|Clumping vs. Running|
|RUNNING BAMBOO care information|
|Running Bamboo photos and descriptions|
|planting and maintaining bamboo|
|three sided barrier method|
|good health, fertilizer|
|CLUMPING BAMBOO introduction|
|Clumping bamboo photos and descriptions|
|Clumping root system description|
|maintaining Clumping Bamboo|
|Glossary / Key|
Bamboo Care and Maintenance
Bamboo has a multitude of uses. It is the fastest growing plant
used in the landscape to create a natural, tall privacy screen. Some people are
captivated by bamboos decorative appeal; the dazzling array of colors, and
graceful, evergreen foliage. Others recognize bamboo as the premiere renewable
resource of the 21st century, as it is able to double or even triple its mass in
one growing season, requiring little more than water, soil, and sunlight. The
culms are strong, some have greater density than oak, yet are light weight and
flexible. The new shoots that emerge every spring are edible and can be managed
as a food crop, yielding many pounds of fresh produce each spring. The
pulp can be made into paper, culms into timber, innovative
architects are designing complex, earthquake resistant houses, using bamboo as
the primary structure. Our culture is just beginning to tap into this
outstanding utility. Bamboo is highly efficient in converting carbon
dioxide into oxygen, and may be used to help curb the effects of global warming. Decoration and privacy screens in the temperate landscape are the main
qualities addressed in our website.
Bamboo should be understood, not feared. There are modern techniques, some revitalized in the west from Asian culture, used to control the vigorous nature of bamboo. The most important part of maintenance is understanding how and why bamboo spreads. One must recognizing where and when to wield the spade and loppers. The ability to identify what types of bamboo have fast spreading habits and which are clumping, will enable one to make the right choices for certain landscapes. Bamboo spreads by rhizome and is limited by its physical surroundings. Newly introduced species of true Clumping Bamboo have caught the attention of many, due to their unique root structure that creates tight clusters of culms -one can grow them without worry of unwanted spread.
Bamboo has a reputation as a difficult plant to manage. Consider that when a bamboo issue is recognized, most often when the new growth shows itself in unwanted places, it is because the bamboo has been forgotten until the problem presents itself. The new shoots blast out of ground and say "Here I am, shouldn't have ignored me". There is a simple and reliable way to prevent this from ever happening. Root pruning. I often compare the effort between bamboo and lawn maintenance: If one did not mow their lawn for three years, it would be over 6 feet tall and overgrown with dandelions and other weeds, requiring a lot of hard work to restore. Likewise, if bamboo is ignored, it may run rampant, spreading rhizomes around the yard, also requiring great effort to remove. I can confirm that containing bamboo, with proper root pruning techniques, annually takes less effort than keeping a lawn tidy. Bamboo requires consistency. Two to three sessions of root pruning per year will keep even the largest, most vigorous species in check. Hopefully the following article will provide some clarity, as well as dispel a few myths, about taming our beloved giant grass. There is a lot of information which may seem complicated, but do not worry; all in all, bamboo is an easy plant to grow, without many special requirements. Dirt, Water, and Light. If anything is unclear, please email us with questions, suggestions, or constructive criticism. firstname.lastname@example.org
Clumping Bamboo vs. Running Bamboo
Determine whether a bamboo with a clumping or running (spreading) root mass is more appropriate for the project in mind. True Clumping Bamboo are distinctly different from Running Bamboo and require very little maintenance to keep their spread in check. They are generally smaller, 8 to 16 feet in height is most common for the temperate varieties. The root structure grows together in a dense cluster, never spreading more than a few inches out from the base in a season. As such, they are becoming very popular in the landscape. They do not bare large, upright culms that, for many people, define bamboo. Their culms are slender, ¼" to ¾ ", about the width of a stout fishing rod, supporting a dense plume of foliage. For more information see: Clumping Bamboo (or scroll farther down this page). For information about Running Bamboo, read on.
There are 15 different genera and well over a hundred species and cultivars of Running Bamboo that can be grown in temperate climates. They range in all shapes and sizes, from a modest 2 feet (Pleioblastus pygmaeus "Pygmy Bamboo") to a mighty 60 feet in height, with potential to surpass 75 feet in their native climate (Phyllostachys vivax and Phyllostachys edulis)
We have made our selection based on hardiness, decorative appeal, quality wood for timber, edible shoots, and tall height for screening potential (especially Phyllostachys), to make up the bulk of inventory for sale. We grow a dozen different genera and about 40 different species, so if looking for something specific that is not on our general list, we may carry it or know how to find it. Species of the Phyllostachys genus represent classic bamboos with large diameter culms, tall and upright habit, cold hardy, evergreen foliage and, of course, vigorous by nature. They also have a diverse range of sizes from 20 feet up to 60 feet tall in the Pacific Northwest, and even taller in hot, southern states. Most prefer partial to full sun, though some can grow very well in shade.
