Launching a campaign against pampas grass

Launching a campaign against pampas grass

Sandy Shapiro (left) helped Curt Schroeder cut pampas grass stands on his property. “It's almost impossible to remove them,” Schroeder said, adding that dry vegetation poses a fire risk. – Charlie Newman/Union-Tribune

(/Charlie Newman/Union-Tribune)

Connected: For more information about invasive plants, go to the California Invasive Plant Council website at

Encinitas resident Kurt Schroeder knows it will take some work to get rid of the 7-foot-tall pampas grass along the border of his property on Rancho Santa Fe Road, but he is determined to uproot the stubborn, invasive plant.

Pampas grass is originally from Argentina. They grow quickly, forming dense thickets of sharp leaves, and releasing columns of lightweight seeds that can travel up to 20 miles in the wind.

On Schroeder's property, grass — planted by a previous owner — blocked access to sewer pipes.

“It's almost impossible to remove them,” Schroeder said, adding that dry vegetation poses a fire risk. “My biggest concern is someone throwing a cigarette in it.”

Hoping to help residents like Schroeder, a group of Encinitas volunteers recently launched an education campaign about pampas grass. Sandy Shapiro, master gardener and member of the city's Invasive and Poisonous Plants subcommittee, is coordinating the effort.

“This initiative is media outreach so people know what pampas grass is, why it needs to be removed and how it can be done,” Shapiro said.

Pampas grass is sold in some nurseries as an ornamental plant with its long, thin plumes, but there is a growing awareness that it may be unsuitable for this drought-prone area of ​​Southern California. It absorbs scarce water and creates piles of light, dry material that can catch fire.

Another concern is that the plant is aggressive. Pampas grass crowds out coastal habitats for birds and other wildlife. The pampas grass makes a good habitat for one type of animal: mice.

Shapiro's group distributes educational brochures at Encinitas City Hall, libraries and the community center.

In April, the group hosted a series of public events to demonstrate how to remove pampas grass. Shapiro recommends cutting off the seed heads, then spraying each plant with the herbicide glyphosate, sold as Roundup. It becomes easier to remove the plant from the ground once it is dead.

Encinitas has no rules about the use of invasive plants, so these removals are voluntary. Two citizen committees have been working for more than 18 months on a City Council proposal that would ban non-native invasive plants such as pampas, arundo dornax, or giant weed, acacia, and castor bean in certain areas.

There is no law prohibiting the sale or use of pampas grass in California, but some nurseries have stopped carrying it. Activists are trying to include it on the list of banned plants.

Some cities have implemented bans. The Oceanside City Council voted last year to declare three plants a public nuisance that must be eliminated: pampas grass, tamarisk and giant reed.

The Encinitas City Council created the Subcommittee on Invasive and Poisonous Plants in 2007. In May 2008, the subcommittee issued a report proposing to ban 86 plants, including pampas grass, on public lands and new developments. Some farmers objected to the list, saying it was too broad.

The Council postponed a decision on adopting the policy and instructed the subcommittee to conduct further public outreach and review the proposal.

Mayor Maggie Houlihan, who represents the council on the subcommittee, said the city's Environment Committee is now reviewing the draft policy. No date has been set for consideration by the City Council.

Most people don't realize how quickly pampas grass seeds can migrate, said Vincent Lasagno, director of the master gardener program through UC Cooperative Extension.

“In the yard, of course, it's not a big problem, but they don't know that the seeds can spread far,” Lasagno said.

Pampas grass is “the bane of my existence,” said Doug Gibson, executive director of the San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy.

“It's one of those non-native invasive species that we see constantly taking over its native habitat,” he said.

Gibson oversees invasive species removal and habitat restoration in Carlsbad's watershed network, which covers much of North County. The initiative uses state and federal funds to remove vegetation on public and private property from San Elijo Lagoon in south Encinitas to Loma Alta Creek in Oceanside and Wolford Lake in east Escondido.

Since 2002, more than 700 acres have been restored, of which about 200 acres have been covered with pampas grass, he said.

Ask Mance: (619) 498-6639;

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