Posts Tagged ‘gardening’

Bamboo rhizomes resist containment

There’s an old saying among seasoned bamboo growers. “The first year it sleeps, the second year it creeps, and the third year it leaps.” Those wanting a quick spreading hedge or grove in their backyard might be disappointed with their new stand of bamboo after the first 6 to 12 months. But it won’t be long before they’re running for their chainsaws and pick axes, desperate to curtail an out-of-control root system.

So before you plant that super sustainable renewable grass specimen in your garden, you’ll need to have a clear strategy for bamboo containment. And if it’s already too late, and the clump you planted just two or three years ago is already running amok, then you’ll want to consider some effective methods of bamboo abatement and eradication.

Or worse yet, maybe your neighbor went gung-ho a few years back after an inspiring trip to the home and garden show (or a quick glance at this rousing article on best bamboo varieties). And now his short-sighted dream of a Japanese garden is turning into a nightmare of bamboo rhizomes wreaking havoc on your fence line, your flowers beds, your veggie patch and your sprinkler system. In this case, you’ll want to study up on both topics mentioned above, in addition to possibly signing up for a course on non-violent communication.

When it comes to time make peace with your neighbor, you’re on your own. But this article will help you with the first two issues, and also prevent you from becoming the kind of gardener whose neighbors want to come after them with a bulldozer in the night.

The Importance of Bamboo Containment

If you’re planting a fast-growing (read: aggressively spreading) bamboo privacy hedge, or one of the popular and massive timber bamboos, and you live in a neighborhood (as opposed to rural farmland), then a good rhizome barrier is absolutely essential.

Here are a couple things you will need to keep in mind. First of all, never underestimate the tenacity of a healthy bamboo plant. Bamboo is a force of nature unlike any other. People like to talk about runners vs. clumpers, but as they mature, all bamboos display the undeniable will to spread out. You can put bamboo into a pot or a barrel, but don’t kid yourself. If there’s a crack in the barrel or a hole in the pot — and surely there is — the bamboo roots will eventually find their way out. And if there’s soil below, the roots will take hold faster than you can say phyllostachys!

Also know that those little rhizomes have an amazing ability to sniff out a good water supply, especially in a dry climate like California. That means, if you have some bamboo in the ground, and one of your neighbors has a drip irrigation in their herb garden, or they regularly run their sprinkles to keep the lawn green, it’s very likely that your bamboo will send out runners headed straight for that water source.

It’s like the bamboo has a kind of plant ESP. But just wait till those well-watered roots start sprouting up new shoots in the neighbor’s perfect lawn like UFOs (Underground F#@&ing Objects). Don’t expect them to be welcomed with open arms.

And don’t think you can just yank those unwanted sprouts from the soil like a handful of pesky dandelions. It’s not unheard of for people to rent a backhoe or a bulldozer to really clear out an established stand of bamboo. Otherwise, count on spending a few hours with a spade, maybe a pick ax, maybe even a Sawzall (reciprocating saw), to keep those running rhizomes at bay. And you’ll need to do that sort of maintenance at least once or twice a year if you really want to keep your bamboo from getting the upper hand.

How to Contain your Bamboo

After many centuries of man and bamboo butting heads, and bamboo almost always coming out the winner, some brilliant gardener(s) finally devised a virtually impenetrable system of bamboo containment to help keep your grass where it belongs.

Today you can (and should!) 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 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 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 .

How to Remove Bamboo

OK, so it’s already too late. You or your neighbor let some bamboo run free, and now it’s just out of control. Is there an easy way to get rid of it? Well yes, there are ways to get rid of it. But none of them are easy.

First you’ll need to cut it down to the ground, as low as possible. And then start digging. Pull out roots and rhizomes as you go. And keep on digging. If it’s a particularly tenacious variety you may want to reach for a pick ax or a hand saw. If nothing else works, or your back just isn’t up for this type of labor, your best best will be the Sawzall. As the name suggests, these things saw through anything.

The top of the line piece is Makita’s Cordless Recipro Saw Kit, sold complete with saw blades and an extra battery.

Or you could save a few bucks with a similar Dewalt 12 Amp Corded Reciprocating Saw.