© Noah Bell, Shweeash Bamboo
A new shoot in the foreground, mature culm in the background, Phyllostachys vivax.
© Noah Bell, Shweeash Bamboo
New shoot of Phyllostachys aureosulcata 'Aureocaulis', "Golden Crookstem"
The new culms (also called "new shoots") emerge from the ground like coiled springs, usually in April through June, depending on the species, reaching their full height in a couple of months. For example, a small grove of Black Bamboo (Phyllostachys nigra) that is 15 feet tall and in healthy condition, will produce new shoots in April that grow from underground buds into robust, 20 foot tall culms, by June. Likewise, a 30 foot tall P. vivax 'Aureocaulis' can create new shoots that achieve 40 feet in the same time period. After new shoots top out at their predetermined height in the first couple months, they will not grow any taller. Every year, the size of the new shoots are usually a few feet taller than the previous year's flush, unless the plant has reached a plateau at its mature height. When purchasing a 2 gallon size bamboo, about 2 to 3 feet tall, one can expect new shoots to grow to 4 to 6 feet by the first summer. If acquired in summer or fall, after the bamboo has sent up it's new shoots, most of the growth will take place underground for the remainder of the year. The following spring a new batch of shoots achieve 7 to 10 feet, 12 to 16 feet next year, and 16 to 20+ feet the year after that. They most often surpass 20 feet in height and 10 feet in spread, within 5 years. There are exceptions, some species, such as P. vivax, can achieve the same stature in 3 years, attaining 40 feet in five years, under ideal conditions. Under trying conditions, we have witnessed Black Bamboo (P. nigra) remain tightly condensed and under 15 feet tall, similar to a Clumping Bamboo. The growth rate is influenced by the climate and health of the bamboo. If the bamboo is damaged by very cold weather, dehydration, etc., the growth rate will be stunted. Most are very cold hardy and truly exciting to watch. The new shoots are protected by specialized coverings called "culm sheaths" which are often multi colored in contrast with the older culms. For the bamboo grower, the colorful new shoots equate to the blossoming of a flower in the spring time. (see Bamboo Gallery for an example)
© Noah Bell, Shweeash Bamboo
A rhizome from Phyllostachys nigra "Black Bamboo" with a new shoot forming on the left... the rhizomes are black, just like the culms. Most rhizomes are tan, but some take on the same colors as the culms above ground..
Simply put, bamboo grows upward in the spring and outward,
the summer and fall. The part of the bamboo that spreads is called the
rhizome. Classified technically as a leptomorph (spreading)
rhizome. It is an underground stem that is anatomically similar to the
culm but more compact and nearly solid. It has nodes, buds on alternating sides,
and feeder roots that radiate from the nodes. Each bud on the rhizome can create
new culms, new rhizomes, or remain dormant, as decided by the parent plant to
which the rhizome is attached. During the summer and fall, the rhizomes are
actively spreading underground. Initially they are soft and, like the new
shoots, can be easily broken. They harden off through the winter and become well
anchored by many feeder roots, therefore, it is important to catch them early,
during their growing season. It is possible, in the right conditions, for
mature Running Bamboo to spread a network of rhizomes over 20 feet in a single season.
While this is useful when a fast growing screen is desired, it requires a
maintenance plan to prevent spread to unwanted areas. More often, five feet of
spread per year can be expected. Fortunately, most rhizomes
are shallow rooted, found within the top 1 to 6 inches of loose topsoil,
searching for areas with rich soil and sunlight. They can sense where the
ground is warmed by direct sun, indicating that there is plenty of available
light and a good location for producing new shoots. This also makes them easy to
locate, especially when certain strategies are applied. The following are useful
containment techniques to consider when planning to grow Running Bamboo.
Detailed information for each species is available on their individual pages, see: Running Bamboo
Planting and Maintaining Running Bamboo by annual root pruning
This is the most effective way to contain Running Bamboo and should be the first consideration when the famous question arises "How do I control bamboo?"
