Archive for the ‘Agriculture & Gardening’ Category

bamboo for bonsai

Are you looking to add a little touch of the Orient to your garden? Bamboo is one of the best plants to produce that effect. An iconic symbol of the Far East, bamboo embodies all the sublime elegance and simplicity that we associate with Japanese gardens and design.

If you want to take it a step further, you can plant a Japanese maple, whose leaves form a beautiful canopy and turn a brilliant red in the autumn. The Mugo pine also makes an attractive addition, dwarf-like with compact needles. Accent the area with some Mondo grass, also known as dwarf lilyturf, and you’ll quickly find yourself within smelling distance of a deep zen trance.

But if you’re really serious about your Japanese garden, you’ll need some bonsai trees. Yes, the level of difficulty just took a leap. Maintaining a bonsai can be painstaking work. But keeping a bamboo bonsai is relatively straightforward.

Bonsai with Bamboo

Compared to keeping something like an elm or a cedar tree miniaturized, caring for a bamboo bonsai is not difficult at all. One of the most important things will be to select an appropriate species.

Selecting bamboo varieties for bonsai

If you’re talking about keeping bamboo in a shallow pot that’s only 8 or 10 inches wide, you’ll obviously want to avoid some of the popular varieties of timber bamboo. The ideal candidates for bonsai will have smaller culms and more delicate leaves.

One of the secrets to creating an attractive bonsai tree is finding a specimen that can be miniatured proportionally. For example, if you have a 12 inch tall maple tree with 5 inch wide leaves, it will look a little bit ridiculous. A Japanese maple, on the other hand, has naturally very petite leaves. So when the tree is grown as a bonsai, the small leaves look proportional to the little trunk and branches. Same goes for the Mugo pine, which has very short needles compared to most species of pine.

So if you see a Temple bamboo or an Arrow bamboo, with their long tapering leaves, they might look beautiful in your garden, but they will NOT look right in a little bonsai pot.

There are many dwarf varieties of bamboo, and those are typically the best choices in a bonsai pot. The leaves and culms are naturally more compact, and the roots are unlikely to burst out of the pot in the first six months.

A couple dwarf cultivars of Bambusa multiplex are known as tiny fern and tiny fern striped. They generally never grow more than 3 feet tall, with culms less than 1/4 inch thick. Members of the Bambusa genus are also clumpers, so the roots are not going to grow so aggressively.

Dwarf white stripe and dwarf green stripe are good choices for bonsai, as well. They are very compact species, but belonging to the genus Pleioblastus they are runners, so the roots may require constant pruning.

One of the most popular candidates for bamboo bonsai is Bambusa ventricosa, also known as Buddha’s belly. Under ordinary conditions this species can grow more than 50 feet, and the dwarf variety usually exceeds 20 feet, but it can be kept in a pot and miniaturized.

The stress of being potted actually encourages some of the more interesting characteristics of the Buddha’s Belly. The short internodes sometimes bulge out, looking cute and belly-like, hence the common name. And when stressed or under-watered, a portion of the culms will grow in an irregular, zig-zag fashion, which is very eye-catching.

Maintaining a bamboo bonsai

One of the biggest challenges with any kind of bonsai specimen is the frequent and meticulous pruning that it requires. But no matter how you’re growing bamboo, you probably need to prune the roots once or twice a year anyway.

Of course, the root maintenance is more intensive when growing running bamboo. Clumping bamboo, for the most part, will spread much more slowly beneath the surface. That’s why clumping varieties (like Bambusa) make better bonsais. And for the same reason, many gardeners try to avoid running bamboo entirely.

But lifting a miniature bamboo out of a bonsai pot is far easier than digging one out of the ground or extracting it from a wine barrel. And you won’t need a Sawzall to get through the burly roots. A nice set of gardening clippers should do the job.

Try taking it out of the pot once or twice a year, before and after the growing season, in the late fall and early spring. Cut back where the roots are spreading the most, and thin them in places where it’s tight and crowded. You can also thin out some of the older culms while you’re at it. Remember, bamboo is a grass; so if you cut back too much, it can almost always recover and put up new shoots.

Chopsticks are another handy tool you can use to feel around the rhizomes. That’s a good way to get an idea of how tight the roots are. If they are very tightly bound, the chopsticks can be used to loosen things up a bit. If the roots are too tight, then the dirt will be impacted, and most of the water will roll off instead of penetrating the soil.

Watering your bonsai

That brings us to the second and equally important aspect of bonsai care, which is watering. It’s critical to remember that over-watering is the number one cause of death among houseplants. But under-watering is the number two cause. So you have to walk a fine line.

When you keep a bonsai plant, you really have to get to know it. You have to be aware of its likes and dislikes, and you practically need to read its mind. Bamboo should almost always stay outside, but in a cold snap it might need to be indoors for a few days. And in a heat wave it may prefer some extra shade.

