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Pampas Grass: to burn, or not to burn?

  • Pampas Grass: to burn, or not to burn?
  • Pampas Grass: to burn, or not to burn?
  • Pampas Grass: to burn, or not to burn?

How many times have you read this - "If your Pampas Grass becomes overgrown and unsightly, set fire to it."

And how many times have you shrieked "Are you mad??!" at the book. Or, these days, at the screen.

It's one of those many items of "received wisdom" that exist in the horticultural world - things that "have always been done" or "we have always been told", many of which are not necessarily true.

However, in this case, I am pleased to report that I have first hand experience of this situation. One of my clients has a lovely clump of Pampas, and each year in winter we rake it through, pull out all the dead stuff, pull out any sections which have died, and dig out any areas that are spreading too far. It's a horrible job, as the leaves are razor-edged, and we both end up with our hair on end, any number of small cuts on our arms, and our clothes all pulled about.

Every year, my client tells me that when she had one of these at her previous house (on a somewhat larger scale than the current garden), she used to set fire to it every other year or so. Every year, I raise my eyebrows. Last spring, she did it: I arrived as usual on a Tuesday afternoon to be greeted with the burned-out brown husk in the first photo.

Screams of horror! But a few short weeks later, from the same angle, it was showing signs of regrowth, as per the second photo.

And by the end of the summer, it had completely recovered: and as you can see from the third photo, which was taken from the other side, it had flowered.

So there you go, it's true: you can indeed set fire to Pampas Grass clump: and if you are thinking that it is time to get outside and clean up your clump, and if you are dreading doing it, perhaps you could think about waiting until late winter, and having a go at burning it instead!

Now here's the small print - they blaze up like nothing on earth, so don't do it if there are overhanging trees or phone wires: always have the hosepipe connected and ready nearby, in case it gets carried away, and poke around inside the clump beforehand, in case there is any livestock living within.

Choose a still day, not a windy day: and do it early in the year, before the grass has formed shoots for the coming season.

When the fire dies down, rake out all the dead and burned stuff: partly to clear the ground, and partly to ensure that the fire is completely out.

So there you have it - Pampas Grass can indeed be rejuvenated by fire!

Comments (6)

  1. Grower

    Faye McGeehin

    Interesting Rachel as I have been threatening to burn my Pampas for years - in order to get rid of all the weeds growing in it if nothing else. I have seen lots of areas which have been devastated by fire which have rejuvenated rapidly with a new lease of life so felt confident it should work.
    Unfortunately my grass does have lots of other bushes around it and wires not far above so I am glad that you have given the warnings and I will make sure that I have hose pipe and buckets at hand and take all your other advice.

  2. Grower

    Rachel the Gardener

    Go for it, Faye!

    To reduce the risk, you could shear off as much of the top foliage as you can safely manage, stacking it out of the way to one side. There will still be plenty of dead stuff within the clump, to burn, but it should reduce the height of the "flare" of the flames.

    Then, when it is all calming down, you could add the top growth a forkfull at a time to get rid of it in a controlled manner.

    If you are concerned about your nearby shrubs, you might be able to tie some of them up (run ropes around them quite low down, then gradually tighten them in the style of a corset. Gently, so as not to break the branches, and it will depend on how flexible they are but it's worth trying, and I can tell you now, it's much easier to do this with a helper!) to keep their outer branches safely out of the way - but do be on the lookout for stray sparks. It's definitely a good time to have an assistant or two on hand!

  3. Grower

    Faye McGeehin

    Thanks for more tips. Yes, there will be 2 of us and maybe a couple of wet blankets over the shrubs might help. Pete is a bit of a pyromaniac but I am a fearful being so between us we should be OK. Will let you know how it goes (if I am still around to tell the tale!).

  4. Grower

    Rachel the Gardener

    Faye, you are most welcome. The wet blankets over the shrubs is a great idea.

    Do take photos - before, during and after, it's always good to look back at them in later years and remind yourself of how brave you were! (or of what the shed used to look like before it burned down... only kidding!)

  5. Grower

    Paul & Valerie Guppy

    Hedgehogs make nests in Pampas grass,please be careful.

  6. Grower

    Rachel the Gardener

    Paul/Valerie, I did say "and poke around inside the clump beforehand, in case there is any livestock living within."..... and hedgehogs are far and away not the only things to nest in Pampas grass, or any other pile of undisturbed material!

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