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A lot of gardeners are reluctant to plant bamboo for fear that its aggressive rhizomes will wreak havoc on their otherwise immaculate garden. This fear is not entirely unfounded. It’s true that many varieties of running bamboo, with their monopodial rhizomes, can spread everywhere and become almost impossible to remove.
But with a little caution and forethought you can pretty easily avoid this predicament. We’ve written about different ways to keep the grass from growing out of control in our article about bamboo containment and removal.Planting bamboo in pots
One of the most popular and straightforward methods of taming your bamboo and protecting your garden is to keep in in a pot. There are many advantages to growing bamboo this way. But there are also some drawbacks that every gardener should be aware of.PROS of Potted Bamboo Bamboo in a pot will generally stay very well contained, without the rhizome roots getting into your vegetable patch or wrapping around underground things like irrigation pipes and utility lines. I say generally, because if you’re not careful, the bamboo can get from the pot into the earth. (See below.) If you want to create a privacy screen along a specific area of your garden, a row of pots or containers can make for a very well-defined hedge space. Should you decide to relocate your bamboo plant to a different place in your garden, or remove it altogether, this will be immensely easier when the bamboo is in a pot rather than rooted in the ground. Being able to move your bamboo with the seasons can also be useful. In the summer, for example, it might be happier in a shady corner of the garden. In a freak storm or blizzard, on the other hand, it might be best to bring it inside for a day or two. Bamboo is already a very attractive plant, and using pots allows you to introduce another decorative element to your garden scene. Rustic wood barrels look interesting, or perhaps you can find some elegant asian pottery to compliment your zen aesthetics. Just be careful not to use pots that get narrow at the top; that will make transplanting very difficult. Watering and fertilizing might be easier when the plant has a very clearly defined place. CONS of Potted Bamboo and general precautions Keeping your bamboo in a pot might help you sleep easier at night. But it could also give you a false sense of security. It’s especially important to place something solid under your pot, otherwise the roots will eventually crawl through the drain hole and get into the soil. It could be months or years before your realize this. Best to set your bamboo pots on a solid deck, a concrete driveway, or some sort of stepping stone. Any plant that remains in a pot year after year is liable to get root bound. This is especially true for bamboo, with its vigorous rhizome root system. It will be essential to pull the bamboo out of its container at least once a year and trim the roots. Better still, you can split the root ball into two or three sections. (Yes, that means you’ll need to get more pots. But a potted bamboo plant can also make a great house warming gift and a friendly gesture for a neighbor.) If you don’t trim the roots on a regular basis, two things are likely to happen. The root bound plant will feel restricted, grow uncomfortable, and languish like a prisoner in a tight cell. But over time, the robust bamboo roots will probably burst through the container. Whether the pot is plastic, wood or ceramic, it will eventually give way to the effects of time and pressure. Even if you do prune your roots on a regular basis, most bamboos will never achieve their maximum size in a pot. If you want to grow timber bamboo, don’t expect to see 5-inch thick culms and 80-foot poles from a potted bamboo. Better to stick with more compact species or dwarf varieties. In most cases, watering bamboo in a container will require more care and attention. The soil in a pot will generally dry out more quickly than the soil in the open ground. Also, as the roots get crowded inside the pot, the water sometimes goes straight through without getting absorbed. In other cases, there could be insufficient drainage, and you could run into issues like root rot. Conclusions
As you can see, there are a host of advantages to keeping your bamboo in a pot or container. And there are a few disadvantages, but most of them can be easily overcome. The bottom line is that you will have more flexibility when your bamboo is in a pot, and you won’t have the problem of bamboo rhizomes running amok in your garden.
The main thing is that you’ll have to repot, and/or inspect the roots of your bamboo on a regular basis. But even with bamboo growing directly in the earth, it’s always a good idea to poke around the roots every few months.What are the best varieties of bamboo to plant in pots?
Some species are going to be more comfortable in a pot than others. One of the most popular varieties of potted bamboo is Pseudosasa japonica, also known as arrow bamboo. It’s a runner, but with a fairly compact growth habit. It generally grows about 15 feet tall with 1 inch canes.
Otatea acuminata (Mexican Weeping Bamboo) is another popular option. This clumping bamboo grows bushy, with delicate, graceful leaves that rustle in the breeze.