In any case, don’t let these tools and cautionary tales frighten you out of planting an amazing grove of bamboo. With proper preparation, these incredible products make it possible for even the suburban gardener to plant an astonishing  stand that the whole neighborhood can enjoy!

Photo Credit: Bamboo rhizomes resisting containment (Wikipedia)

Best varieties of bamboo

After some 10 or 20 thousand years of cultivation, bamboo’s popularity may in fact be at an all-time high. Of course, 10,000 years ago, there were a lot fewer people around to exchange gardening tips. But it’s also true that more and more people today are recognizing bamboo for its utility, versatility, aesthetic beauty, and all-around sense of good joo-joo. Though it’s been revered in the Far East for these same qualities for many thousands of years, it’s taken a few extra centuries for this thing of wonder to reach the west and spread like wildfire — not unlike a few other things I can think of.  Yoga and sushi quickly come to mind.

As if sorting through the options of bamboo toothbrushes and bamboo towels weren’t challenging enough, consider now that if you’re looking to plant a few varieties of bamboo in your garden, you’ll have between 1-2,000 species to choose from. Even the bamboo specialists can’t agree on the actual number of bamboo breeds. But no need to split hairs over speciation. Today we’d like to help you narrow it down to the 10 best bamboo varieties for your garden.

Two Types of Bamboo

Some people like to say that there are types of bamboo: runners and clumpers. Of course, that’s a sweeping generalization, because, like I said, there are really something like 1-2,000 species of bamboo. Not only that, but there are also slow runners and aggressive clumpers, and a number of other factors that could affect the growth habit of your bamboo. Having said that, this still remains the simplest way to think of bamboos.

RUNNERS

Most bamboos are runners, meaning that they send out rhizome roots racing underground in pursuit of moisture and elbow room. If you’re looking to plant a privacy hedge that will spread quickly along a fence line, or you just enjoy watching a voracious plant as it wields its dominion over the landscape, then this is the way to go. They also tend to be the easiest to find, especially at non-specialist nurseries, because they do propagate so easily.

But be careful, and think before you plant. The old adage about bamboo says that, “The first year they sleep, the second year they creep, and the third year they leap.” In other words, you might not think it’s a runner after the first year, but by the third or forth year, you almost certainly will, and so will your neighbors.

Running bamboos have no respect for property lines. If the neighbor to the one side is regularly sprinkling his perfectly manicured lawn, or the neighbor on the other side is constantly irrigating her prize-winning rose bushes, it won’t take long (especially in a dry place like California) for those eager rhizomes to sniff out those delicious water sources and wreak havoc on the roses, the lawn, the vegetable patch, the herb garden, and pretty much everything in sight. There goes the neighborhood!

So how do you avoid this un-neighborly catastrophe? Here are a few options:

Allow your running bamboo plenty of room to spread. If you’re gardening in a tightly-squeezed suburban subdivision, then you probably will not have plenty of room. If you’re trying to fill out and green up some vacant acreage, then that’s more like it. Keep you bamboo well-contained. There are a number of ways to do this, ranging from a simple solution like planting into a old wine barrel (or half barrel) to burying any manner of rhizome barrier into the ground. Just remember, with time and pressure, there’s almost nothing that stop those roots from spreading. So whatever you put into the ground, plant it thick and deep. (Check out our tips on bamboo containment.) Get your hands dirty and prune your bamboo regularly. That means not only trimming back the shoots, but going underground and cutting back those vigorous roots. Look for smaller and slower running bamboos, like some of the ground cover varieties. But keep an eye on them. Sometimes they look sleepy on the surface, even while the roots are constructing an invisible empire underground. Find some clumping bamboo and plant those instead.

The fact is, many of the most interesting and attractive bamboo species are runners. They also tend to be less expensive and easier to find in nurseries. So now that you’ve been warned, here are a few great bamboo varieties to look for.

Phyllostachys vivax

You’ll definitely want to allow some extra space for this tremendous timber bamboo that easily reaches 20 to 50 feet in height, with culms up to 4 or 5 inches in diameter. As you can imagine, it will also have a pretty massive footprint. But for anyone who’s got the space for it, this majestic grass could be a prized specimen and the envy of bamboo enthusiasts all around.