Equally, the amount of water it needs will vary with the weather and the time of year. But in a small ceramic pot, you can typically expect the plant to dry out fairly quickly, needing water every 2 or 3 days. And in the dog days of summer, it will probably need to be watered daily.

Just be sure the water is soaking in and not just rolling off the top. If the water is not penetrating, then poke some little holes in the soil with chop sticks or something similar, and try again. Let the soil drain and dry out between watering, but water it regularly. Another good idea is to place the bonsai pot near a pond or over a shallow tray of water, just to maintain a little extra humidity around the plant.

Easy bonsai additions

Bonsai trees can be amazing and beautiful. But they can also be notoriously difficult to maintain. As a perennial grass, bamboo is far easier to care for than a tree, and it makes a great introduction to bonsai gardening.

If you’re looking for other bonsai accents, but aren’t quite ready to garden like Mr. Miyagi, junipers and ficus plants are some of the easier shrubs to grow in miniature. You can also plant an assortment of succulents into some attractive bonsai pots for a simple and satisfying solution. Just don’t let them overstay their welcome. After a year or so, they too will need repotting, or a least some dividing.

All that’s missing now are the koi pond and a pagoda!

To learn more, have a look at some of our other popular articles:

Pros and Cons of Potted Bamboo Bamboo containment and removal What’s so great about bamboo?

PHOTO CREDIT: Mark Cruz (Unsplash)

best bamboo poles

Gardeners have all kinds of reasons for planting bamboo. Whether you’re creating a zen garden or simply in need of a good privacy hedge, bamboo is resilient, pragmatic and aesthetically pleasing. And from bicycles to bath towels, there’s almost nothing that can’t be made from this impressive grass.

Although your average gardener might not be so industrious. But even for the amateur hobbyist, a sturdy grove of bamboo can provide a great variety of uses. From arts and crafts to light construction, bamboo poles are famously strong and easy to work with.

It’s no surprise then that we hear so many people asking which species of bamboo is the best to grow and harvest for poles. They make excellent fishing poles, very attractive curtain rods, and strong supports for awnings and canopies. You can also split thicker bamboo poles into slats that look great as accents around windows, picture frames and baseboards. We’ve even had track & field coaches buying thinner poles by the dozen for javelin practice. Really.

You get the idea. It’s cheaper than lumber, has greater tensile strength than steel, and grows like a weed. Yes, it’s useful.

So what’s the best variety of bamboo to grow for your upcoming project? Well, that depends on the nature of your project. It also depends on your climate and growing conditions.

There are about 2000 varieties of bamboo to choose from, so identifying the best choice is no simple task. But let’s take a look at some of the most favorable options.

Best species of bamboo for poles and canes

One thing that virtually all bamboo has in common, it grows in long, straight poles. Though it’s a member of the grass family, it And generally speaking, most bamboos grow pretty quickly. So no matter what kind of bamboo you plant, you’ll probably have an abundance of poles to harvest within a few years.

Timber bamboo (3-5″ diameter poles)

Phyllostachys vivax: One of the most impressive varieties of timber bamboo, vivax grows quickly and produces formidable poles. This is a fairly cold hardy species can survive winters as cold as -15 F. But in the best conditions it can grow well over 30 feet tall with culms 4-5 inches in diameter. Younger canes will be greener, but turn yellow over time.

Just make sure you have enough room before you plant one of these in your yard. Like all varieties of Phyllostachys, vivax is a running bamboo. And with canes that big, it’s going to need some room to spread out.

Phyllostachys bambusoides: Commonly known as Madake or Japanese timber bamboo, this massive species has an attractive combination of handsome canes and dense, dark green foliage. Canes can reach about 60-70 feet in height and 5 or 6 inches in diameter in its native habitat. Elsewhere, in more temperate climates, it might only grow half that size, or less, and not as quickly.

Culms of Japanese timber bamboo grow smooth, green and very straight. The wood is very strong and resistant to cracking. For this reason, it is widely used in furniture making. It is also the ideal choice for making shakuhachi flutes.

Phyllostachys edulis: Perhaps the most widely grown species of bamboo in the world, P. edulis (also known as Moso bamboo) is the Chinese variety that is used for making bamboo clothing, bamboo flooring, and dozens of other applications. As the name suggests, its tender young shoots are also edible.

A very attractive species, with deep green canes, Moso bamboo looks great in parks and botanical gardens, but it may be difficult to maintain unless you have some acreage to work with. The poles can get up to about 4-5 inches in diameter, and close to 100 feet tall. If you have an ambitious construction project in mind, no job is too big for this massive bamboo.

