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

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Pampas Grass - Little Observation

To cut or not to cut pampas grass? If to cut, how much? These are the questions many people ask. I see a lot of visitors on my blog who check my post Pampas Grass - A Bad Guy? after using key words 'cutting pampas grass' on the web.
I am in no way a person who can give advice on this matter. But, I can share a couple of little observations which I made.
1. Is there any connection between cutting back pampas grass and abandance of plumes?
I have one dwarf pampas grass plant. I compared it with several pampas grasses in one of our neighbors' gardens. They look like regular, not dwarf type, but I think I still can make comparisons.
Last spring, I cut my plant all the way down. All summer and fall I had a nice green plant.

Photo: September. My pampas grass that was cut in spring.
The neighbors' plants, which were not cut, looked, in my opinion, not so nice. You could see old yellow blades mixed with new green ones.

Photo: September. The neighbors' pampas grass which wasn't cut
Now, let's see how these grasses performed in term of blooms.
When the time came to bloom, my plant gave only TWO plumes:

Click on the pictures to enlarge themThe neighbors' plants gave MANY plumes:
February 2011.
Of course, the contrast in 'blooming power' could be explained by the difference in the plants' age. The neighbors' plants could be older, more mature. But, could there be a connection between cutting the plant down and number of blooms?
What if my grass didn't bloom profusely because I drastically cut it back? If I would want more plumes on my plant, I probably would not cut it back at least one year. But, I like the clump itself even without blooms, so I am not willing to sacrifice the plant's overall appearance for sake of getting more plumes. My dwarf pampas grass looked its best in 2007, the year after I bought it and before I started to cut it.
Do you think there is a connection between the number of plumes and whether we cut or don't cut the pampas grass?
2. Is there a connection betwen the severity of cutting and the pampas grass' appearance?
As I told in the previous pampas grass post, I cut it not very low one year and down to the very base another year (two pictures below).

I didn't notice any considerable difference in the size of the grass clumps. Both years, the plant grew the same size and had very few plumes. By the way, when should the cutting be done?
Everyone likes to leave the plants for winter interest. Not to damage any new growth, should it be done in late winter?
I need to ask the owners of this garden, in the picture below, whether they cut their pampas grass? This is how great it looked in early November:

What are your observations regarding pampas grass?
My last post 'Looking at My Pampas Grass' (May 2012) is HERE

***Copyright 2011 TatyanaS


  1. I'm no expert either but I think most grasses come back thicker and stronger after cutting back.

  2. I have never been a fan of pampas grass, though I think it does look nice in some settings. I like the way your clump looks. I definitely prefer your look to the neighbor's uncut grass..

  3. an interesting post Tatyana, I was given some PG seddlings a few years ago and I planted them into their permanent home last year, I have been wondering if to cut them or not and like you when if I do cut them, your post has just given me the idea to cut every other plant and see what happens, thanks Frances

  4. In my zone 5, it is recommended that grasses be cut back in early spring or late winter.

    However, certain grasses are difficult to manage if left up during the winter, one being Miscanthus and Carex. Although, I have a small Miscanthus that it was recommended I leave it uncut during the winter to protect the root system.

    I always vote for cutting down each year as it looks very messy if new grass is growing up through the old stalks. Very confusing, isn't it!


  5. I'm with Missy - cut hard back.

  6. Hello Tatyana, I do not have pampas at the moment, I have grown it in the past and the tall varieties always flowered well when I cut back hard in early Spring. I have also had the short variety which is called Pumila, (Cortaderia selloana ‘Pumila) This one did not do well in my garden whether I cut back or not, however I have seen it looking very good indeed in other gardens, so I really dont know the answer.

  7. I am not an expert either but my experience has been you can cut them either in spring or fall and as severely as you need...I do not cut all the way to the base because it could lead to rot, disease etc...I think the plumes could be related to the conditions..this type of grass likes hot, drier conditions so if it is not in those conditions it will grow in but may not flower...just a thought

  8. I would cut it back about this time of year, before the new growth starts. I do not believe cut vs not cutting has any impact on bloom. I bet there is some fertilizer or drainage or sun difference. Leaving a lot of dried dead foliage could be a fire hazard. Had a neighbor's pampas mound catch fire.

  9. Cut back is my suggestion, but also one you will not want to hear. I dig them up every few years (only in unnatural settings where they don't belong anayway) to get rid of the center crown and make many new plants. It is a huge, hard chore, and my biggest gripe against the grasses.

