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U.S.A., Washington State. USDA zone 8a. Sunset climate zone 5

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Sunday, March 7, 2010

Pampas Grass - A Bad Guy?


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Have you ever dated a person whom you liked a lot and then suddenly found out that person was dangerous, deceiving and obnoxious? You've been happy with him/her, admired his/her beauty, then one day opened a local paper and saw a familiar face with a "Most Wanted" sign? Fortunately, I didn't have an experience like this in life, but this is how I feel after making research with regard to composting pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana 'Pumila') clippings.
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I had a feeling that it might not be a good idea. I thought the blades were too thick and would take a long time to rotten. Well, it's true - it's not recommended to compost pampas grass, but for a different reason. It's considered to be an aggressive colonizer, dangerous to native plants. Thousands of seeds produced by Pampas grass even without pollination can travel long distances by wind (up to 40 km from the parent plant as said here: http://www.botanybay.nsw.gov.au/pdf/parks/NativeNweeds/Pampas%20Grass.indd.pdf. Each pampas grass is capable of bearing over a million seeds during its plant life.
Pampas grass is a large perennial grass, native to South America, which grows in large clumps 8-10 feet high. Silvery-white or pinkish silken plumes grow up to 12 feet high. *
I have only one plant - a dwarf pampas grass, growing in the back of the garden.
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It's very ornamental, a good eye catcher and certainly creates visual interest in that part of the garden. This spring, I trimmed it as close to its baseas possible.
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Last year, I disposed of the clippings. This year, the pile of trimmings was so big, I felt sorry to get rid of such a big amount of green material.
I decided to check the Internet, and the information that I found was not what I expected. In Australia, Pampas grass is declared a Noxious Weed in many areas under the Noxious Weed Act of 1993. It must be fully and continuously suppressed and destroyed.
Pampas grass can reshoot from its root and shoot pieces. For this reason, plant matter must not be transported or dumped (http://www.weeds.asn.au/ ).
I read that it is banned in New Zealand as well. There, people are prohibited from selling and planting Pampas grass. I also read that it is considered a pest in California because of its rampant spreading, and thus cannot be grown there.
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I have three questions now. Is it prohibited in your state or country?
Second: are the nurseries, garden centers, landscaping companies aware of this issue? If yes, then why do we hear: "Superb for fresh or dried arrangements!", "Add interest to your garden with Pampas grass!", "Quick landscape fix! Great privacy screen, windbreak, sound barrier!" and nothing about its danger to native plants?
Third: If I cut the plumes right after they appear and never let the seeds develop, will it be safe to compost Pampas grass clippings?
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Recently, I read that the Oregon Department of Agriculture announced the ban of the sale, transport or propagation of English ivy. When we drove home recently from the Mt.Bachelor in Central Oregon, I saw a sign: "Fight Noxious Weeds! It's Your Responsibility!"

I am not going to get rid of my plant. I will watch its plumes and remove them before the seeds ripen. Is it responsible enough? Tell me, please!
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Pampas Grass in winter 2007

In the pictures below, my dwarf pampas grass after trimming in 2009 and recovering a couple months later. This year, I cut it much more drastically.
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To compost pampas grass or not to compost? That is the question!

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8th of March is International Women's Day.

I wish you, dear fellow garden bloggers, all the best - peace, love, health! Thank you for your friendship!

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Copyright 2010 TatyanaS

37 comments:

  1. Dear Tatyana, In the UK there is not, as I understand it, any laws regarding the growing of Pampas grass nor have I heard of it spreading as a noxious weed.

    Personally, I am not too keen on it, mainly because of the difficulty of dealing with it. Cutting it hard back each year is, I am sure, the correct procedure even if one's hands are torn to shreds. Composting the old foliage is a problem as they are very coarse and unless cut into small pieces [how tiresome] are unlikely to rot. Could a little be used to line the rubbish sacks each week?

    A garden bonfire could be the final solution if allowed.

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  2. Hi Tatyana,
    Well I haven't done the research like you have. I had a couple of clumps of Pampas grass growing here when we first moved in. I took them out right away (back in the day when I hadn't a clue of what I was doing). Mainly because they were just too big for where they were growing. I admit the only place I like to see them growing (in Florida)are en masse as a border where there is plenty of acreage to sustain the massiveness of them. They also look good roadside along the Interstate. They don't freeze back here so they get GINORMOUS.
    Sorry, I can't imagine why they wouldn't be compost-able but I don't know the answers to your questions. BTW... I like the way yours looks in your setting. I hope it doesn't turn out to be so much trouble for you.
    Meems

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  3. It is too cold here to grow it. I love it and would grow it here if I could. I think people could pull it out if it became "noxious" when it first started...it can't spread that fast can it???