It is done by first defining the border of a growing area, where the bamboo is allowed to spread, freely. For most Running Bamboo, we recommend a space at least 20 feet in circumference for it to reach a substantial height. It can be any shape, such as a long screen, though should not be less than two feet wide. A circle, 6 feet in diameter, is nearly 20 feet around the perimeter. A long oval shape, 3 feet wide by 7 feet long is also adequate. Some species require more space to attain their ultimate height, but most can grow at least 20 feet tall following the above guidelines. They all can be kept in smaller spaces, and cold hardy species within raised containers, but their height and eventually their health will be compromised if they are not transplanted or reduced in 2 to 5 years. The more space bamboo has, the larger and healthier it will be. In general, Running Bamboo prefer a well lit area, growth will be both faster and more upright than if grown in deep shade. Even with no direct sun, if there is natural light and open space, bamboo will flourish.
Each bamboo should be given three to five feet of space between plantings to assure enough room to grow to a large size. If planted closer than three feet, the ultimate height may be comprimised. If patient, one can start with a single plant, which after five or more years, will spread over 20 feet. Most often, people who wish to create dense bamboo privacy screens, plant a bamboo every 3 to 5 feet to start.
Once the intended growing area is established, import rich, fairly loose topsoil to create a raised bed, much like preparing a garden bed. The type of topsoil or mulch does not need to be specific, as bamboo will thrive in just about anything, however, matter such as aged manure and compost with high nitrogen content will usually produce faster growth. We have found bark mulch, manure, leaf mulch, compost, grass trimmings, sawdust, chipped bamboo, and even sand, all to be effective. The imported material should be mixed with the local soil to a depth of 12 or more inches to promote good drainage and strong roots. Bamboo naturally builds up leaf mulch around its base due to gradual falling leaves. Bamboo leaves have useful nutrients, such as silica, which are naturally recycled back into the bamboo as they decompose. The top of the bed should be raised 6 to 12 inches above the surrounding soil. The abruptly tapering edge of the bed is what defines the border of the growing area. Plant the bamboo so the top of the root mass is about an inch or two below the surface of the raised bed, as far from the edges as possible so it has some room to spread. The bamboo rhizomes will flourish in their new home, spreading healthily and predictably within the upper few inches of loose topsoil. There may be a grace period of a couple years after the first planting where it requires no pruning, as the young plants attains some size and vigor.
During their active growth period, summer through fall, remove any rhizomes attempting to spread beyond the border. Check the perimeter in August and once again in October by using a garden shovel or root pruning spade. Align the edge of the spade with the edge of the raised bed, as it tapers down to the regular soil level. Kick firmly, straight down. Repeat this motion until every inch of the border has been covered. Any rhizome encountered can be easily uprooted and removed if they are discovered within the first growing season, as they are initially soft and do not bear many roots. Because of the loose topsoil, they can be pulled out of the ground easily. The rhizome should be cut back to about a foot inside the edge of the border or more if there is an abundance of space. A pair of loppers are a good tool for accurately cutting rhizomes. If the rhizome has moved past the border, make sure to remove it because they are viable, even if severed from the parent plant. The small feeder roots cannot create new bamboos. Often, as the rhizomes approach the edge of the planting area, they surface or poke out the side, trying to follow the steep decline of topsoil. If the surrounding soil is dense clay, the rhizomes will especially be inclined to stay in the loose top soil, as they have trouble spreading through hard, dry dirt. It is often useful to have a layer of dry, barren soil around the edge of the planting bed to discourage rhizomes from spreading out of bounds. We maintain several bamboo displays at local residences and find that a grove or screen with a 50 foot circumference requires about two hours of labor, on average, to prune back the rhizomes, if it has been well tended in the past. A simple and often rewarding task for a Sunday afternoon. The same size grove, neglected for 3 or 4 years, will require at least an honest day of hard work to cut back into shape. Don't procrastinate!
Another useful method for enhancing the effectiveness of root pruning is called the "sand trap". The border is defined by making a shallow trench, about 10 inches deep by 10 inches wide, and filling it with sand. The sand is easy to cut into with a spade; seek out and sever the extending rhizomes. Often a raised bed is also used in conjunction with the sand trap. Other loose materials such as bark mulch and sawdust can be used, but sand has greater longevity.
© Noah Bell, Shweeash Bamboo
Digging a barrier trench is hard work.
© Noah Bell, Shweeash Bamboo
Pseudosasa japonica, contained by rhizome barrier. Recycled bamboo leaf mulch is covering the base.