I planted one of these in my suburban backyard in San Luis Obispo, and kept it in a 15 gallon pot for fear of it overtaking the neighborhood. After 5 or 6 years it never looked unhealthy, but it sure never reached the kind of stature described above. It really needs room to spread out.

Semiarundinaria fastuosa

Another very impressive variety, its regal appearance has earned this one the nickname of “Temple Bamboo”, which also happens to be FAR easier to pronounce! This bamboo can get to be 20 or 30 feet in height, but its richly colored culms don’t grown much larger than an inch or so in diameter.

I also planted one of these in a 15 gallon container, but it didn’t take long to break out and proliferate around the yard. But with such handsome shoots, I just couldn’t bring myself to uproot them. This really is a beautiful species of bamboo.

Phyllostachys nigra (black bamboo)

The distinctively dark brown (not quite black) shoots make this one of the most popular strains of bamboo, and 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.

Pseudosasa japonica (arrow bamboo)

Also quite popular, arrow bamboo earned its name from its long, strong, straight poles, which Samurai warriors used to make arrows. Today it’s a great choice for planting in shady corners of the garden. Also, though technically classified as a runner, it has a far more restrained growth habit than most bamboos of that class. The broad green leaves make this a very vibrant and attractive specimen.

Dwarf Green Stripe

One of the few bamboos that can be cultivated as a ground cover, this one makes an excellent accent alongside larger bamboo varieties, around Japanese pines, and in any sort of Asian themed garden setting. Its compact size also makes it much easier to contain, despite its being a runner. Just keep an eye on those roots!

CLUMPERS

While the most impressive varieties of bamboo tend to be runners, the conscientious gardener is always on the look out for a good breed of clumping bamboo. They might not always display the awesome meter-a-day growth of some fabled bamboos of the tropics, or the massive culms that make you want to reach out your arms for a bear hug, but they can lend an exotic charm to any small scale zen oasis or Japanese garden.

Now before you rush over to Home Depot, or your nearest box store discount nursery, and start asking sales clerks for their recommendations on clumping bamboos, keep in mind that very few people — nursery employees included — can reliably distinguish a runner from a clumper. And as long as clumpers remain more expensive, more sought after, and harder to come by, it’s easy to imagine how unreliable certain sales people could be.

With that in mind, I’d like to recommend a couple of my favorite bamboo nurseries in California: Bamboo Sourcery in Sebastopol and Bamboo Giant near Santa Cruz. These guys really know their bamboo. But if you want my opinion, here are a few of my favorite clumpers.

Bambusa oldhamii

An old favorite, Oldhamii is said to be the most widely grown variety of bamboo in all of the United States. You might say it’s an old standard. Native to Taiwan, it does have a preference for the tropical climes and is not very cold-hardy. But with shoots reaching up to 60 feet or more (under ideal conditions) and growing up to about 4 inches in diameter, it’s certainly an impressive specimen, particularly for a clumper. You’d have to agree, it’s an oldie but a goodie!

Otatea acuminata (Mexican Weeping Bamboo)

With its slender stalks and delicate, wispy leaves, this delightfully compact specimen looks good in nearly any garden. All it needs is a gentle breeze to make it really come alive. It also prefers warmer climates. I grew some in a cool, coastal climate, and it always looked happy; it just never grew very big.

Buddha’s Belly (subspecies of Bambusa vulgaris)

With a catchy named derived from the bulbous shape of its internodes, Buddha’s Belly is one of the easiest species to recognize and one of the largest varieties of clumping bamboo. Whatever it lacks in straight and narrow poise, it more than makes up for with portly character. This subtropical variety also does better in the warmer zones.

Alfonse Karr

Exquisitely elegant, this variety is easy to recognize with its green and yellow racing stripes. Even amidst a great collection of bamboos, this one is sure to stand out. In ideal conditions, it can get up to 20 feet, and the culms grow to about 1 inch in diameter.

Himalayacalamus hookerianus (Himalayan Blue)

The richly colored, powdery blue culms give this bamboo an especially attractive appearance. Indigenous to the mountains of China, it also does better in warmer and subtropical regions. But it grows especially well around ponds and in containers. Culinary tip: fresh shoots of the Himalayan Blue are edible are said to be quite tasty. Anyone for stir fry?

