If Southerners know one orna- mental grass well, this is it. Thanks to its ease of culture, imposing stature, and exceedingly showy plumes, pampas grass has been showcased throughout the Deep South to the point of clich. Native to Argentina, it grows very fast in good soil in warm climatesfrom gallon-size transplant to 8-ft. giant in one season. Established clumps can reach 1012 ft. tall and wide. Each plant forms a fountain of nar- row, cascading, medium green, sawtoothed leaves (be carefulthey can cut you). Long stalks bear- ing 1- to 3-ft., white to chamois or pink flower plumes rise above the foliage in late summer. Plants may be either male or female; females have much showier plumes, but unfortunately, few garden centers sell pampas grass by sex. To ensure that you get a showy specimen, buy a plant in bloom or obtain a division from a known female plant. Or purchase a named selection, like those listed below.
Regular pampas grass doesn't do well in the colder winters of the Upper South and often fails to bloom there, but cold-hardy selections (noted below) solve that problem.
Use pampas grass as a specimen, vertical accent, or tall screen. Especially effective when massed near water. Most are somewhat taller than wide when not in bloom. Not browsed by deer.
'Andes Silver'. To 7 ft. tall in bloom. Cold-hardy selection with silver flower plumes.
'Patagonia'. To 6 ft. tall in bloom. Leaves have a blue-gray cast; flower plumes are silver. Cold hardy.
'Pumila' ('Ivory Feathers'). Smaller than species and a better fit for most home gardens. Gray-green leaves form a clump to 3 ft. tall, 4 ft. wide; white flower plumes increase the height to 6 ft.
'Rosea' ('Rosa Feder'). To 8 ft. tall in bloom. Silvery white plumes with a pink cast.
'Sun Stripe'. Yellow-striped foliage in clumps to 4 ft. tall, 5 ft. wide. White flower plumes rise to 6 ft. high.
'Sunningdale Silver'. Large, sturdy selection that may reach 10 ft. tall and 8 ft. wide in flower. Huge, fluffy, creamy white plumes.
Pampas grass likes heat, sun, and well-drained soil. It tolerates wind, sand, and salt spray, so it's ideal for growing at the beach. To renew ragged-looking clumps, cut them to within a foot or two of the ground in late winter, using shears or hedge trimmers.