Rhizome Barrier incorporated with root pruning techniques
So often, bamboo is desired in a place that is very
challenging to root prune. The most common of which are tight areas along fence
lines where there is not much available space. Ever try squeezing between a
chain link fence and a dense bamboo hedge? I wouldn't recommend it. If root pruning on one or more sides
is not possible, there is a material called "rhizome barrier" used to deflect
and contain rhizomes. It is made out of a hard, but flexible, high density
plastic substance called polyethylene. It is manufactured in different
widths and thicknesses, the most effective of which is 30 inches deep by
60 mil gage, or thickness (not 60 millimeters, but 60 / 1000 of an inch,
or about 1/16 of an inch). It can be measured and cut to any desired length, and
is installed by digging a trench about 28 inches deep by 6 inches wide, lining
it with the barrier, then backfilling the trench, carefully packing down the
soil. A few warnings about using rhizome barrier: The thinner, 40 mil gage
barrier is ineffective and should not be sold by anyone who has reliable
experience with bamboo, as we have seen several cases where larger Running
Bamboo were able to pierce through
it. Unfortunately, 40 mil barrier is often used but has a very limited
span of effectiveness, usually 4 to 6 years, though it may contain smaller
groundcover bamboo long enough to be worthwhile. 60 mil barrier is also not
without flaws. Some of the largest bamboo, such as P. vivax, are able to
eventually puncture it, especially if they are confined in a small area and
gradually increase the pressure on the inside edge of the barrier by their
expanding root mass. If a bamboo is fully enclosed, it will
eventually fill out all the available space and either break free or become
unhealthy and unsightly, if not root pruned and reduced occasionally. A
fully enclosed barrier also may create water drainage problems, which in a few
cases, has resulted in drowned bamboo. Fully
enclosed barrier can be used effectively for bamboo of smaller stature, such as
Pseudosasa japonica, as pictured on the left. The rhizomes should be
clipped back from the edge of the barrier once per year. Loose mulch covering
the root mass, makes root pruning much easier. In other words, root pruning must
still be applied for long term health, even when rhizome barrier is used.
Three sided barrier method is the most effective for long term rhizome control.
© Noah Bell, Shweeash Bamboo
Three sided barrier used along a property line, preventing P. aureosulcata 'Spectabilis' from creeping under the fence. The front side is left open and raised up 10 inches for easy root pruning and good drainage. These are five gallon plants, 6 feet tall, which will grow into a 20 foot tall screen in 3 years.
This technique simplifies the length of the
border that requires annual root pruning. For large Phyllostachys, the only barrier application that we recommend is what we
call the "three sided barrier" method. It is often used in
the above mentioned circumstance, where bamboo is desired along a fence line.
Basically, the barrier is installed on three sides, leaving one side open for
root pruning and drainage. Three sides are blocked, mainly between the fence or
obstruction, and where the bamboo hedge is intended, and one side is left open,
facing an easier area to prune (see photo on left). The open side can be root
pruned using either of the above methods, though we prefer the raised bed
method, which does not require as deep of a barrier trench. We also
recommend that the barrier be double lined, meaning two equal lengths of
barrier are compressed, side by side, and installed together, doubling its
strength. We have not seen or heard of any reports of double lined, three
sided barrier systems being punctured or undermined by aggressive bamboo. The
way we see it, to go though the trouble of digging a 24 to 28 inch deep
trench (it is not as easy task), one might as well install something that
is reliably effective and long lasting. The rhizomes will occasionally try to
jump over the top, so it is important to maintain visibility with the upper edge
of the barrier. If possible, remove rhizomes that grow into contact with the
edge of the barrier, just to be safe. Rhizome barrier usually runs between $2
and $3 per foot, if charged more than $3 per foot, you are allowing someone to
make a steep profit, and remember: never use 40 mil barrier! We do not sell
rhizome barrier at this time, but recommend Bamboo Garden as a reliable source
with the best prices we have been able to find and the ability to ship anywhere
in the lower 48.
Keeping bamboo healthy.
In any case, bamboo will eventually fill up its allotted space and become tight and congested after about 4 to 7 years. There are a couple fairly simple ways to address this problem. First, selectively cut 30 to 60 % of the culms at ground level. The culms can be used for many things; we recommend clipping off the branches and storing them for later use. After the harvested culms are moved out of the way, lay down two to four inches of compost or other rich, but loose topsoil, over the root mass. The rhizomes will move up into this new level, attracted by the nutrient rich soil and available light. The following spring, strong new culms will rise out of the ground, rejuvenating the bamboo. The summer is a good time to apply this technique. Culms can also be cut to nearly any height as long as there are branches remaining. Bamboo can be shaped as a narrow screen, a short compact hedge, or an open, airy topiary. Make sure to cut just above a node, as a cut culm will die back to the nearest node. Branches can be removed to emphasize the base of the culms, or reduced to form dense tufts of foliage. A culm that is topped will not grow back. The branches below the cut will grow many leaves and can be pruned to look somewhat like a palm.