Sometimes you’ll get thin yellow stripes on some of the culms, but the poles will turn a nice shade of yellow once they’re harvested and dried.

Bambusa oldhamii: Sometimes called Oldham’s bamboo, this is one of the most widely grown varieties in the United States. Its thick foliage and robust culms give it a very elegant appearance. The poles, often growing more than 50 feet tall and up to about 4 inches in diameter, are excellent to work with.

Oldham is also a clumping variety, rather than a runner, which make it even more appealing to gardeners. It can be difficult to find a type of bamboo that will grow such substantial poles without also taking over the whole garden.

Guadua bamboo: The most popular variety of bamboo in Central and South America, Guadua is not only tall and thick, but it’s incredibly strong as well. So strong that it’s earner the nick name “vegetative steel”.

Unless you live in Latin America, or some other semi-tropical region like Florida, you will have a difficult time growing this species at home. But if you’re looking to purchase bamboo poles for a building project, most bamboo specialists consider this the best variety, at in western hemisphere. (In Bali, Indonesia, they are more keen on Dendrocalamus.)

Small to medium size bamboo poles (1-2″)

Phyllostachys aureosulcata: Another running bamboo from China, P. aureosulcata has a few different cultivars, namely ‘spectabilis’ and ‘yellow groove’. The poles are interesting because spectabilis is yellow with a green stripe in the sulcus groove, and yellow groove is predominantly green with a yellow stripe.

Sometimes the culms of a spectabilis specimen will grow in a crooked, zig-zag manner. This unusual appearance can make a real impression. But the vast majority of the poles will grow straight, making them easier to work with for crafts and building.

Both cultivars are very cold hardy, down to around -15 F. Then canes ordinarily get to about 2-2.5 inches in diameter, and 30-50 feet in height.

Phyllostachys nigra: Usually referred to simply as black bamboo, the distinctively dark brown (not quite black) shoots make this one of the most popular species of bamboo. Any nursery that sells bamboo is likely to have some of this on hand.

As the plant matures, the dark color of the culms grows richer, making for a very attractive contrast against the bright green leaves. Moreover, when the poles are dried, they retain that dark color, sometimes taking on a speckled appearance. The richly-colored poles lend themselves to any number of decorative uses, from fencing to furniture.

Native to the Hunan Province of southern China, gardeners now cultivate black bamboo all over the world. Although it thrives best in its own subtropical habitat, it can grow very well in USDA zones 7-10. If planted in rich, loamy soil, black bamboo can get 20 to 30 feet tall with mature culms of 2 inches in diameter.

Pseudosasa japonica (arrow bamboo): This beautiful species earned its name from the long, strong, straight poles, which Samurai warriors once used to make arrows. Although technically considered a runner, it has a far more restrained growth habit than most bamboos of that class. The graceful poles and broad green leaves make this a popular variety of bamboo, and relatively easy to find.

Arrow bamboo can grow 15-20 feet tall, with stick canes not more 1-1.5 inches thick. It’s a fairly cold tolerant species that can get down to around 0º F.

How to cure bamboo poles

After harvesting your bamboo poles, but before your start building, it’s best to best to cure them somehow to prevent cracking or uneven drying and warping. The simplest thing to do is lay it out somewhere dry, not too hot or too cold, with adequate air circulation. An open air rack in the shade is ideal. It’s also a good idea to rotate the poles regularly.

It can take several weeks or even a few months for timber bamboo poles to dry out thoroughly. You can watch the color change, usually from green to yellow, as it dries.

Further reading

If you found this interesting and informative, be sure to have a look at out some of our other stimulating articles.

Growing Bamboo: The complete how-to guide The best bamboo varieties for construction

PHOTO CREDIT: Zdeněk Macháček (Unsplash)

Pros and Cons of Potted Bamboo

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)

Why you should plant a bamboo hedge for privacy

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.

Check out our articles on What’s so great about bamboo and Bamboo symbolism and folklore to learn more about that.

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.

DISCLOSURE: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links. This means that, at no additional cost to you, we will earn a small commission if you click through those links and make a purchase. This helps us meet the cost of maintaining our website and producing great articles.

Bamboo is a grass not a tree

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.

See our in-depth articles on Bamboo Flowering and Running Bamboo.

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)

Hollow bambooInner wisdom

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)

Bamboo flower

From food to flooring, bamboo has thousands of practical uses. But when’s the last time someone brought you a bouquet of bamboo flowers? When was the last time you even saw a bamboo flower, for that matter?

Perhaps never, because bamboo flowers are both infrequent and inconspicuous. Or you may have seen a blossoming bamboo and not even realized it. No, they aren’t so exciting to look at, but bamboo flowers can be a fascinating thing to study.

How often does bamboo flower?

Like most characteristics of bamboo, the answer to this question varies greatly between species. There are, after all, more than 1,200 varieties of this noble grass.

