Large and in charge – that’s pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana)! This big, bold and beautiful ornamental grass from the foothills of the Andes makes a great feature or border in any yard that’s large enough to show it off.

Pampas grass

Pampas grass puts on a spectacular display every fall!

Photo Credit: Gerald Klingaman

Cortaderia selloana

If regular pampas grass is too large for your yard, consider a dwarf version.

Photo Credit: Gerald Klingaman

Even though this beauty has been growing in the US since 1848, it didn’t get much attention until Joseph Sexton, a nurseryman from Santa Barbara, CA, single-handedly started a fashion craze at the height of the Victorian age: He began harvesting and drying the plant’s showy plumes to be used as adornments on proper ladies’ hats and as home decorations in large standing vases in the corner of a room.

Sure, today it would be a challenge to find any woman wearing one of these plumes (or a Victorian hat, for that matter). But you can still admire this attractive ornamental in many garden displays across warmer parts of the country. (And they look nice in a floor vase, no matter what the era.)

Since it’s such a big plant, pampas grass needs lots of room in the landscape. In summer, it forms a big mound of graceful, medium-green foliage that gets bigger each year – sometimes forming crowns that measure 5 feet or more across. But come fall the real show starts: The plant shoots up 2- to 3-foot-long, silvery, feather-duster plumes atop round stems reaching 6-8 feet tall! The foliage is evergreen through the winter in mild areas, giving homeowners something nice to look at during those dull-garden months.

According to the books, pampas grass is a USDA Hardiness Zone 8 plant (Sunset zones 4-24) that’s only suitable for temperate areas. But in the past decade, this beauty has become more common further north, and clumps can get big enough to make a good display. It’s hardy to about 10 degrees F, with the grass dying only when the ground freezes sufficiently deep enough to kill the crown. For the best results, plant it in full sun in a fertile, relatively moist soil. Mulching the base of the plant with leaves or straw as it heads into winter the first few years may help it get established. (As the clump ages, it’ll become more cold-hardy.)

While the plant will never be as grand in the North as it is in the milder South, it’ll always earn its keep with its fantastic fall display!

Whether you’re looking to add something bold and beautiful to your garden or want to grow a fanciful home decoration, towering pampas grass may be the perfect selection for you. With the plant’s amazing height and showy fall plumes of silver or pink, this is one grass you simply can’t miss!