Another method that is more laborious, is the removal of sections of the root mass, and importing rich soil to fill in the spaces. The roots will most often be very tight and require heavy metal, preferably with a sharp edge, to make a dent. A special tool for this purpose, crafted by a friend of ours, is called the slammer. It is a heavy steel blade attached to a long piston that one aligns on target, then pounds the piston manually, as it slowly but surely makes a precise cut through even the gnarliest old root mass. It is very effective and an integral part of our profession. We also use axes, grub hoes, and, most importantly, an all metal root cutting spade. (King of Spades™ and Wolverine™ make quality shovels). This is often done together with culm thinning, as described above, though is best applied in the spring, when the ground is somewhat soft. It is a challenging task, though not one that needs to be done very often, and not to only way to rejuvenate overgrown bamboo.
Bamboo is a giant grass, and like grass in a lawn, responds well to nitrogen fertilizer. We recommend providing bamboo with manure or compost, as a natural source of nitrogen for in ground plants. People often use lawn fertilizer to feed their bamboo, which works reasonably well for promoting nice, green leaves and strong growth, but is not as complete of a food source as horse manure, cow manure, mushroom compost, etc. because they also provide a medium for the rhizomes to expand into. 21-5-6 with iron is an artificial fertilizer formula that has been effective with our potted plants. It does not need to be precise, just fairly high in nitrogen. Bamboo is easy to please, and hard to over fertilize. Fertilizer should be applied to correlate with the two main growth phases bamboo goes through in a season. The first application should be done in early spring, late Feb. though March, as the bamboo is gathering energy to produce new shoots. The second should be applied in mid summer as the rhizomes begin to expand. Different fertilizers have different dispersal rates, we use three to four month, timed release.
Watering: Bamboo should be watered thoroughly, two to four times per week from late spring through fall, or as needed. Mature bamboo are fairly drought tolerant but will look and grow best if given a fairly consistent source of water. In their native climate, bamboo get the occasional monsoon in the summer, so they are used to having plenty to drink during the growing season. However, most also require well draining soil, avoid planting bamboo in boggy soils or areas that flood for long periods of time in the winter. When a bamboo is dehydrated, the leaves will curl upward to prevent further water loss. Water the bamboo thoroughly if you notice these symptoms. Usually the bamboo will express its relief in a matter of minutes as the leaves begin to uncurl. If not watered, the leaves will curl into tight rolls, then begin to dry out, turn tan, and fall off over several days. The bamboo can still be saved at this point, by heavy watering, and preferably moved to a shady area, even if all the leaves are lost. If the culms are brown and brittle, the bamboo has probably perished, don't give up though; water heavily, clip back all the brown culms, and hopefully the root mass will regenerate over a few months and be able to send up some new shoots.
Over wintering bamboo usually does not require much preparation.
Most of the species we sell are very cold hardy and do not require extra care.
However, small starts are less hardy than mature plants, and if exposed
to winter lows of 10°F or less, they may suffer
moderate damage to the foliage. If expecting severe winters, one should provide
an extra layer of mulch, 3-5 inches deep, around the root mass for heat
retention. Also, the culms and foliage can be wrapped with burlap, shade cloth,
or other material to prevent leaf decimation from cold winter winds. Nothing
decimates a bamboo faster than strong, dry wind combined with frigid
temperature. Bamboo left in raised containers should be brought inside for the
winter or sunk into the ground for extra insulation, unless using species cold
hardy to -5°F or lower. Ideally, containers should be made out of material that
has insulating properties, such as wood or ceramic, instead of metal. Half-wine
barrels make excellent temporary homes for hardy bamboo. If using expensive
ceramic containers, make sure the mouth of the container has equal or wider
width than the body, otherwise the bamboo will become hopelessly stuck after a
couple years. In USDA Zone 6 or lower, one should provide extra winter care,
even for the most hardy species. In Zone 5, a harsh winter will most likely top
kill bamboo. It may loose all its culms and leaves due to extremely cold
weather. If the culms are completely brown, they can be cut off at ground
level and be removed. If well insulated with mulch, it usually recovers very well
in the spring as it sends up new shoots that are 1/2 to 3/4th as large as what
was lost. Some bamboos are root hardy to -20 or even -30°F. Growing
bamboo in Zones 4 and 3, requires faith that the weather will have mercy on your
plants, better just to move them inside from Nov. through March. Many climates
have had warming trends over the past few years, so in some areas the official
USDA Zone listings may have changed.