You can also look for various types of dwarf bamboo. Dwarf white stripe is a variety that I like to grow. And all the cultivars of Buddha belly (including the dwarf) are strikingly attractive, with their unusually shaped culms. Take a look at this article on Buddha belly bamboo.Further reading
To learn more about gardening, check out some of our other in-depth articles.A complete guide to growing bamboo Bonsai with bamboo How fast does bamboo grow? 10 Best bamboo varieties for your garden
PHOTO CREDIT: David Clode (Unsplash)
Here at Bambu Batu, we’ve written at great length about the countless virtues of bamboo. It’s a plant of unsurpassed strength and versatility, with an incredibly rich and colorful cultural history.
But despite its many benefits, planting bamboo is actually somewhat controversial. Many amateur gardeners will actually try to talk you out of planting a bamboo hedge. And the lack of consensus leaves many people wondering: to boo or not to boo?
As great advocates of bamboo, we are certainly aware of this controversy, and we’d like to help you make the right decision before you rush into planting a bamboo privacy screen. So the following article will identify the main pros and cons of bamboo hedges. We’ll also talk about how to minimize the cons if you decide to go ahead with it.Pros and Cons of bamboo hedges PROS Bamboo grows quickly, if you’re in a hurry to establish a privacy screen It grows thick and bushy, assuring good privacy It can grow very tall, easily providing privacy for second story windows An evergreen, bamboo will not lose its leaves in winter (resulting in less privacy) Most people consider bamboo to be an attractive plant: it sounds nice when the winds blows through, it has no prickly thorns or sticky sap, and it doesn’t drop messy berries or an excessive quantity of leaves CONS Bamboo can grow aggressively, quickly overreaching the area intended for the hedge Privacy screens normally go along property lines, so a fast-growing variety of bamboo is likely to sprawl out into the neighbor’s property, which they might not want It can be very difficult to remove bamboo from the ground, if you should change your mind after a few years A careful gardener can make the most of bamboo and avoid the potential problems
As you can see, there are some great horticultural and aesthetic benefits to planting a bamboo privacy screen. And the biggest concern is that an established bamboo plant will get out of control.
But with an ounce of caution and a little more work at the front end, you can eliminate those problems that might crop up in the future.How to keep your bamboo under control
To prevent your privacy screen from producing a primal scream, there are a few precautions you should absolutely take before the bamboo goes in the ground.ROOT BARRIERS
The most important thing you can do is bury a rhizome root barrier around the area where you will be planting the bamboo. It might not seem necessary at first, but within a few years, you could have a monster on your hands.
Not every bamboo is so aggressive, but some of them have roots that will grow like crazy. (Check out our article on Running Bamboos). The problem is, it’s very difficult for a non-expert to tell the difference.
There’s a famous proverb about bamboo that says, “The first year it sleeps, the second year it creeps, and the third year it leaps.” Even after a year or two, a running bamboo will look very tame. If you poke around under the soil, however, you might find that the roots tell another story. And by the third year, you could have fresh shoots coming up everywhere.
But by then it’s too late. So a good root barrier is essential. And it will allow you keep shape your hedge in a very definite and confined space, usually something long, narrow and rectangular.
Today you can buy sheets of extremely durable black polyethylene, about 1.5 mm in thickness, and usually 24″ to 30″ in width. It’s normally available on a roll, anywhere from 25 to 100 feet in length. You might think 24″ is plenty. After all, who wants to dig a 3-foot trench all the way around their hedge? But trust me, use at least 30″, you’ll be better off in the long run. Like I’ve said before, never underestimate the perseverance of a bamboo.
The most popular, most effective, tried and true bamboo containing material is available online from Amazon. It’s the DeepRoot Bamboo Barrier, 30″ deep by 100 ft roll. This stuff is nearly invincible, going a serious 2.5 feet underground, and the 100-ft roll gives you enough length to contain a pretty major privacy hedge. Consider it a few hundred bucks well spent on your peace of mind and good neighbor relations.
Another less expensive alternative to consider is Bamboo Shield’s 24″ by 100 foot roll.
Bamboo Shield also offers shorter rolls with deeper coverage to contain the most aggressive bamboo specimens, all available at Amazon. Check out the Bamboo Shield 30″ by 50 foot roll, or the extra heavy duty Bamboo Shield 36″ by 25 foot roll .ROOT MAINTENANCE
Even if you have a good root barrier, you’ll want to poke around in the soil on a regular basis, to make sure the roots aren’t creeping through the mulch and climbing over the root barrier. At least once a year, you’ll want to go in with some heavy duty clippers and cut back some of the roots.