The short answer is: rarely. Bamboo flowering cycles are generally very long, often between 40 to 60 years. In some cases, more than 120 years will pass between blooms. And because the period is so long, most gardeners will only see an individual specimen flower once in their lifetime, if they’re lucky.

As a result, the flowering cycles of bamboo are not entirely well understand, and remain something of a mystery. But we do know a few things.

Flowering terminology

To better understand the nature of bamboo flowers, it will be helpful to review some botanical terms and concepts.

Monocarpic: This describes a plant that will only flower once and then die. This is not to be confused with an annual plant, including most grains and vegetables, who go through their whole life cycle in a single growing season. Many varieties of bamboo are monocarpic, but not all of them. Bromeliads are another example of a monocarpic plant. It may take some years for the plant to flower, and afterwards the plant dies. Polycarpic: Flowering multiple times before dying. This is the opposite of monocarpic. Gregarious flowering: Also called mass flowering or synchronous blooming, this refers to plants of a given species that all bloom at the same time, regardless of their location. This is one of the most fascinating characteristics observed in a several species of bamboo. Species that exhibit this unusual behavior are typically monocarpic. Sporadic flowering: Each specimen flowers on its own schedule, and not on a mass scale. Most bamboos flower sporadically, and most of them are polycarpic. Gregarious bamboo flowering

This exotic behavior remains one of bamboo’s greatest mysteries. As if there is some kind of alarm clock in the cells of certain bamboo species, every individual member of that species will flower at the same time. This is especially bizarre because the flowering periods are so long and irregular.

Phyllostachys bambusoides, also known as Japanese timber bamboo, is one such example. Sometimes it has a flowering interval of 130 years. Then every specimen of P. bambusoides—regardless of its location around the world—will blossom, go to seed and die.

Mautam: Mass flowering crisis

Probably the most exceptional case of flowering in bamboo, or perhaps any plant species, occurs with Melocanna baccifera. In an event called Mautum, meaning “bamboo death”, every member of this bamboo species flowers and leads to a famine in the region.

In northeastern India and parts of Myanmar, this variety of bamboo covers vast areas of forest. Every 48-50 years or so, all the M. baccifera blooms, goes to seed, and sparks an unexpected environmental cataclysm. The last time it happened was in 2006.

The unfortunate series of events runs something like this. After about half a century of ordinary vegetative growth, all the bamboo across the region flowers and turns to seed. Because of the general size, shape and geographic location, the seeds of bamboo are often called bamboo rice.

Although it has little or no culinary value for humans, the sudden proliferation of bamboo rice in rural, northeast India is a great boon for the local rodent population. Rats flock to the fields to participate in this once in a lifetime feast. And as they do so, their population skyrockets.

This is all wonderful for the rats and their burgeoning families. And it’s of little consequence to the people in the area, so long as the rats are well fed. But once the bamboo rice runs out, chaos and panic ensue. Enormous numbers of hungry rats now raid the surrounding villages, decimating storehouses of grain, leading to a widespread famine.

In 1966, the Mautam occurred, and warnings from village elders were dismissed as ignorant superstition. Subsequently, crops were destroyed, many starved, and a major political uprising took place. The obvious lesson here: listen to your elders.

When the cycle returned in 2006, local officials were far better prepared. Indian army and local militia had been anticipating the Mautam for two years. Local villagers had been growing other crops, as well as fragrant plants like ginger and turmeric to help ward off the invasive rodents. Their preparations paid off, and famine was averted.

Further reading

For more fun facts about bamboo, check out some of our other articles.

What’s so great about bamboo? 20 Best bamboo gardens in the world 12 Common questions about bamboo

PHOTO CREDIT: Bamboo blossom (Wikipedia)

How fast does bamboo grow

Bamboo has many amazing characteristics. And the woody grass has a reputation for being the fastest growing plant on earth. That reputation is well-deserved, because some varieties of bamboo can grow more than a meter a day, under ideal circumstances.

How fast does bamboo grow, and how big does it get?

As there are more than 1000 distinct varieties of bamboo, these are difficult questions to answer. Some dwarf bamboos only get a few inches tall, and some giant timber bamboos can reach more than 100 feet in height. Of course, the timber bamboo grows much faster, but there are a number factors than come into play.

Bamboo’s growth rate

According to the Guinness Book of World’s Records, bamboo is actually the fastest growing plant on earth. Although Guinness does not identify a particular species, they report a growth rate of 35 inches a day. Other sources claim that bamboo can grow more than a meter in a day.

At 35 to 40 inches a day, bamboo is indeed the fastest growing plant on earth. But there are a few things you need to understand about bamboos and their growth habit.

