Bamboo for Beginners

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Trax

Active Member
Hi! :) I was discussing bamboo with Crabbergirl and she suggested that I start a thread to share my knowledge and experience with others here. Since the other members have been so friendly and helpful, I'm very happy to do this. :) Growing bamboo was my dad's hobby and now it's mine. A lot of what I know about bamboo, I owe to him and friends in China, Japan, Thailand, Hawaii, Brazil, and Malaysia.
Bamboo is of the Family Gramineae & the Genus Bambuseae and Phylostachys. Members of the 1st genus are tropical & those of the 2nd are more temperate runner-types. The 'runners' are usually invasive & should be grown within rhizome barriers. The 'clumpers' are non-invasive and can be grown like any bush. Because of the invasive and sometimes even destructive nature of many bamboos, the ABS (American Bamboo Society) was established in 1979 to control the introduction of bamboo species into the USA. But even still, each state has it's own restrictions and it's a good idea to speak with someone at your local Ag-center to find out if any are prohibited in your state.
-- Cautions: (1) Snakes sometimes like to crawl up into bamboo and hang overhead. This is usually only a problem with larger varieties. (2) Split bamboo is very sharp. I always wear leather gloves when I work with my bamboos. (3) Also, only young bamboo shoots are really edible but may have toxins (like Rhubarb). For eating, know exactly what type of bamboo you have and what the cooking requirements are.
Note - I have been growing timber bamboos for 6 years now and have never had any problems with rats, mice, or snakes.
-- Growth: Never apply even hand pressure to a new bamboo shoot. It will damage the leaves and limbs in the brown sheaths. The shoots come out of the ground like poles (covered with brown sheaths) and grow to the height they will be. About a week later, they drop the sheaths and the limbs and leaves fold out. Once the leaves have fully developed, the culms no longer grow but will replace spent leaves in the fall or spring.
-- Uses: Bamboo has many advantages. (1) If you ever wanted a shrub that you only have to trim once a year, bamboo is a good answer and it stays green year-round. It comes in many colors and, once cut, it stays alive and healthy but does not continue to grow. New shoots in the spring will need to be trimmed after they put out their branches and leaves. (2) Privacy & shade. Bamboo can be used as a screen or even a fence. (3) Windbreak. Bamboo makes an excellent windbreaker. I grow 12 foot Ice Cream banana plants near my bamboo and (despite our very strong winds) the leaves almost never tear. Colorful clumping bamboos can be used to protect smaller plants from wind and sun as well. (4) Crafts. Bamboo culms can be used to make nice trellises, arbors, and many other things. Culms (of timber bamboos) that are 2-3 years old can be cured and used for furniture making.
-- Requirements: Most bamboos grow best in a semi-rich, well-draining soil but will grow even in clay. Most also need full sun and love water. But many bamboos are drought resistant as well. To increase growth, peat or compost are helpful. Fertilize with any good lawn fertilizer. To check out needs of many different bamboos, I always use this site:
http://www.bamboodirect.com/
I always use this site for window-shopping. I buy my bamboos, though, wherever I find the best deal.
-- Barriers: If you're wanting a runner-type bamboo, I strongly advise installing a rhizome barrier or growing in pots. Runners (on some species) can actually damage sidewalks and houses. Concrete is not a good idea since it can split or crack underground and allow runners to escape. For good protection, I advise a buried 30 inch wall of Polyethylene. This link will give you an idea of what to look for. Again, I am not endorsing this company but their site contains a lot of good info.
http://www.bamboodirect.com/bamboo/catalog/rhizomebarrier.html
There are many good bamboo and rhizome-barrier companies so always check around before you buy.
-- Care: Bamboos require very little care and their dead leaves and sheaths provide a perfect mulch which, in my 6 years of experience, has always been great for preventing weeds from growing. Other mulches can also be used. Bamboos can be pruned for any desired shape and dead culms should always be cut out to trigger new growth. Bamboos send up new shoots in the spring and sometimes in the fall. The leaves tend to turn yellow at that time and even fall off. Don't fret! It is only dropping spent leaves and the plant will replace them with new ones! One last thing, if the leaves curl length-wise, it means the bamboo needs watering.
-- Natural Enemies: Bamboos have no important pests and are resistant to all known diseases. Also, never use bamboo as an indicator for radiation. In Hiroshima, Japan (1945 - at ground zero), 3 days after the nuclear blast, the bamboos put up their new shoots. Those new shoots lived and flourished!
-- Propogation by Seed: While there are some bamboos that have beautiful flowers, most have flowers that resemble dead weeds and have no scent. The pollen from these is carried by wind and unintentional contact.
Bamboos only flower every 7-100 years and the flowering is both gregarious and global. When a specific species flowers, all members of that species flower all over the world. Shortly after that, all of that species dies all over the world. At that point, the species becomes very rare and some species have been entirely lost this way. If mine ever flower, I will cover the flowers with paper sacks and pollinate them by hand. But it will still take 6 years to get them back to the size they are now. Smaller species will recover in much less time. But there are stores of seeds (for some species) that can be bought online!
-- Propogation by Rhizomes: (1) Runners. Most runners (rhizomes) are about 0 to 1.5 feet underground. Dig and find a runner that is about 1.5 feet long and has a bright greenish bud on it. Cut it off, plant it in good soil, and water it. Be sure and wear leather gloves since the roots are very wirey and sharp. Btw, runners can run out, from the culm, as much as 25 feet or more. (2) Clumpers. When the bush is large enough, just dig down, split the bush in half, and plant the other half. Clumpers grow in width but never run.
-- Curing Bamboo Culms: Bamboo is usually cured using a smokehouse method. The concrete trenches should be about 2 feet apart and alternate trenches should contain the culms and the burning wood or coal. After 2 weeks of smoking, the culms are ready to be used for building things. Also, blowing boric acid through the culms helps to strengthen the wood.