If you already have a bamboo hedge without a barrier, don’t panic. You still have options. A lot of gardeners just go in and prune their roots back at least once a year. Of course, this will be more work, but if you really want to build a close relationship with your bamboo, this is one way to do it.
Otherwise, it’s not impossible to dig around and plant your root barrier around an existing bamboo plant. But you’ll want to perform a deep and serious root pruning beforehand.BAMBOO IN CONTAINERS
Another option, if you don’t want to get your hands dirty burying a rhizome barrier, is to keep your bamboo hedge in a series of pots or barrels. Or, with some basic carpentry skills, you can build a long, narrow planter just the right size for your hedge.
But don’t think that pots and boxes will solve all your problems. Roots still want to grow. If you don’t transplant potted bamboo and divide the rootball on a regular basis, it will probably burst through its container. Still, pulling it out of the pots and pruning the roots might be easier than digging in the ground every six months.
Also, if you have potted bamboo sitting on bare earth, the roots will eventually creep out of the drain holes and make their way into the ground. If you try to move a pot of bamboo and it won’t budge, this is probably what happened.Selecting bamboo for a hedge
With some 2000 varieties of bamboo to choose from, selecting the best bamboo for your garden can be a challenge. The first criteria to consider is whether you want a running bamboo or a clumping bamboo. A lot of people have a fear of running bamboo, which is notoriously aggressive, so they will prefer clumping bamboo.
But if you’re planting a privacy hedge, a running bamboo will generally be a better choice. A few runners will fill out the given space more quickly and thoroughly, producing a dense and well-defined hedge. Clumping bamboo, on the other hand, will spread slowly and look uneven.
The next criteria will be the size of the bamboo. Are you looking for a 30-40′ privacy hedge? Phyllostachys vivax might be the best choice. Or will 6-8 feet be enough? Are you looking for thick bamboo poles that will knock together, or do you prefer something light and delicate with leaves the rustle in the breeze?
Check out our article on the 10 Best bamboos for your garden to learn about different varieties of bamboo and their characteristics.
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As a matter of fact, bamboo is neither a tree nor a bush. Bamboo is a grass, belonging to the family Poaceae, sometimes called Gramineae. The same botanical family comprises some 12,000 species of monocotyledonous flowering plants, including cereals and grains, as well as lawns and golf courses.Keep on the Grass
The fact that bamboo grows so tall (often to more than 100 feet) and becomes so woody (even harder than maple or red oak) makes it easy to mistake for a tree. But there are several definite characteristics to help us identify bamboo as a grass.Bamboo growth habit
One interesting feature of bamboo is that an individual stalk will grow to its full height in a single growing season. Unlike other trees and shrubs, the bamboo will not continue to grow taller year after year. In subsequent years, the poles may put out more lateral shoots, becoming increasingly bushy, although the amount of bushiness will depend on the variety. But their height will not change.
It’s true however that younger bamboo plants will put up shorter shoots than mature plants, more than four or five years of age. So in this sense, an older bamboo plant will be taller than a younger one. But that’s not because the shoots keep getting taller. It’s only because the newer, more mature shoots have a greater height capacity. The culms of a more mature bamboo plant will also have a greater diameter.
This is fairly typical of grasses. They put up fresh growth which quickly reaches full height, and then spread from the base. Pruning from the top with encourage more fresh growth and bulk, but clipped blades or culms will not get any taller.Annual and Perennial Grasses
Maybe when you think of grasses, you think about grains like corn and wheat that grow for one season, go to seed, and then die. That sure doesn’t sound like bamboo. No, those are annual grasses.
But there are plenty of perennial grasses as well. Just think about the grass in your front yard (or your neighbor’s yard). Or other ornamental grasses, like blue fescue or fountain grass. The keep putting up fresh growth each year, slowly expanding their footprint. Eventually, after five or ten years, they may die. Every plant has some sort of life expectancy, even perennials.Bamboo propagation
Most annual grasses rely on seeds to propagate themselves each year. But most perennial grasses spread with their rhizome roots.
When you cut down bamboo, it’s not dead, because it lives underground. Cutting bamboo is something like mowing your lawn. It actually promotes more growth and helps keep the plants looking fresh and vibrant.
Again, think of other ornamental grasses. Fountain grass, for example, should be cut all the back at least once a year. Otherwise it starts to look shaggy and haggard. Now you probably don’t want to cut your bamboo back this hard, because it would take a couple years to fill out again. But it is a good idea to go through periodically and cut out some of the old growth.Mowing the lawn?