First of all, this rate of growth is only possible with certain varieties of bamboo. Phyllostachys, a genus of running bamboo from Southern China, includes some of the fasting-growing species. Moso Bamboo (Phyllostachys edulis) is considered one of the largest and most vigorous varieties. Phyllostachys vivax is another impressive timber bamboo.

Guadua is a tropical genus from Central and South America, often called the world’s strongest bamboo. It grows incredibly fast, often getting up to 5 or 6 inches in diameter. Then there’s Dendrocalamus, from India and Southeast Asia, which is also incredibly large, strong and fast growing.

Moreover, bamboo does not grow this fast on a regular, consistent basis. During the growing season, which is generally in the spring—although some tropical climates get two growth seasons a year—the bamboo puts out fresh shoots.

Bamboo’s growth habit

If the bamboo is fully mature, at least four or five years old, it will put up maximum-sized shoots. For a month or two, these monstrous culms will skyrocket upwards until they reach their full height. The culm diameter will not get any larger after this. During the rest of the year, the bamboo may continue to bush out with more leaves and branches. But the individual bamboo culms will achieve their maximum height and girth within the short growing season.

Finally, the growing conditions are critical. Moso Bamboo, for example, is considered the fastest-growing species of temperate bamboo. Although it’s native to the subtropical areas of Southern China, Moso can grow very well in temperate climates. But in those cooler regions, it will never grow as fast and tall as it does in the heat of the subtropics.

Tropical, clumping bamboo, like Guadua and Dendrocalamus, will have a much harder time in temperate climate zone. In fact, they will be lucky to survive, let alone reach their full potential.

Temperate, running bamboos like Phyllostachys are also noteworthy for their aggressive, monopodial rhizome roots. Thankfully, they won’t spread at a rate of 2-3 feet a day, but their growth rate is formidable and something to aware of. Check out our article on running bamboos to learn more.

Bamboo height

With more than a thousand varieties, it’s impossible to make a generalization about how tall bamboo will get. Moso Bamboo, again, is one of the biggest, easily exceeding 100 feet in height.

Another remarkable species is Guadua giganteus, native to Colombia and Central America, one of several varieties referred to as Giant Bamboo. This New World specimen will commonly grow 25-35 meters high, or 80-115 feet.

But according to Guinness, the prize for the world’s tallest bamboo goes to Dendrocalamus giganteus, also called Dragon Bamboo and Giant Bamboo, from Southeast Asia. Living up to its name, this enormous species has been known to get more than 50 meters high, or 164 feet.

That’s still a far cry from the Hyperion, a 380-foot tall Coastal Redwood in Northern California, but pretty astonishing for a stalk of grass. Keep in mind, a maple tree, for example, will rarely grow taller than 150 feet.

Conclusions

There’s no doubt about it. The size and growth rate of certain bamboo species make them some of the most remarkable plants on earth. Growing more than a meter a day, you can actually sit and watch it grow. Grab a cold beverage (maybe with an umbrella in it), pull up a cozy rattan chair, and in 40 minutes you can see a tropical bamboo grow about an inch.

Indeed, this makes bamboo the fastest growing plant, or organism of any kind, on earth. Apart from these especially vigorous varieties of timber bamboo, the next fastest-growing plant is probably giant kelp. Macrocystis pyrifera grows a little more than two feet a day, reaching a maximum length of around 150 feet over the course of a long growing season.

Just don’t expect to see bamboo growing like this in your own garden. Not that you would want to. But unless you live in Costa Rica or Indonesia, it’s probably not going to happen. Within the U.S., you might see comparable growth rates in Hawaii or Florida. But you’re still not going to set a new world record.

Further reading

To learn more about the incredible properties of bamboo, check out some of these other interesting articles.

What’s so great about bamboo? Moso Bamboo: The king of grasses Growing Bamboo: A complete how-to guide
Moso Bamboo the king of grasses

Moso Bamboo, also known as Phyllostachys edulis, is nothing new, but in recent years it has sparked a revolution in agriculture, textiles and construction.

Of the roughly 1,500 varieties of bamboo that populate the earth, it’s easy to argue that Moso Bamboo is the most important one of all. When you hear about bamboo clothing and bamboo flooring, these are products of Moso. When you see bamboo scaffolding on skyscrapers in Hong Kong and China, it’s very likely Moso. And when people speak of bamboo growing a foot or two a day, Moso is one the varieties that can actually do that.

Cultivating Moso Bamboo

Native to Southern China and Taiwan, Phyllostachys edulis thrives in the warmer, subtropical climates. In these regions the plant can reach its full potential, with towering culms of 90 feet or more, and growing a couple feet a day in the growing season. But like most Phyllostachys, it can also tolerate more temperate zones. Just don’t expect it to grow to such an impressive size.

