The easy way to cut back an overgrown Pampas Grass

Left to its own devices a Pampas Grass can soon get out of control and dominate smaller gardens.  There are various ways of cutting it down (best done in late winter) however having done this a few times with various large grasses now I have a quick and easy way to cut them back without creating a massive cleaning up headache.  In this post I will show you step by step how to cut back an overgrown Pampas Grass the easy way.

In the right setting a Pampas Grass is a wonderful addition to a garden but its size can get out of hand and for a small garden it soon becomes a very big problem.  So here I am going to explain how to easily and quickly cut back an overgrown Pampas Grass and if are also looking to reduce the size of the crown I will explain my approach at the end of the article.  Note, the best time to do any of this kind of work is late winter before the new growth gets going and is something ideally done every year (or at a push)  every other year to keep it to a manageable size. 

Meet your foe

This post is based on a recent job and below is the before photo of the grass.  I had already cut it down once last year and reduced the size of the crown earlier this year so it wasn’t quite as big as it originally was but still a bit of a beast that completely dominated the client’s garden and needed sorting out.

One seriously overgrown Pampas Grass

Get ready

Right before we dive in you are going to need the following:

  1. A powered hedge cutter (cordless is the best)
    Be sure to give it a good clean, oil and a quick sharpen before you get started.
  2. A long tie down strap (at least 5m) but two shorter ones can be used as well
    The tie down strap you can get online or at your local DIY/hardware store and it lets you easily pull the strap to tighten up what is wrapped (hint).
  3. Gloves, long trousers, long sleeve top, a hat and some protective glasses are also recommend.
    The Pampas will put up a bit of a fight and as the blades of grass are quite sharp and have a very rough surface – it is definitely better to be well protected.

My Trusty Stihl Hedge Cutter

5m Tie Down Strap

Step by step

With your tools at the ready and you appropriately protected we can get started!

Step 1 – Strap the grass using the tie down strap

The first thing we are going to do is take the tie down strap around the grass and fasten it and then pull the end to gather in the grass – you don’t need to pull it really tight and aim to get the strap about 30cm (1 foot) above where you are going to be cutting the grass.  This distance should ensure the strap can’t get cut accidentally and gives you the space which you will need later.  This step is probably the time when your protection is most needed most however if you are having difficulty, use the hedge cutter to trim off some of the over hanging blades so you can get easier access. 

Step 1 – Tie the strap around the grass about 30cm above the cut line

Note how low you cut is up to you, the lower you go the harder going it will be but it won’t make a massive difference to how much growth you will get in the year so I would aim for about 45cm (1 1/2 feet).

Step 2 – Start cutting

Now using your hedge cutter start cutting at the height you have decided and as you are cutting lean on the gathered bunch of grass or push it away so you are lifting it away from the hedge cutter.  This bit is important, as by leaning you/pushing the bunch are ensuring the hedge cutter is only cutting uncut stems, if you don’t lift the cut stems out of the way the hedge cutter will be doing twice as much work and I guarantee it will keep stopping because of the load or jamming because of the stems.

Start cutting leaning on the bunched grass above to keep from falling on the hedge cutter

As you are cutting be sure to avoid cutting the tail end of the strap which should be kept out of the way and visible as much as possible.  You may also get the odd jam but these are easily cleared (but always be safe!)

Step 3 – Remove some of the cuttings and tighten the strap

If it is really large grass you won’t be able to cut the entire thing in one go, so the trick is to cut part way, remove the cut stems, tighten the strap and then cut some more.

Remove the cuttings, tighten the strap and cut some more

Step 4 – Keep cutting, removing and tightening

By repeating the process of cutting, removing the cuttings and tightening the strap you will soon be left with a small section which can be dealt with in one last go. Hurrah!

Home stretch – the last section to cut.

Step 5 – Tidy up

By this stage you should have taken the grass down to the height you decided on and have a lovely (neat’ish) pile of cuttings which can then be dealt with (ideally by a flunky).

Now run the hedge cutter over the top and sides to tidy things and and hey presto you are done!

Stand back and admire your handy work (you will be back next year)

And you are done

That’s it really – the key to success is in using the tie strap to keep the bunch together and to avoid overloading the hedge cutter.  Once you have taken it down to a set height you can keep going however the lower you go the denser the stems will be and the more difficult it will be for the hedge cutter.  If you want to cut it down to the ground then the last part provides you with a way to do that using one more tool.

Reducing the size of a Pampas Grass crown

You can keep cutting down the monster like this but within a year or two it will be back just where you left if so perhaps you might want to think about reducing the size of its crown (aka the size of the base from which it is growing). 

The RHS recommends that for those folk with a really big Pampas you might want to consider getting a mini-digger in! This suggests that reducing the size of the crown is going to be a really difficult task and I agree it isn’t easy but you definitely don’t need a mini-digger so I am going to quickly explain how I approach this kind of task.

  1. You are going to be working hard so cut back/down the grass as much as you can and make sure as much space as possible around the grass to work.
  2. Next, and this is the trick, use a hand saw (see picture below) to cut the grass as low to the ground as you can get.  The hand saw is the best tool for cutting the grass at this level.
  3. As you are cutting, remove the cut stems and keep going until you have cut out everything so you remain with the foot print of the size of crown you are looking for and the remainder to remove.
  4. Now you are going to need to dig around the base area of the crown to be removed, levering gently up to break/cut the roots.
  5. Finally cut out sections of the crown to be removed by using a sharp spade of edging iron (easier) but take it is small chunks.

It does take a bit of time but using the hand saw deals with getting out the tough material just above the ground and exposes the crown so you can get in with the spade/edging iron to break up the crown area to be removed.

Using a handsaw to cut the grass at the base

So hopefully you if you have a wayward Pampas Grass to deal with you have some useful guidance on how to keep it in check and looking its best. Good luck!

Related Posts