I hope you’ve found these suggestions helpful. If you have a favorite bamboo that we were unable to include in this short list, go ahead and let us know in the comments section. Meanwhile, happy gardening!

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

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Planting bamboo

By now you’ve probably heard a thing or two about the many virtues of bamboo — its versatility, its sustainability, its indispensability. And you’ve no doubt admired its beauty, as it flourishes among pagodas in Japanese gardens, on the patios of Thai restaurants and sushi bars, and on-screen in some of your favorite kung fu movies.

But you may have also heard horror stories about people planting bamboo and soon finding it completely out of control. Perhaps a neighbor planted some and within a couple years it was all up in your flower bed choking out your roses and suffocating your award-winning bearded irises. Indeed, bamboo can be aggressive, sustainable in the worst kind of way, downright indestructible.

So how can you ornament you garden with this incredible plant without running into deep regrets 3 or 4 years down the road?

First and foremost, unless you really really know what you’re doing or really really don’t care, keep your bamboo in a container. Bamboo looks great in pots, and in something like an old wine barrel it has plenty of room to prosper, without encroaching on your crocus or tickling your tulips.

Secondly, it’s helpful to realize that there are some 1500 varieties of bamboo, with various personalities and growth habits. People tend to divide them into two groups:  runners and clumpers. Runners are the aggressive ones that run amok in your lawn and garden, whereas clumpers generally stay pretty compact.

This division can be helpful, but dividing 1500 species into 2 groups can also be a very misleading oversimplification. If you plant a clumper alongside a regularly sprinkled lawn, the grassy clumper will quickly gravitate toward the sprinklers and start looking a lot like a runner. Likewise, if you plant a runner in a chilly climate like the high sierras or upstate New York, it might end up behaving more like a clumper.

Also, bamboos are notoriously difficult to identify — thousands of varieties and most of them look very similar. Even nurseries get them mixed up, especially those that don’t specialize in bamboos. And it might take a few years for you to realize that your friendly clumper was really a pathological runner in disguise.

There’s an old saying about bamboo: The first year in sleeps, the second year it creeps, and the third year it leaps. Do not underestimate the eastern wisdom!

With that in mind, here are eight species of bamboo to consider for accenting your garden.

· Black Bamboo (Phyllostachys Nigra) – one of the most highly sought after species, black bamboo is named for the very dark color of its stalks. At maturity this legendary runner can get up to an inch or two in diameter and as much as 30″ tall.

· Mexican Weeping Bamboo (Otatea acuminata) – with its delicate, draping foliage, this clumping variety makes a nice ornamental accent. In a container it’s unlikely to get taller than 6 feet.

· Timber (Phyllostachys Vivax) – like most members of the phyllostachys, this ones a runner. It’s popular for its great size. When planted in the ground and well feed it can get 4-5 inches in diameter and up to 60 feet tall.

· Temple (Semiarundinaria Fastuosa) – a personal favorite of mine, this regal looking bamboo grows very tall, straight and compact. Growing up to 20 or 30 feet high, and about 1.5″ in diameter, it’s about the largest hardy bamboo you can find, for those of you in freezing climates.

· Arrow (Pseudosasa Japonica) – known as a “running clumper,” this makes an excellent privacy screen, tall and dense. It grows up to about 15 feet with thick foliage. Easily recognizable for its unusually large leaves – up to 12″ long.

· Old Ham’s (Bambusa Oldhammi) – another very popular variety, Old Ham’s grows very tall and straight. A giant tropical bamboo, it clumps tightly but grows vigorously.

· Golden (Phyllostachys Aurea) – one of the most popular varieties because it is so widely available. That’s because it’s an aggressive runner that’s easy to propagate. Good for a rapidly expanding privacy hedge, but very difficult to remove. Beware of infestations!

· Square Bamboo (Chimonobambusa Quadrangularis) – especially interesting for its squarish (rather than round) culms. Also unusual because it flowers every few years. But it usually dies after flowering, making it a pretty short-lived variety.

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