Use this map and table on left to determine your hardiness zone. Also, see this link for more information: National Arboretum USDA zone map
Click on map to see larger image
We primarily grow the following hardy Clumping Bamboo: Fargesia robusta, Fargesia sp. 'Rufa', Fargesia sp. 'Scabrida', and Fargesia sp. 'Jiuzhaigou 1'
CLUMPING BAMBOO have a non-invasive root structure. Many of the hardy varieties are recent introductions, brought in by collectors, to meet the recent demand for low maintenance, elegant bamboo, not capable of becoming oversized and challenging in stature. We hope that will Clumping Bamboo will help sway popular opinion toward acceptance of bamboo into our yards and gardens, softening long held grudges, and allowing more people to realize bamboos vast potential. They prefer a cool, temperate climate, and are well suited for the coastal rainforest of the Pacific Northwest. However, the three types listed above will tolerate a wide range of climates. Many are also very cold hardy, found in the Himalayas at elevations over 7,000 feet. We specialize in the cold hardy, mountain-dwelling varieties which represent over 80 species of a complex and diverse group of clump-forming bamboos, indigenous to the mountains of Sichuan, Yunnan, and Gansu provinces in China, extending west through Bhutan, Nepal, northern India, and the Tibetan plateau. The original group has been divided into several genera: Borinda, Drepanostachyum, Himalayacalamus, Fargesia, Thamnocalamus, and Yushania.
Our selection of Fargesia, to concentrate the bulk of our inventory, was an educated decision based on many years of experience, growing these bamboos and selling them to the public. They range in height from 8 to 16 feet, on average. We have found these three species to be the most versatile and useful in the landscape, able to withstand winter temperatures as low as -10° F with little damage to the foliage. They are root hardy to -20 F and regenerate in the spring, if well insulated with mulch. They will thrive in a shady area and, in coastal climates, are fully sun tolerant. If grown farther inland, any where east of the Cascade Mountains: the Rockies, Mid West, New England, and East Coast, they can tolerate a few hours of direct sun, but require shade during the afternoon. Unfortunately, Fargesia will not survive in tropical, or extremely hot climates, for those conditions try a species of Bambusa (semi-tropical clumper). They also possess exceptional vigor when compared to other Clumping Bamboo, but still require no containment due to the physical structure of their root mass. Each rhizome bud extends only 2 to 6 inches per year, in a circular formation, before turning directly upward to form a new culm, distinctly different from Running Bamboo which can spread underground over 10 feet in a season. We grow over 20 additional species of Fargesia, Borinda, and Thamnocalamus, but don't keep many available in containers. We can dig or help locate rare varieties, just inquire.
See this link for our Clumping Bamboo photos and descriptions
© Noah Bell, Shweeash Bamboo
Click on the photo to see larger image of a clumping root mass (also known as "pachymorph" rhizome).
On the left is a picture of a clumping root mass found on a
robusta. The soil has been washed away
in order to divide this plant into several pieces. Look carefully, each
bud extending from a green culm is pointed directly upward, ready to create a
Here is the history of this plant: In February, three culms with about six primary buds (or new shoots) were separated from a larger plant. The second culm from the left is the oldest. By April, two of the buds had grown into new shoots, extending upward to become culms. Through the summer months, they created leaves, roots, another new culm, and a new batch of buds for the following season.
Most new shoots are produced in March through May, however, F. robusta, F. sp. 'Rufa', and F. sp. 'Scabrida' often send up a secondary, though smaller, flush of new shoots in August through September. The plant (as photographed on left) has about 18 viable buds, 10 to 14 of which will produce new shoots the following spring. In short, three large culms are capable of producing 12 to 16 new culms within a year and a half. All of this activity has taken place within a 10 gallon container, about 16 inches in diameter.
One can expect one to three feet of height gain per year from a Clumping Bamboo. In other words, a two gallon plant that is two feet tall, with three culms will exceed 10 feet with over 100 culms within five years, given good conditions.
The photo on the right shows a classic Clumping Bamboo: gracefully arching plume of dark green, feather-like leaves, draping from a tight cluster of culms in a circular form. This photo was taken in the mid-May.
