Pampas Grass

markmahlumFebruary 28, 2010

My wife wants me to find an ornamental grass similar to pampas grass that will be hardy at 7400', zone 5a. I don't believe pampas grass will be hardy here.

Any suggestions?



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Dan Staley

Pampas grass likely will not make it there. Giant sacaton Sporobolus wrightii 'Los Lunas' may make it there. Big bluestem Andropogon gerardii 'Mega Blue'. The sacaton might be marginal there if little snow and cold temps. Snow should hold it over.


    Bookmark   February 28, 2010 at 6:37PM
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Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado

Hi Mark,

I was planning to post here, and almost forgot about the thread! (Thats what happens when you get down in the basement and the real world ceases to exist!)

The grass thatÂs most similar to pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana) isÂsurprise!Âhardy pampas grass! It used to be called Erianthus ravennae but a bunch of years ago it was changed to Saccharum ravennae. Since the name was changed, youÂll find it being sold under both names. In my experience itÂs not as tall as true pampas grass, but it does get tallÂIÂd say about 10' out here. And the plumes arenÂt nearly as big or soft as true pampas grass, but theyÂre still pretty impressive looking, and itÂs the only thing that comes anywhere near looking like the real thing. Oh! And itÂs hardy to z5.

I had one for a few years, but it was getting way, way too big for my tiny backyard so I deep-sixed it! It took me over two hours to "dig" it up and I had to use two shovels, two crowbars, a sledge hammer, and a wild assortment of trowels, scissors, and knives to do it! AndÂI got West Nile Virus while I was doing it! Alright, thatÂs not the grasses fault (except the mosquitoes were living down in the base of it where water had collected)! I gave it to somebody who lives out in Nederland, which is about 8,000', but I keep forgetting to ask her if she ever got around to planting it, and if it survived if she did. I know she was planning to cut it into "divisions" with a chain saw!

Besides being too big, mine never did very well because of limited sun, so if you decide to go for one, be sure itÂs in full or close to full sun. Somebody a couple blocks away from me has a couple of them in their front yard, they get enough sun, and I think they look pretty great!

Depending on the weather, the plumes may or may not last all winterÂthey seem to get knocked down fairly easily in heavy snow. Also, the blades are probably not as sharp as true pampas grass, but they are pretty sharp, and anytime youÂre working near it youÂd want to be sure youÂre wearing long sleeves and gloves. It sounds like you have a lot of room, so if itÂs out by itself somewhere, that would be a minimal problem, but if you cut it down every year, you need to be well protected to do it, and plan to wash anything youÂre wearing when you do it because little "pickies" will get all over youÂplan to wash yourself and your HAIR too!!!

ThereÂs a link below to the Bluestem information about it with a pretty good picture. If you decide to get it, is should be fairly easy to find out here at any "good" garden center, and you can often find it in gallon (or larger) and smaller sizes. I started mine from a 2½" pot! (YouÂre down near Durango, arenÂt you? They should have a decent garden center or two! That place has just gotten too big for my liken these days! I remember it back in the 60's when the train was about the only thing down there!)

HereÂs a pic of mine three years after it was planted (try to look "past" the blackberry lily in front!) ItÂs just starting to spike in this pic, and you can see that the blades have been cut off on the grass side because it was just too "painful" to be walking thru it when I was working nearby or cutting the grass! I never got a decent pic of the plumesÂthey just didnÂt show up against the sky or the neighborÂs lattice! (click for bigger pic)

HereÂs a pic during a March snowstorm in Â08, a couple months before I got rid of it. You can see that the plumes have all been knocked offÂand the blades had been severely cut back by then.

Then again, you could always go with a cute little blue fescue! ;-)

If you have any other questions about the hardy pampas grass, just let me know.


    Bookmark   March 4, 2010 at 1:04AM
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Thanks both Dan and Skybird. We will try two or three of your suggestions. I've always thought our dependable snow cover should bump us up at least part of a zone. The ground does not freeze very deep here due to it's insulating qualities. In fact, as a contractor, I've used snow to protect new concrete.

The biggest problem on our property is wildlife. From April through November we are lousy with elk and deer (the deep snow in winter sends them packing to south facing slopes). Last year they ate the tops off all my onions and garlics. Pulled many out by the roots. Skybird, did you have deer troubles with the hardy pampas grass.

Thanks, Mark

    Bookmark   March 4, 2010 at 8:26AM
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Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado

I never had a deer take even the tiniest little nip off of my hardy pampas grass! If a deer showed up in my backyard, Id be on the news and youd hear about it! LOL! I have a tiny little residential backyard thats completely fenced with privacy fenceas are all the yards for miles in any direction around me, so definitely no deer here, Mark.

My first instinct was to say that the Saccharum/Erianthus would be deer resistant because of how nasty the blades are, but I decided to check it out before posting, andIT IS! Apparently deer feel the same way I do about being around itand they wouldnt have any way to shower to get all the nasty little pickies off of them! ;-)

Im sure you know by now that theres no such thing as a deer PROOF plant, but here are links to a couple good deer resistant sites.

This one is from Rutgers, and its really great because it lists the "degree" of deer resistance! I have it set at the grasses, but you can change it to any category. (Whoops! Just discovered I can't directly link the grasses page! Select Plant Type: Ornamental Grasses and click View to get there!)
Landscape Plants Rated by Deer Resistance

And heres a really good list, and its from Parker, CO, where deer damage would be a MAJOR issue, so you might want to keep a link to this one too for reference. Unlike many other lists, this one denotes the xeric plants, which is great for us dry-country gardeners!
A Recommended List of Deer & Rabbit Resistant Plants

If youre interested in other possible alternativesthat dont look like pampas grassIve always loved the Miscanthuses! The varieties range in height from about 3' to over 10'all z5. When theyre blooming, I think they look Egyptianand I have a thing for Egypt, so I really like that!

This one, Miscanthus sinensis Silberfeder is a really nice, tall one, and heres a link to the Bluestem grasses page where you can look up a bunch more of the different varieties.

For somebody who has enough room to properly grow them, the ornamental grasses are WAY cool in my opinion. Wish I had enough room!


    Bookmark   March 4, 2010 at 3:51PM
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david52 Zone 6

Mark, I'm over between Cortez and Dolores - serious deer country in the winter. I have a 8' fence but they still manage to get in, crawling under it down in a cat tail swamp, or through the open gate when we go on a short errand to town, and I watched a buck clear it yesterday, scratched his legs on the way down.

Anyway, this past winter we wired up 'tents' of cattle panel over the over-wintering onions and leeks, the garlic is still covered with snow. They gnawed off everything that was growing through the panels, but the plants will do just fine. You can still get your arm in there to pull stuff before the heavy snow comes. Now a bull elk that gets his rack stuck in that is going to make a big mess.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2010 at 8:50PM
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