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  4. That was very interesting to read! I've never heard anything negative about Pampas grass not even when I was working at a nursery. I think it's a beauty and I hope you'll keep yours. About compost or not, I cant tell / gittan

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  5. Great post with beautiful pictures! I love pampas grass, especially the fluffy seed heads. It can be grown here, but only as an annual and doesn't have time to set seed, maybe that isn't such a bad thing after all.

    I don't know about composting though, it might be risky given it's noxious properties. I wonder if the heat of composting would inactivate them?

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  6. Dated it, married it, and got rid of it. LOL!

    I did not know that about the Pampas grass either. Wonder why the growers do not warn us about the seeds, etc. or that it may be invasive in some areas. I always thought the pink plumed ones were so pretty but in the winter landscape they are just all beautiful.
    Maybe it is more of a zone thing. Mimosa is invasive in some zones but I have not had a problem with mine here.
    Lona

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  7. Hi Tatyana, I've never heard this of pampas grass before. Although I guess it won't be a threat it our cooler climate - I'll have to do some reserarch about that-
    -Happy International women's day to you too!

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  8. Pampas Grass is not a plant that I have ever wanted for my small garden but over the years I have rued the day that I put many things into the compost and in ignorance multiplied their nusance factor throughout my garden.

    If I only knew then what I know now I would not spend so much time digging out ground elder and Bindweed as well as many other pernicious plants.

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  9. Tatyana,
    No I would not compost it. I dug out some of my ornamental grasses(not pompas grass)last year and tossed them it a huge limb pile well away from the soil where they could take hold.

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  10. I do have a variety of Pampas grass... it is spreading relatively slowly on a slope... The plumes are nothing like yours... I too got the grass from a friend or nursery long before I knew anything... but it is not too bad as I have had it for over twenty years and it has not spread too much in all that time. I am most likely wrong in how I deal with all my old dried grasses... for I burn them... I do have a few brush fires each winter and spring... there I have confessed! In order to manage the land I have to burn some of the brush i cut each year... I do make shelters for animals with some of the brush too. I think if you keep your grass from seeding you should be OK.

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  11. Tatyana, so far so good that it is not "outlawed" in Oregon. ;) We have several varieties in our garden, enjoy them greatly, and only now are cutting back the plumes. Seldom do we have a volunteer and we have had them in our garden for 10-15 years without much difficulty and divide and have replanted them on our hillside. The thing I find most annoying about them is that after many years they become so dense in the center and new growth may not emerge... thus dividing is necessary.

    Thank YOU for your friendship on this upcoming International Woman's Day!

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  12. Sorry to note about this concerning invasive plant in your region. As far as I understand, there is no such thing as invasive plants in my place.
    I guess nature would find its way to control & contain itself. Again, there are many plants that are in full force fighting its way to survive.
    I can say, if you love the plant, do keep it - as long as you are not breaking any law in your country.

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  13. OK, Tatyana, I'm sorry but it is a horrible noxious weed here. You used to drive along highway 1 and see native chapperal plants. Now, more and more, you see pampas grass. The state of California has spent a lot of money, but it's just too aggressive. Nurseries that care about the environment no longer carry it.

    Here's my story: I used to have a cotoneaster in my garden and found out it was invasive. I resisted for a year, coming up with multiple excuses why my cotoneaster wasn't a problem. Then I finally said: Hey, of the many thousand beautiful plants I can choose from, do I have to have this one? And I took it out and planted a blue elderberry. I'm much happier that way. So are the birds, actually ;->

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  14. It is sold in garden centers all over Alabama. I suspect it may be invasive here, however. I would not grow it myself.

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  15. Hi Tatyana~~ I also have a dwarf pampas grass. I've had it for ten years and it has never seeded. I do my best to deadhead it. One of the worst gardening jobs is that annual cut in late winter. The blades--aptly named--are sharp. I have my yard debris can at the ready and the cuttings go there immediately. I want nothing to do with them.

    My Pampas has stayed dwarf, thank God because the full-sized version puts the panic in me. From your photos your grass is also staying dwarf, thriving and looks fabulous.