© Noah Bell, Shweeash Bamboo
Fargesia robusta, about 7 years old
Maintaining Clumping Bamboo
Clumping Bamboo have an arching habit, which lends to their elegant appearance, but often does not match the concept of a narrow screen. However, they respond well to pruning, and can be trimmed into a narrow, upright shape, if that is desired for certain landscapes. The width of the canopy is often equal to the height of the plant. A clumping root mass that is five feet diameter at the base will naturally have a canopy that is 10 to 15 feet wide. The foliage flares outward in order to capture the available light. When the new shoots reach their full height but have not yet opened their leaves, they stand rigidly upright. Even as the foliage unfurls, the culms remain mostly upright until the second and third year, as individual culms produce numerous branches and leaves, they weep outward due to the added weight. Two and three year old culms arching outward around the perimeter, provide support to culms toward the center of the plant. The height of the outer culms can be reduced by 25 to 50% of their original height, which will cause them to pop back upright. Using a hand-held pruner, clip the culm just above the node.
Clumping Bamboo gradually creep outward with new shoots expanding at a rate of about 2 to 6 inches per year. If the bamboo has grown too wide, culms can be clipped off at ground level. They invariably grow in a circular form, but the root mass can be reshaped into a long oval by selective culm cutting and root pruning. Do not use rhizome barrier with Clumping Bamboo because their spread is so slow that it requires little effort to manage, and most require well draining soil to survive. They do not have a maximum width and will continue to increase in size for the duration of their life span or until they encounter natural barriers.
© Noah Bell, Shweeash Bamboo
Fargesia nitida, in flower, once in 120 years.
The life span is determined by an "internal clock", which
governs when certain bamboo go into flower and links genetically identical plants from
around the country and even across oceans. No one is sure what triggers the
sudden and fatal mass flowering. Fortunately, it has an incredibly long interval
of occurrence, once every 100 years or more for individual species of Clumping
Bamboo. In a way, we are fortunate to have witnessed two mass flowerings with
Fargesia murielae and F. nitida in the past few years. Over a two or
three year period, all the leaves are replaced by small, wheat-like seeds. The
bamboo transfers all of its energy into producing seeds, vital for the
adaptation and continuation of the species. After expending all of its energy,
the adult plant perishes, having competed its life cycle. The seeds that are not
eaten by birds fall to the ground and are scattered by the wind. The seedlings
that germinate show much diversity and, by natural selection, the
ones best suited for their changing environment survive to maturity. Many new
seedlings of F. murielae and F. nitida are now in cultivation,
though very few germinated in the wild. Recent flowerings we have observed with
Fargesia murielae have shown very little natural germination in our
environment. Through cultivation, some have grown large enough to be named
for their unique characteristics, beginning a new generation of cultivars
(meaning a variety of a plant that has been selected intentionally and
maintained through cultivation, rather than naturally occurring).
Many have tried to prevent bamboo from flowering, but none have been successful. Some of the larger, Running Bamboo, are able to regenerate from the root mass, but loose all their culms for a two to three year period. No one, to my knowledge, has been able to save a hardy Clumping Bamboo from perishing, post flowering. However, the seeds usually germinate well if kept in a controlled environment, though take nearly twice the amount of time to reach maturity, as compared to vegetative divisions from a mature plant. Not to worry, the three types of Fargesia we sell are not in danger of flowering soon.
Clumping Bamboo prefer well draining soil and partial shade. They have many of the same watering and fertilizer needs as Running Bamboo. Bamboo is technically a grass, and like the grass in a lawn, responds well to nitrogen fertilizer. We recommend providing bamboo with manure or compost, as a natural source of nitrogen for in ground plants. This should be mixed with the local soil to a depth of 12 to 20 inches, before Clumping Bamboo is planted, providing abundant plant food and good drainage. If planted in dense clay, they will be extremely slow growing. People often use lawn fertilizer to feed their bamboo, which works reasonable well for promoting nice, green leaves and strong growth, but is not as complete of a food source as horse manure, cow manure, mushroom compost, etc. because they also provide a loose medium for the bamboo to grow into. 21-5-6 with iron is an artificial fertilizer formula that has been effective with our potted plants. It does not need to be precise, just fairly high in nitrogen. Bamboo is easy to please, and hard to over fertilize. Fertilizer should be applied to correlate with the two main growth phases bamboo goes through in a season. The first application should be done in early spring, Feb. though March, as the bamboo is gathering energy to produce new shoots. The second should be applied in mid summer as the roots strengthen, and develop small buds in preparation for the following flush of new shoots. Different fertilizers have different dispersal rates, we use three to four month timed release.