I could write a book but I think I'll stop here, for now. I will cover food prep etc in other posts. If anyone has any questions, feel free to ask! :)
Also (and very important), if anyone has knowledge and/or experience with bamboo, please feel free to share! :)
 
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lynpenny

Super Moderator
Staff member
Very good there Trax. I thoroughly enjoyed that article. Makes me want to plant some but I have such a small back yard and I know how invasive they can be so no not here. Wish I had more space to plant things but for the next couple of years I won't have much time to play in the dirt anyway.
 

Trax

Active Member
Glad you enjoyed it! :) I have a similar problem with a lot of tropical plants but more because I'm not in zone 9-11. If I were, I'd be picking coconuts in my own front yard! :D
 

GardenBear1

New Member
Trax, Thanks for the info, I would love to grow them but not sure how the would do in New England z5b,would love to grow them in a pot but need to have room to bring them in for the winter,or could I leave them out ?
 

Trax

Active Member
I'm happy I can contribute to the forum! :)
GardenBear1,
You definitely have lots of options in Massachusetts! Mountain bamboos (especially Fargesias) can survive outdoors at 0 to -20 degrees F (depending on species) and that's just the point of leaf-kill. The rhizomes (roots) can survive 10-15 degrees colder than that and send up new shoots in the spring! The Robert Young bamboo in my avatar is rated at 0*F. The rhizomes will stay alive at -12*F and the culms you see in the avatar have spent whole weeks encased in ice from ice-storms (including the Oklahoma winter disaster of 2007)! You can use this link for window-shopping but (if you decide to buy some) always shop around to find the best deal. For me and my family, bamboo is just a hobby and we don't sell any but I have given some away to friends now and then.
http://www.bamboodirect.com/bamboo/catalog/mountainctlg.html
The numbers on each bamboo entry are:
How much sun - how tall - how thick - leaf kill temp - zone - clumper/runner (c/r)
You might also want to check out some timber bamboos. To check those, just click on "timber" at the top of the page! -- I hope this helps! :)
 

GardenBear1

New Member
Trax, I think I just might do some shopping for bamboo next week, Thanks for the help, I want to plant it on the north side of the back yard to hide the junk form the house next door, it gets full sun all most all day.
 