  10. The more you cut, the more it will grown and it will be stronger too.

  11. Tatyana, My Longwood Gardens course book written by Rick Darke, the grass expert, says about 'Pumila': "Will attain larger size and produce more flowers in soils of high fertility. Should be cut back to about 6" by March." I always follow what he says--he wrote the grass bible. Carolyn

  12. What great feedback! We are getting some great tips! Thank you everyone!

  13. I'm a fan of the hack down to 8 inches tall form of pruning on these! :) Within weeks seemingly they are looking all super refreshed and, well, pampas grassy.

    On the other hand, many people like to trip their liriope every year too, and that, I think, takes to long to start looking good again, with the benefits iffy in my book. I guess to each his own.

  14. Where I live in California pampas grass is considered an invasive species, and local nurseries don't sell it, so I don't plant it. I have large clumps of "fountain grass" and cut those back to 24 inches tall every few years and they thrive and produce lots of "plumes".

  15. I like yours better than your neighbor's. But we got rid of ours because they had become invasive and impossible to control.

  16. I like the look of clean green clumping grasses. My favorite way to deal with the sawtooth edges of pampas grass is with a controlled burn = a non windy day and two people with garden hoses at the ready. It is the way Mother Nature used to do it in the prairie lands.

  17. Can't grow it here, I don't think, at least not in my garden. But I cut all my other perennial grasses down in the spring, and they rebound beautifully. Yours looks fabulous.

  18. 'Cut by March' - I should write it on my forehead!

  19. Unfortunately, I have no observations since it is not hardy in my zone. :( It is a favorite though, I wish I could grow it...

  20. Hi Tatyana, we have a Pampas grass in our garden too and I love it!

    I cut it back to about a foot in stump in March and regrows quite quick and still sends out several plumes in the autumn. Cutting it back every year helps keep it looking tidy. Other gardeners here set it on fire but I can't do that as it's too near other plants and our greenhouse.

  21. I would agree with everyone else...I think grasses do best when left to stand over the winter, then cut back before growth resumes in spring.

  22. I love reading/hearing what has worked and not worked for others too..

  23. I have three very large pampass grass which I never cut. The reason being I want to keep their enormous size, it's a question of scale. The problem is they take months to hide the brown previous years growth so I take time to tease the old blades out in early summer, loads of time in fact as it's a major job, but it improves the look and they stay big. As for flower power, well they do well for me every year. Come end of August they look great. I'm a fan

  24. My observation from your pictures is that (I could be wrong) you have more shade than your neighbor does in the location of the grasses. These plants respond to the hours of sun they receive. Pruning hard, or not, in my experience on many landscapes, does not affect bloom-- but looks a lot better if you do it. However I would always prefer another species of tall grass, there are so many to choose from now, than pampas. It's messy and slices you to ribbons when you have to get in there and prune it. Also as the CA gardener said, can be invasive and a fire hazard.

  25. We had a bad winter last dec and the wind and snow mashed up the plumes. I had no choice but to literaly pull out every last one around 12 ! I watched it sproat nothing until around maybe june and around double have come back doubve in hight aswell ! Very strange ! They look amazing and perfectly healthy !

  26. Thank you everyone for sharing your thoughts! I will post another little atricle about my and nejghbors' pampas grass in 2011. Many people ask if it's a good idea to use pampas grass for compost. I personally would say NO, unless you are able to turn it to tiny pieces.

  27. Good posts everyone... I favor the moderate trim each year.. I have experimented a little - Fall vs Spring trimming - and Spring seems to do better. Last year(2012), Pampas grass did fantastic.. had about 20 plumes/plant, where in the past, it had been 1-2.. Plants are 7 yrs old, about 4-5 ft high.. I think last year we had just the right amount of sun and rain.....

  28. We planted last year (5/2012, which was really late to plant. We wanted them for privacy, so planted 90 of them. We lost a few, and purchased plants to replace - The ones that took are nice and about 3 feet tall. We want them all to grow evenly. so were wondering if we should fertilize the new ones, and cut back the old one. Please asvise!

    1. Joan, I wouldn't fertilize pampas grass. It can reduce blooming. I think all the plants will look the same in a couple of years. You are brave to plant 90 of them. I hope you'll remove blooms to prevent reseeding. Otherwise, they can spread and endanger native plants.


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