Members of the genus Phyllostachys are running bamboos, meaning that they spread and propagate by way of sprawling rhizome roots. From this complex underground root system, new culms shoot out of the ground in the growing season and quickly grow to their full height. A mature grove of Moso Bamboo will put out shoots with a 4-5 inch diameter.

Check out our in-depth article on Running Bamboo to learn more.

Once every 50 years or so, a Moso Bamboo plant will flower and produce seeds. In some varieties of bamboo, every member of a given species will flower at the same anywhere in the world. This phenomenon, known as synchronous blooming or gregarious blooming, does NOT occur with Moso. Instead, it exhibits sporadic flowering.

In many varieties of bamboo, the plant will die after it flowers and goes to seed. This is called monocarpic. This is NOT the case with Moso. A healthy stand of Moso can produce thousands of seeds and most of them will germinate, while the mother plant survives. Rats and rodents, however, will generally eat a significant portion of these tender seedlings, which tend to be only 2 mm in diameter.

Can I cultivate and farm Moso Bamboo in the U.S.?

The preponderance of commercial Moso farming takes place in China, where the species is indigenous. It’s much happier in that subtropical climate. Within the U.S., the deep South probably has the best growing conditions for Moso Bamboo.

It also does particularly well in Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. A company called Only Moso launched a commercial bamboo farm in Gainesville. Florida, in 2011. Some farmers grow Moso in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest, where it does reasonably well. But without the extra hot summers, it does not reach its maximum height and girth.

The Many Uses of Moso

The magnificent size and vigorous growth habit of Moso Bamboo makes it the perfect candidate for a wide range of practical and industrial applications. Moso from China has become especially important for the production of bamboo flooring and bamboo clothing.

Bamboo Flooring

Bamboo flooring took the building industry by storm about 20 years ago, quickly becoming available from hardware stores and flooring specialists everywhere. Unlike traditional hardwoods, bamboo reaches maturity within 4-5 years, while the trees could take 20-100 years to mature. Bamboo, with its high metabolism, can also sequester about 50% more carbon than a typical forest.

In addition to the ecological benefits of bamboo, Moso also produces a very hard wood, making it an ideal material for things like flooring and cutting boards. According to the Contractor’s Guide for Green Building Materials, standard bamboo flooring has a Janka hardness rating of 1180 to 1380. This is comparable to most oak varieties, rated around 1300 to 1400. More innovative types of bamboo flooring, using a woven strand technique, have scored from 3000 all the way up to 5000.

As much as we like to advocate the use of bamboo as the environmental silver bullet, it is important to be aware of certain ecological concerns. As a laminated wood, bamboo flooring does require a urea-formaldehyde (UF) adhesive to bond together. These adhesives can off-gas and pose other environmental problems. Still, bamboo uses far less formaldehyde than other materials like particle board. And formaldehyde-free bamboo is also available now.

Another issue, when bamboo flooring exploded in popularity, was the removal of native forests in China for the purpose of cultivating commercial bamboo. This sort of deforestation has led to the destruction of natural wildlife habitat and soil erosion, and could easily outweigh any environmental benefits of bamboo. It’s important, therefore, to learn as much you as you can about your bamboo supplier, and see that they meet all the highest standards of certification.

Bamboo Clothing

Remarkably hard on the one hand, bamboo can also produce a rayon fabric that is incredibly soft on the other. Shortly after the appearance of bamboo flooring, we began seeing socks, t-shirts and towels made from bamboo.

Along with the well-reported ecological benefits of bamboo—fast-growing and readily renewable without the need for pesticides and herbicides—bamboo fabric also boasts a number of advantages in performance. Most obvious is bamboo’s softness. Like cotton or any other conventional textile, bamboo can be woven into any kind of fabric. But the result is always uniquely soft, with an uncommon mix of cool silkiness and warm fuzziness.

Additionally, bamboo material is naturally anti-microbial, hypo-allergenic, odor-resistant and temperature regulating. It may sound too good to be true, but the properties of bamboo are plainly evident if you sleep on a set of bamboo sheets or wear a pair of bamboo socks two days in a row. We’ve also heard from many customers with sensitive skin disorders and serious allergy issues that bamboo is one of the only materials they can wear.

Bamboo’s very high absorbency also makes for some exceptionally nice towels. But be advised, bamboo socks and t-shirts will take a bit longer to dry for this same reason. Generally this is not a problem. If you’re keeping your carbon footprint down and using a drying rack instead of an electric dryer, just leave the clothes on the rack a little longer. If you’re traveling however, and trying to dry your clothes on a line in your hotel room overnight, bamboo might not be your best choice.

Some have expressed concern over the pulping process that goes into make viscose fabric from bamboo. In fact, caustic soda (or lye) is used to extrude the cellulose from the stalks and leaves of the bamboo before it can be spun into thread and woven into fabric.

