these in floral displays.

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Roger asks...

I want to plant pampas grass in a small patch about 8x4 which used to be the potting shed, it has a soil depth of about 12" with a concrete bottom. Will the plant grow in this depth? Also I have a white Pampas which I can split up. Can I split this now? I want to get a pink one to go alongside, will the two grow together? Can you suggest anything else that will go with these? Thanks

Bill replies...

It is going to be very difficult for your Pampas Grass to grow successfully in twelve inches of soil Roger and there is also the added problem of the concrete base which will seriously restrict the root growth of your Pampas Grass - also the drainage of the soil will lead to water logged conditions during the winter months.  If at all possible I would try and break up the concrete base and remove large parts of it - this will allow the roots to grow into the subsoil and alleviate the above mentioned problems.  On the question of splitting your Pampas Grass I would wait until early Spring and providing you leave enough space between the Pampas Grasses there is no reason why the pink and white cannot be grown close together.  Regarding other architectural plants which will complement your Pampas Grasses I would suggest Yucca Gloriosa and Phormium Tenax.

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Nick Regan asks...

I have a pampas plant in the middle of my lawn and want to remove it. What is the best way to do it, or can you recomend a removal specialist?

Bill replies...

You will need to wait Nick for a reasonable period of dry weather before attempting to remove your Pampas Grass from the middle of your lawn - early Spring would be ideal. If you try and lift your plant during November - when conditions are wet and damp - you will do endless damage to your lawn.  The best way to lift your Pampas Grass, which is a tough plant to remove as the roots are very tight and spongy - is with  a sharp spade, pick for leverage and 'brute force'.  Regarding your question of hiring a 'removal specialist' I would contact a local Garden Contractor.  Good luck!

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Mary Cooper asks...

Is it possible to split or prune one of those very tough spiky grass-like plants that grow quite tall - can't remember what they're called, possibly a type of flax? Mine is getting too big for its position!

Bill replies...

The tough spiky grass you have Mary could be the Pampas Grass or it could be one of the Phormium Species (the New Zealand Flax)  Both of these plants can be split but you would be far better waiting until the Autumn or early next Spring.

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W Donnan asks...

I have a Pampas grass plant with a lot of dead leaves. I have been told it is possible to burn out the dead leaves. Is this possible?

Bill replies...

It is a little late in the year to set fire to your Pampas Grass as there will be plenty of new shoots now appearing which you do not want to damage. You will need to remove the dead leaves and I personally always use a sharp pair of shears. I would also recommend that you use a good pair of gloves as the leaf edges are very sharp. Regarding burning the leaves off your Pampas Grass January or February would be the ideal time but, I would ensure your plant is well away from your house and I would also check your insurance policy!

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Mairi Morrison asks...

We have a pampas grass which looks beautiful, is extremely green and healthy but never has any plumes growing from it. We've had it for over four years.

Bill replies...

Some varieties of Pampas Grass do require a number of years before they will actually flower and what we have to do with your plant Mairi is to try and force it to flower. I would not water it nor feed it and the dry conditions we have recently had could quite easily force your Pampas Grass to flower. Basically it is growing in too rich a soil and is quite happy producing healthy leaves and no flower spikes.

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Thomas Hall asks...

Planted a Pampas Grass two years ago, it has thrived, i.e. tall, green and healthy looking but no flowers, those lovely silvery fronds we expected. Why?

Bill replies...

You have got to ignore your Pampas Grass Thomas - do not water it or feed it and the shortage of water plus nutrients will hopefully force your Pampas Grass to flower.

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Diane Taylor asks...

I have a large pampas grass between me and my neighbour's bungalow. We are both in agreement that it is taking a lot of room up and would like to pull it up. We would like to know what sort of root it has got and if it will be easy to lift. My daughter said that she would have it in her garden but we need to know if our task will be an easy one.

Bill replies...

The operation is not going to be easy Diane - the Pampas Grass has a very tight spongy and tough root system and, you are going to need at least a pick and very sharp spade. What I would suggest you do is to commandeer a couple of strong volunteers to give you a hand - but I would delay the operation until the Autumn. Good Luck!

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Mair Bissell asks...

I have a large Pampas grass in my garden, what care do I need to give it? Any advice please?

Bill replies...

Pampas Grass loves to be planted in a well drained soil and in a sunny position, and when established they are a 'tough customer' and need little attention. What you will need to do in the early Spring Mair is to give your plant a trim and tidy up by cutting out any of the dead leaves and debris in the centre of the plant. At this time of year you can also give it a general feed with a base fertliser such a Growmore or Fish Blood and Bone Meal.  Approximately four to six ounces around the base of the plant. If we do have a very dry summer you may need to water the plant but otherwise no attention is required.

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John Dunn asks...

About 10 years ago my father in law (who passed away 2 years ago) planted a Pampas Grass in a small plot in front of his living room window. This has since grown so much that it is blocking the light from the room. I have pruned it several times but now wish to get rid of it completely. I have cut it down to about two feet above ground level. As my wife and I are now both pensioners we haven't got the health/strength/energy to dig out the roots. Is there any weed killer that we could use or would tree stump killer work on this?

Bill replies...

It is a very difficult task to dig out the roots of Pampas Grass John, the roots are closely knitted together and you will need a pick axe as well as a sharp spade to try and dig out the roots and I would try the method which you have mentioned.  I would use Root Out Stump Killer - which is not only used for tree stumps but also troublesome weeds such as Brambles and Mares Tail.  It can be applied in a crystal form and also diluted and watered into the plants.  The product is bio degradable and is harmless to pets and children.

last updated: 16/05/2008 at 09:34
created: 07/03/2007

You are in: Lancashire > Nature > Features > Ask the gardener: Pampas grass



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