    Have you heard of Stipa gigantea? I love mine and think it's a great alternative to Pampas.

    Love your "bad person/plant" analogy. It's like, you never know a plant until you live with it.

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  16. Pampas grass is only marginally hardy in most of my province so it's not a problem. What is a problem is Phragmites australis, at least in milder parts of the province. Why is it invasive plants are never wonderful, like, oh, blueberries or carrots or basil? (three of my favourite things)

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  17. Tatyana, in South Africa it is also a noxious weed, and I've heard that the seed is sharp and can cut the eye-ball. I know the leaves can cut fingers! As children we ere not allowed to play near them. We have a clump which I remember from my youth on the farm. I was looking at it recently, thinking it needed removing. It seems smaller, perhaps because of more shade the last 10 years. But I've also become aware of three self-sown clumps on public roads near the farm, and feel I should stop and destroy them.

    As for composting the leaves - it can't do any harm if they are worth the effort of handling. I'd dump them as green waste and let others with stronger equipment battle!

    PS: nice to Blotanizing again!

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  18. Our garden club recently had a speaker who said this on invasives: if you have it in your yard and it's behaving, don't worry. Just don't plant anything new on your local area's invasive list. Emphasis on local area - I've got northern sea oats, supposedly invasive, but not in my area. In five years, it's maintained its same space - wish it would do a little invading. Your extension service ought to be able to tell you if your grass is an issue where you live.

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  19. Many people have Pampas Grass in the UK. It was a very popular plant in the 1970's, but it's popularity has since decreased. I don't know why, as it looks lovely in the setting you have. It's not a plant I have ever considered as my garden is just too small. Sorry, I can't answer any of your questions.

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  20. Personally, I think it's beautiful. I've never know it to spread on it's own at my parents house. I don't have any in our garden because those blades eat you up when you are cutting grass and it seems to sting forever. When I was young, my mother had the black variety. The blooms were spectacular.--Randy

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  21. Like so many plants, it depends on your climate whether or not a plant is going to "misbehave." Pampas grass isn't hardy here and is never offered (at least I've never seen it and I stalk nurseries for grasses pretty regularly). If keeping it is really stressing you, check and see if there are any sterile hybrids available as a substitute, otherwise cutting the inflorescences off diligently sounds like a fine solution to me, as it is not on your states' noxious weed list (yet).

    Christine in Alaska

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  22. It's considered a noxious weed in CA, I have seen it take over completely on hillsides and shores there, very very evil. Here it is not banned yet but I wonder if it should be - I did a post about one showing up in my parking strip unbeckoned. It grew pretty big but I got rid of it before it flowered, happily. I have one in the backyard and would ditch it if I could, but it's too hard to get to and dig out. In the wild, apparently, they are only controlled by wildfires! Crazy. The spines on the leaves alone would make me think not to bother with composting, too much of a chance you will get hurt!

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  23. Not an issue here(I don't think) but I struggle with ... grrrr ... English ivy! I want to tap people when I see them buying it and say, "Are you sure ..."

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  24. This was interesting to read along with the comments. I don't have any growing in my yard, but have see it in several yards on my street. The clumps I've seen of it don't look much bigger than yours and I know most of them have been there 10 years or so. I've never seen anyone deadhead them let alone cut them back.

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  25. Tatyana, Nurseries all over Tennessee continue to sell plants that are on the Severe Threat(eg Ligustrum), Significant Threat(eg Vincas major and minor) and Lesser Threat (Wisteria floribunda) lists. It's a button pusher for me. There are no laws restricting the sale of plants...just the list. Unfortunately business owners continue to sell them and encourage their use. The reality is that they are cheap to propagate and they can make money on them. Unless states pass laws this practice will continue. There are alternative plants available, but most folks just buy what's at the Big Box Stores. Alternatives are often difficult to locate or more costly.

