The big leaves of Colchicum remind me a little of hosta foliage. Photo:

If you live in the burbs, chances are that at one time or another, you've been tempted to plant pampas grass. Count yourself lucky if you refrained. Because almost every place you could have put it would have looked downright awful.

This is predictable for a couple of reasons. First, pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana) is native to the pampas region of Argentina, where the landscape looks like this.


Photo: agro2b-ru

Keep your eyes peeled for llamas! If you hit one, it could totally wreck your dune buggy. Does this look like your neighborhood?

Second, pampas grass gets huge. Established clumps can reach 10 to 12 feet tall and wide. Plant it in the midst of a flower border and it will swallow everything around it. Plant it in the middle of the yard and it looks like you stuck a basketball goal out there.

Given the fact that the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word "tacky" as "bearing a close resemblance to pampas grass in residential settings," why do people keep planting it? That's easy -- the outrageously gaudy floral plumes up to three feet long that tower above the cascade of foliage in summer. It's the perfect plant for hiding the propane tank or screening the next-door neighbors who park two vehicles for every family member and only one of the lot actually runs.

Thus, you can see why people who have pampas grass are peeved when it doesn't bloom. There are a number of possible causes for this tragedy.

1. Pampas grass loves hot summers and mild winters. North of USDA Zone 7, it won't bloom and may not even live. So sad.

2. Pampas grass likes lots of sun. It won't bloom in shade.

3.Young plants often take a few years to start blooming. So if you buy a plant that isn't blooming, be prepared to wait.

4. Huge, old clumps need periodic dividing to rejuvenate them. Winter is the time to do this. Wear gloves as the leaves are sharp and can cut your hands to ribbons. Cut the old foliage to the ground before digging and dividing. A power hedge trimmer makes quick work or this. Or if the clump is all alone by itself with no combustibles around, set it ablaze. This won't hurt it at all and it sure is fun.

5. In the future, buy named selections such as 'Ivory Feathers,' 'Andes Silver,' and 'Sunningdale Silver' that bloom reliably.

Is There Any Place Besides Argentina That Pampas Grass Looks Good? Actually, yes. If you want a tall hedge that you won't have to shear, a row of pampas grass does the job nicely. And like other ornamental grasses, it looks quite at home next to a large body of water. Here in the South, people frequently plant it at the beach with Grumpy's blessing. It grows in sand, tolerates drought, and bends gracefully in the salt breeze.

But, as most people don't live at the beach, those determined to have it usually shoehorn it into teeny yards where it ends up looking like this.



Or maybe they built the house around an existing clump. It's so hard to tell.

Upon further investigation, I found the following annotation to this photo, which may explain what the pampas grass is really doing there. "It is a well established fact," writes Firky, "that if you have pampas grass in your garden you're going to attract swingers (swingers use the grass as an advert to other swingers). Has anyone got pampas grass in their garden and ....had anyone knocking on their door asking to swing?"

Now we know why so many people plant pampas grass. They're looking to make new friends who love dancing to Benny Goodman.