Watering should be done two to four times per week from late spring through fall, or as needed. Mature bamboo are fairly drought tolerant but will look and grow best if given a fairly consistent source of water. In their native climate, bamboo get the occasional monsoon in the summer, so they are used to having plenty to drink during the growing season. However, most also require well draining soil, avoid planting bamboo in boggy soils or areas that flood for long periods of time in the winter. When a bamboo is dehydrated, the leaves will curl upward to prevent further water loss. Water the bamboo thoroughly if you notice these symptoms. Usually the bamboo will express its relief in a matter of minutes as the leaves begin to uncurl. Sometimes, when the air temperature is very hot or under direct sun, Clumping Bamboo will curl it's leaves as a natural defense, even if the root mass is well moistened. Our main three species, listed above, do not curl under the sun as abruptly and completely as other species such as Fargesia nitida. If not watered, the leaves will curl into tight rolls, then begin to dry out, turn tan, and fall off over a couple days. The bamboo can still be saved at this point, by heavy watering, and preferably moved to a shady area, even if all the leaves are lost. If the culms are all brown and brittle, the bamboo has probably perished, don't give up though; water heavily, clip back all the brown culms, and hopefully the root mass will regenerate. It may take a long time to recover. The root mass is the heart and soul of bamboo and is the last to let go. Don't let your bamboo die of thirst! For over wintering, the see the above table. Over wintering.
There is so much to write about,
it is possible go on for several more pages. This seems like a good stopping
point for a general out line of bamboo growth habits and care requirements. With
bamboos incredible diversity, there is too much information to include in a
basic care guide. On the other hand, given the three basic ingredients, good
topsoil, water, and some light, bamboo is a plant with simple needs. Please let
us know if we overlooked anything important or were unclear in any way. We would like to
constantly improve this resource and hope that our experiences shed some light
on the subject and make bamboo better understood, and available to a wider
audience. Email us if you have any
questions, concerns, constructive criticism, etc.
Dave Crabtree, Shweeash Bamboo
© Noah Bell, Shweeash Bamboo
Iris and the Nigra
|Each photo is a link to a separate page containing much information and photos about each bamboo (names alphabetized from left to right)|
Fargesia sp. 'Rufa'
Fargesia sp. 'Scabrida'
Fargesia sp. 'Jiuzhaigou 1'
Phyllostachys aureosulcata 'Aureocaulis'
Phyllostachys aureosulcata 'Spectabilis'
Phyllostachys decora "Beautiful Bamboo"
Phyllostachys nigra 'Henon'
Phyllostachys vivax 'Aureocaulis'
Pseudosasa japonica "Japanese Arrow Bamboo"
Qionzhuea tumidissinoda "Chinese Walking Stick"
"Fish Pole Bamboo" aka "Golden Bamboo"
Here are a few photographs,
highlighting the unique colors and diversityof bamboo, click on photo to see gallery.
Friends and Favorite Bamboo Links:
Bamboo Glossary from American Bamboo
Culm: cane or stem.
Culm sheath: the sheath that supports and protects the young bamboo culm during growth, attached at each node of culm. Bears a smaller blade than the leaf sheath. Very useful for distinguishing species within a genus.
Cultivar: A cultivated clone, distinct in color or some other feature, often a spontaneous mutation or selected seedling.
Gregarious flowering: when all plants in a single clone area, or even species flower at about the same time.
Internode: segment between nodes of culm, branch, or rhizome.
Leptomorph: rhizome that is thinner then the culm, rooting at all nodes, not turning up to form culms, and capable of running substantial distances under the ground.
Monopodial: describes the branching habit of leptomorph rhizomes.
Node: joint between internodes, where the sheath, bud, and branches are borne, and any cavity is bridged by a rigid disc, shortly above which a supra-nodal ridge may be developed.
Pachymorph: Clumping rhizome that is partially thicker then the culm it turns upwards to produce at its apex, with a narrow proximal rootless neck.
Persistent culm sheath: culm sheath that remains attached to the plant longer than its initial function
Rhizome: part of the bamboo that spreads underground, food-storing more or less horizontal root-bearing underground axis. Popularly known as rootstock.
Shoot: usually refers to a young culm.
Sulcus: a groove or depression running along the internodes of culms or branches.
Sympodial: describes the branching habit of pachymorph rhizomes or tillering culms from leptomorph rhizomes.
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