The primary concern here is how the manufacturer disposes of this bi-product after pulping. It is possible to reuse and recycle the lye, and certain manufacturers are bound to be more conscientious than others. We have always been committed to working with the most ecologically responsible producers as possible.

Most of us who work in the bamboo industry are determined to see it being used in the most ecological way possible. It’s good to know that many have been improving the standards of cultivating and processing bamboo over the years.

Cotton, by comparison, is extremely pesticide intensive to grow, as it is very vulnerable to insects and other pests. It also requires a great amount of irrigation, because it is typically cultivated in hot, dry climates. And even organic cotton must go through a processing stage before it’s spun and woven into fabric.

Phyllostachys edulis is edible

Finally, we need to talk out how Phyllostachys edulis got its name. Long before the advent of bamboo floors and bamboo underwear, Chinese foodies were making use of Moso Bamboo’s tender young shoots.

So Moso earned its botanical name from this characteristic. Actually, many varieties of bamboo have fresh culms that are edible. This species just happens to be one of the most majestic, widespread and recognizable in China. Not only that, but given the plant’s size, you can practically make a whole meal out of one shoot!

Take a look at our article on Edible Bamboo Shoots to learn more.

Guadua Bamboo

If you’re looking for other varieties of bamboo that are especially useful and fast growing, Guadua angustifolia is one to watch out for. Native to Central and South America, Guadua is a clumping genus of mostly timber bamboos. They make an excellent building material, and have been used widely throughout the continent to create some very impressive structures.

For more details, have a look at our in-depth article on The best bamboos for building and construction.

Further Reading

To learn more about the ecology and versatility of Moso and other species of bamboo, check out some of our other articles.

What’s so great about bamboo? 10 Best varieties of Bamboo for your garden Best bamboo for poles Buddha Belly: Bamboo of the highest calling Hemp vs. Bamboo: The ultimate comparison

PHOTO CREDIT: Wikipedia

Running bamboo of genus Phyllostachys

Bamboo has a well-deserved reputation for being one of the fastest growing plants on earth. Indeed, some tropical varieties can grow more than a meter day in the growing season. Pull up a cozy chair and you can actually watch it grow.

Running bamboo has earned a particularly nasty reputation for its growth habits. That’s because those rhizome roots spread like crazy. Although in this case, you can’t actually watch them grow. But it’s led many gardeners to wonder whether planting bamboo might not be a good idea at all.

DISCLOSURE: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links. This means that, at no additional cost to you, we will earn a small commission if you click through those links and make a purchase. This helps us meet the cost of maintaining our website and producing great articles.

What is a running bamboo?

Among the 90 genera and roughly 1,500 species of bamboo, we like to divide them into two simple categories. Basically, we have runners and clumpers. The most widespread genera of runners are the Phyllostachys and Pleioblastus. Runners generally perform better in temperate climates.

The distinctive characteristic of running bamboo is the vigorous rhizome root system. The monopodial rhizomes tend to grow horizontally, spreading outward and overtaking an area. Sometimes, but not always, these monopodial bamboos can spread very aggressively. They can definitely be invasive. They can tear up your lawn, crawl under fences, and become very difficult to remove.

Clumping bamboos, by contrast, are happier in the tropical and subtropical climes. Bambusa is the primary genus of clumping bamboo. Like all bamboo, clumpers also have rhizome roots, but they are what’s called sympodial. These sympodial rhizomes mostly grow close together, branching out often, to create a tight cluster of culms. It’s unlikely for a clumping bamboo to become invasive.

Why would you want to plant running bamboo?

With so much potential to be invasive and disruptive, why would anyone want to plant a running bamboo? That’s a very good question. But as it turns out, there are a few good reasons to plant a runner instead of a clumper.

Definitely check out our article on the 10 Best Bamboos for your Garden.

Climate

When selecting anything to plant in your garden, one of the chief factors will always be the climate. And when you think of bamboo, you probably think of places like Hawaii, Southeast Asia and Central America. In other words, the tropics. Indeed, bamboo thrives in these regions, especially the clumping varieties of bamboo.

But most of us don’t live in the tropics. And for those of us who do, there’s usually already plenty of bamboo around. But for the rest of us, we need something more adaptable. No problem. There are many varieties of bamboo indigenous to the more temperate zones of Asia, including China, Korea and Japan. And as it happens, these temperate bamboos usually belong in the running category.

The largest genus of these more temperate Chinese bamboos is Phyllostachys. They do very well in a range of climates, and they are definitely runners. Nurseries throughout most U.S. states and Europe can sell Phyllostachys and other temperate runners and feel good knowing they will probably thrive.