There are some dwarf varieties of bamboo that only grow a few inches tall, and they make a great ground cover, particularly in a Japanese garden. You should actually cut these back every year, maybe even with a lawnmower on a high setting. It’s especially a good idea if you are gardening in a colder climate where the bamboo leaves are likely to go brown in the winter.Shape and structure
With giant timber bamboos, which can get more than five inches in diameter, it’s tempting to refer to the girth of a bamboo pole as a trunk. But this is tree talk, and does not apply to bamboo.
As a grass, the individual stalks are hollow and should be referred to as culms. But we often call them canes, or shoots, in the case of fresh growth. Sometimes we call them poles, but that’s more appropriate for a culm that has already been cut down.
When new culms emerge from the ground, they appear like conical shoots, with a sharp point. Usually the fresh shoots are wrapped in a protective paper, known as a culm sheath. This is another typical feature of grass. As the culms get bigger, they outgrow their sheaths, which dry up and peel off.
And watch out, because they grow mighty fast. As mentioned above, the bamboo culms will reach their full height—which could easily be somewhere between 10-100 feet tall—in a single season.Further Reading
For more fun facts about bamboo, check out some of our other great articles.Ask the experts: 12 Common questions about bamboo The complete guide to growing bamboo 10 Best bamboo varieties for your garden
PHOTO CREDIT: Lee Soo Hyun (Unsplash)
In addition to being a giant grass associated with tropical climates and the Far East, bamboo is famously hard and hollow. Its hollowness helps make the bamboo lightweight and flexible. You will also find that bamboo is much easier to saw through, compared to solid wood.Is every bamboo hollow?
Hollowness is the general rule with bamboo, but there are exceptions to the rule. Among the 2000 kinds of bamboo in the world, the vast majority are hollow. But some canes have thicker walls than others, and a few of them even grow solid.
When we talk about wall thickness, this is not the same as the diameter. The diameter describes the girth of the poles. Bamboos can vary from less than a half inch in diameter to more than five inches in diameter. But the wall thickness refers to how much woodiness there is between the inside and the outside of the ring. Usually it’s just a centimeter or less, and the center is hollow.
All different varieties of bamboo have different wall thickness, and this is a very important quality to consider if you plan to use the bamboo for construction. Bamboo with thin walls will bend more easily, which might make for better fishing poles. On the other hand, thicker bamboo will be stronger, sturdier and better for building substantial structures.Bamboo in the node
Sometimes you’ll see a cross-section of bamboo that is solid. But in most cases, this is not from a bamboo that is completely solid. More likely, it was cut at the node where the bamboo is solid. The spaces in between, the internodes, are probably still hollow.
This is another feature that makes bamboo fun to work with. Cut a thick bamboo pole just below the node and some inches above the node, and you’ll have a simple yet attractive drinking cup. Keep in mind, the bamboo is not entirely water proof, so it shouldn’t be used to make a vase for flowers. It’s perfect, however, for something like a pencil holder.
If you do want to make a bamboo vase, the best method is to use a very thick diameter bamboo culm, and slip a narrow glass inside. The glass won’t be visible from the outside, but it will hold the water. Otherwise, the bamboo will gradually soak up the water, eventually leaking and making a big mess.Solid bamboo varieties
One of the few varieties with a solid stalk is Phyllostachys heteroclada f. solida. Commonly known as simply “solid bamboo”, this is a subspecies of “water bamboo”, thriving in swampy areas and river beds of central Asia.
Dendrocalamus strictus, a timber bamboo native Southeast Asia, also has the nickname of solid bamboo, and for the same reason. This could be somewhat confusing, except that these varieties have very different habitats and growth habits. Phyllostachys is a genus of temperate runners, and Dendrocalamus bamboos are tropical clumpers. In most cases, D. strictus has very thick walls, but is not completely solid.
Dendrocalamus stocksii grows in northern India and has completely solid canes. This species is also interesting for the fact that its flowers never actually go to seed.
In South America, most members of the Chusquea genus also have solid stems. One of the more interesting species, C. quila tends to spread out and grow like a vine. They appear predominantly in Chile and Argentina.Further reading
To learn more about other bamboo varieties and growth habits, take a look at some of these interesting articles.10 Best bamboo varieties for your garden 11 Cold hardy bamboos Best bamboo varieties for construction Dendrocalamus strictus, aka Bambu Batu Moso Bamboo: King of grasses
PHOT CREDIT: Takeo Kunishima (Unsplash)