Trax

Active Member
GardenBear1,
It works great for a fence! We can't even see our neighbors back yard now! One thing though, be sure and find out as much as you can. I bought some Khasia bamboo (Drepanostachyum khasianum) last summer and THEN found out it hates intense heat and humidity... even though it's rated for a higher zone (9-11). I finally gave it to a friend just to save it. He's growing it in a greenhouse.
Another one I was wanting was Himalayacalamus falconeri 'Damarapa' or Candy Cane bamboo. It's red, green, and yellow striped but has the same probs with heat & humidity.
http://www.bamboogarden.com is a very good place to find really good 'extra' info on bamboos!
 

sunflower3

Member
we are giving black bamboo a try in pots here in zone 5, for the summer it is outside and in the winter we will bring it in and see how it goes. My son wanted to grow it and the price was right, Free. Thanks for the information , it's good to read about grow bamboo.Maybe I can keep ours alive in the pots.
 

Trax

Active Member
Sunflower3,
That should work okay! Black bamboos don't have leaf-kill till it reaches 0*F and the rhizomes are okay down to -12*F. I raised some of the Henon variety of black bamboo here in a pot and it grew really well... till the cat started sleeping in the pot. :( But I do intend to try it again.
Btw, Black bamboo has the same climate ratings as my Robert Young bamboo. I gave some of it to a friend of mine in zone 5 so I can let you know how his does. If you have any problems with yours, please let me know. I really would like to know how these bamboos do in that zone and try to find ways that they'll stay alive up there!
Best of luck and keep us posted!
Btw, Black bamboo likes very rich soil and tons of sunlight.
 

sunflower3

Member
It didn't like the direct sun on it, one got to much and the leaves turned all brown and are falling off so we keep them in indirect sunlight which seems to work better for them. We planted them in rectangle plants with miracle grow. and they took right off.
 

Trax

Active Member
Sunflower3,
Thanks for that info! :) I had my Black bamboo in direct sun and it died. I thought it was the cat sleeping on it that killed it. But now it sounds like it might have been the strong sunlight (the leaves on mine turned brown too). When I get my next one, I will definitely put it in a shady area!
 

sunflower3

Member
your welcome, we thought it would be ok in the sun but it wasn't it burnt the leaves of the plant, they are doing better now in the shade and seem to like it that way. Did you save the roots of yours? it might come back on if you move it .
 

Crabbergirl

Super Moderator
Staff member
Trax,
Wow! Thanks for the info. You have shed light on something I have only had experience with as a problem for the most part. I know there were several types but had never taken the time to study. Living in a tropical region , I am drawn to those plants suited for the area. I have to look up the bamboo I have in a pot and see if it will do well planted in the yard. Thanks again for your time and all the great advice. Keep it coming
 

Trax

Active Member
Sunflower3,
I wish I had saved the pot. But that's okay cause I can get some more! :) A friend of mine in Fresno is sending me some runners! He's doing a swap with me for some of my Sunburst cannas.
Crabbergirl,
Yeah, I know about the "problem" part! Some people here were growing some not-so-attractive bamboo and it got in everyone's yards. Ouch! I keep mine contained so that can't happen. And no prob! I like sharing what I know and one thing I learned is, it doesn't matter what I read, it's ALWAYS best to learn from people who try things. Experience really is the best teacher. :)
 

Botann

New Member
I gave some Phyllostachys aurea to my mother in Spokane, Wa., Zone 5. She planted it in a sheltered spot and gave it plenty of summer water. It struggled and barely grew to 4 ft. high and looked pretty ragged all the time.

Here in Zone 8 on the other side of the Cascade MTs., A lot of Bamboo does just fine. I grow both the Phyllostachys aurea and niger. (Gold and black) I also grow a timber bamboo that I don't know the name of. Here it is.
Mike

 
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Botann

New Member
Let's try that again.
<a href="http://home-and-garden.webshots.com/photo/2222239580036511179YzaUGT"><img src="http://inlinethumb23.webshots.com/46998/2222239580036511179S425x425Q85.jpg" alt="Phyllostachys nigra"></a>
 

Trax

Active Member
Hey Mike,
That's some really healthy bamboo! :D I wish black bamboo would grow like that here! I haven't tried Aurea yet but Yellow Groove does great here. Btw, here's a photo I took of my Robert Young bamboo about 2 weeks ago. It's about 25 feet tall now! And I'm def glad we finally got some snow! :D I love snow and we def needed water cause it hasn't rained here since October.



For a closer look, click this link:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/gopikom/page3/
 


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