So planting a running bamboo actually makes a lot of sense if you live in a more temperate zone. But these runners aren’t the only varieties that can grow in a cool climate. If you’re living outside the tropics and trying to avoid planting a runner, keep an eye out for varieties of Bambusa like Oldhammi, and most any bamboo from the genus Fargesia.

You might also have a look at our article on Cold Hardy Bamboos.

NOTE: Phyllostachys is also one of the easier bamboo varieties to identify. Look for the distinctive grooves that grow along the length of the internodes, alternating from one side to the other.

Fast Growing

As we have seen, bamboo’s vigorous growth habit can be a double-edged sword. But many growers are looking for something that will really display its vegetative might. Some gardeners just have a lot of respect for the great vitality and tenacity of bamboo and want to see it grow in full force. But usually they have more practical intentions, like trying to fill a large area quickly. 

Bamboo makes for an excellent privacy screen, and many people are in a hurry to establish their privacy. If you want a tall hedge to grow along your fence line, bamboo is an attractive option. And if you want it to cover the property line and fill in quickly, an aggressive runner can be even more appealing. 

Phyllostachys nigra, a popular species of running bamboo. Note the characteristic grooves on the internodes. Aesthetic Features

In many cases, gardeners will plant bamboo for specific aesthetic features. Whether to beautify the garden or to harvest the attractive poles, striped bamboo and black bamboo are very desirable. Phyllostachys nigra, better known simply as black bamboo, is one of the most popular species of all, due to its rich, dark color. The dried poles are especially attractive for crafts and light construction.

Certain other varieties of running bamboo also have very attractive features, like long and elegant poles. And for those who enjoy combining a medley of different bamboo species, they will have a hard time completing their landscape without at least one or two runners in the mix.

How can I maintain a running bamboo?

So you’ve decided to plant some running bamboo in your yard. Must you concede defeat and consign yourself to be overrun with woody grasses? Absolutely not! It’s not as easy as plucking daisies, but there are ways to contain running bamboos and keep them in check.

Containers

There are numerous types of containers you can use to prevent a running bamboo from taking over your garden. Planting bamboo in a pot is certainly one option, but be aware that a running bamboo will get root bound very quickly, even in a good sized pot.

I like to use half wine barrels (or whiskey barrels, depending what part of the country you’re in.) They have a more natural look in the garden, compared to your big black plastic pots from the nursery. And they’re spacious. Even so, I find myself un-potting the bamboo almost every year to split the rootball into three or four pieces. (Another advantage of running bamboo is that it’s pretty easy to propagate.)

Keep in mind, if you place your pot directly on top of soil, the roots will quickly find their way through the drain hole and into the earth. Be sure to place a stepping stone or something under the pot, or set it on a patio. Also avoid ceramic pots, as they are liable to burst from the expanding roots. And never use a pot that gets narrower at the top; you’ll never get your bamboo out without breaking it.

Root barriers

Your best bet is probably a high grade root barrier. You can order heavy duty plastic barrier and bury it around the perimeter of your bamboo area. This can be a very reliable system, but it’s not fool proof. Be sure to get the barrier at least two feet underground (unless you’re planting a dwarf variety).

Our best recommendation is the DeepRoot Bamboo Barrier, 30″ deep by 100 ft roll., which is available at Amazon.

And keep an eye on it. When they feel the urge to spread out, those monopodial rhizomes can be relentless. If there’s even the tiniest gap in your root barrier, they’ll burrow into it. And if there’s a thick layer of mulch concealing the top of the root barrier, the roots might easily crawl over it.

A lot of times, people move into a house and inherit someone else’s poorly planned bamboo garden. This could require some serious work to remove masses of roots. You can do some very heavy root pruning in this case, and then try to install a root barrier. But sometimes you just have to go Rambo: Dig a trench and fill it with concrete.

Root pruning

One of the most important things you can do to keep a running bamboo under control is simply monitor it closely. Dig around the base of the plant a couple times a year and see what’s happening. You can’t always tell just by watching what the bamboo is doing above ground.

When you find bamboo rhizomes racing away from the main grove, cut them back. If you’re dealing with a mature and well established bamboo plant, this could be a serious chore. Make sure you have the right tools, including a good spade, some sharp clippers, and a compact hand saw.

You might even need a Sawsall or other reciprocating saw, to really get in there. We recommend Makita’s Cordless Recipro Saw Kit, sold complete with saw blades and an extra battery, and available for quick delivery from Amazon.

Further Reading

To learn more about the wonders of bamboo in your garden and around the world, be sure to take a look at some of these other articles.

What’s so great about bamboo? Should I plant a bamboo hedge? How to Grow Bamboo: The Ultimate Guide 20 Best Bamboo Gardens in the World Bamboo Symbols in Mythology and Folklore

PHOTO CREDIT: Purely Pacha

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