    It makes me sigh with frustration.

    gail

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  26. It has been on my desiderata list since nearly 20 years ago a picturesque photo of myself and my then little daughter was taken sitting on a bench in the palace garden in Monte Carlo with a fabulous combination of pampas grass and callistemon plumes in the background. Since last year Callistemon citrinus, that is supposed to be winter hardy in our climate (Hungary, Central Europe, from USDA zone 6a up to a couple of tiny enclaves of 8a - allegedly), has been available, so I set out to make my dream come true.
    As for invasiveness: last October we drove along the eastern coast of Spain from Barcelona down to Alicante. We spent a night in a hotel downtown Salou, where the parking lot was bordered with a row of pampas grass, and it also grew in the wild all along Costa de Asahar (= "orange bloom"), together with agaves, which are American import as well, but such a characteristic feature of the Mediterranean landscape. Thus, nither the Monacoans nor the Spanish seem to worry.
    Normally, it's native plants that are the biggest nuisance in gardens. Nearly 40 years ago some imbacile landscape designer, in the spirit of landscaping with natives, planted a hedge of such trees and shrubs, like Acer, Cornus, Sambucus,Syringa, Rosa canina etc. along our common fence with one of our neighbours, for which reason my life is a neverending battle against this agressive intruder (the hedge, not the neigbour).
    Or, a friend of mine has a garden in Opatija, Croatia, where she sustains a similar struggle agaist hedges of European dwarf palm and Trachycarpus. One native, one import. Мне бы её заботы!
    Thank you for your great blog, Tanya. Reading it is a frequent and hopefully a lasting pleasure to me!
    Olga

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  27. Hmmm, I have never seen it sold at the garden centres, but I do see that people have it planted all over. Those of my neighbours who do have it, complain of being cut and stabbed by it, but generally just leave the giant clump to do it's thing naturally. They must dump the spent greens in our yard waste bins that go to the city for composting - so that's a concern for sure!

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  28. THank you!!! I appreciate the time you took to read this post and answer my questions. After reading your comments and futher consideration, I decided to stay on a safe side and say NO to P.grass clippings' composting. I will watch it close and remove plumes before its seeds ripen.

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  29. Tatyana

    As Edith says its not illegal here. My grandad never composted the leaves as he had huge clumps of them but he used to burn the whole thing. At times I really hated the plant - especially when I would be chasing a frog and it would hide amongst the leaves and I would n't be able to see it again. Or if the tennis ball got amongst those leaves it was shocking to try and get it out again. I had many a terrible cut on my hands from those leaves. I think you are being responsible by what you are doing. Its a great plant in the right location - so architectural. Too big for my garden.

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  30. Hi Tatyana

    I have three ginormous Pampas grass.

    I literally finished cutting out last years plumes yesterday and will tease out as much brown grass as possible. I leave them rather than cut them to the ground as this ensures they remain big each year. If I want to cut them down, then I'd simply go through them near the ground with a chainsaw. It's quick and it works. Some folk burn the old grass! This represents fire in the pampas in South America and I've heard varying reports of success.

    They have never spread or volountered for me here in zone 8.

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  31. I don't think Pampas Grass spreads or seeds around here in central NC.

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  32. It is not on the North Carolina invasive list or watch list.

    However, multiflora roses are considered invasive here!

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  33. Hi Tatyana - you'll be interested to know that this year in particular there's been a lot of publicity in France about Pampas - along with the dreaded Japanese Knotweed - they are trying to get across to people exactly what you point out in your posting - full of really helpful info by the way! Hope you're having a good week Miranda x

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  34. Had one in the last garden. It is vicious, and as things go, IT WENT. Hope you can find a sculptural architectural plant to love as a replacement one day. Growing in clumps, along the road and in struggling patches of wild plants, it is truly terrifying. Who is going to rescue nature from our invasive aliens?

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  35. You've raised some tough questions. Pampas grass isn't a problem in the Chicago area because it isn't hardy, but we have a similar situations with Miscanthus sinensis, listed as invasive by the Chicago Botanic Garden and other sources. Illinois hasn't banned it, so it's not illegal, and some nurseries continue to sell it, but Midwest Groundcovers, a wholesale grower and supplier, no longer propagates or sells it.
    I'd probably rip out the Pampas grass if I were you. The beautiful plumes are such an important feature, that cutting them off pretty much ruins it. There are other, better behaved grasses that you could plant instead.

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  36. Everybody seems to have Pampas grass in my area of coastal NC. My next door neighbours have two large ones framing their driveway. My husband says it can get nasty, and would never plant it. Plus, after a mild tropical storm (or even a day of really strong wind), they look horrible. I wouldn't think it would be composting material, but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy it if you don't have any problems with it in your area :)

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  37. I've always loved pampas grass. So much that I tried to grow it here two times. Both times it died:( It sure is pretty in the right spot. It is not prohibited here. I used to grow it in NC and it did very well.

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