The words out of my husband’s mouth” Let’s do some growing bamboo by the stream to block the neighbor’s view and give us some privacy.” This was right after we had a tree removed for fear it might fall on the roof.
Bamboo isn’t that the bush or tree or whatever you call it that’s so invasive you are overrun with a rain forest in three years? I guess that thought was a little overkill but you get the point.
You have all seen loads of garden publications picturing attractive golden, striped or black bamboo looking graceful in the lawn. In our lawns is it worth the chance of being invaded by a jungle of growing bamboo?
It is still a chance that planting growing bamboo in your home garden could be become risky. If you are an experienced gardener you know how non-native species can invade your garden with an extremely erratic behavior.
I once planted the wrong type of yarrow and I am still finding small patches of the weed among my coneflowers. Today, however you can find nurseries that are selling clumping varieties of bamboo that will remain at rest.
It probably is best to purchase the growing bamboo on the web since local garden shops sell mostly the invasive type. NOW DON’T STOP READING YET because I am going to attempt to explain the real new truth about bamboo.
Growing Bamboo What Is It?
Believe or not bamboo is actually a grass. It can be as small as inches or tower to a staggering height of 100 feet and some growing bamboo can add a foot a day! This bamboo can be used as food, you know of it in building materials, animal fodder, and of course the gardeners need for ornamentation, barrier and screening.
We classify bamboo either as runners or clumpers. The names can be different in various regions adding to the confusion of exactly what type of bamboo you have purchased. If you have the ambition, you should install an underground barrier at planting time just in case you were sold the wrong type of bamboo.
Clumping bamboo as in the picture of Fagesia murieliae ‘new umbrella’ is a contained root structure and well not creep more than a few inches per year. This proves to be ideal bamboo all the way to zone 4. It will reach heights of 12 feet and 12 feet wide but will not be running all over your property in the coming years.
This growing bamboo is still tropical but seems to have the characterisitcs of a cold hardy plant. If you shop for these type of clumpers, you will find a few more that can be grown as far north as zone 4. Growing bamboo this type is classified As Running Bamboo
This is the type of bamboo a gardener pictures when a thought of planting bamboo comes to mind. These growing bamboos can run and spread their rhizomes underground for immense distances.
The good news is that the rhizomes grow no deeper than 2- 18 inches and can be contained with two and one-half feet of plastic edging buried around the outside of the plant.
If you develop cracks or seams in the edging the rhizomes will move on. The black bamboo as pictured here is a runner and is good for zones 6 and up. It will grow to thirty feet tall but it must be contained and I will explain later how to do that very thing.
Growing Bamboo Pointers and Caring For Bamboo Plants
Your growing bamboo will be the happiest in loose loamy soil. You should dig a hole double the diameter of the existing rootball and a few inches deeper. Its best to mix the soil removed from the hole with an equal amount of organic material such as planting mix or mulch. I would put some of the mixed soil in the bottom of the hole.
This should be done to ensure that the top of the rootball is at ground level when unwrapped from its container and placed in the hole. You then can fill in and around the rootball with the soil mix carefully tamping it down.
There is one reminder here when planting your growing bamboo and this is especially true of the running bamboo. You should have a space of six feet to allow for future growth around your bamboo.
It is not wise to plant the bamboo in a restricted space. The growing of bamboo in narrow areas can present undo stress to your bamboo. The caring of bamboo plants also includes proper watering and even fertilizing.
The rootball should be deeply watered prior to dropping it into the hole. I would water the bamboo three to four times a week depending on the weather. Contrary to popular opinion growing bamboo does not care for constantly wet feet.
If the weather is cooler I would lower my watering to two or three times per week. If the sides of the leaves commence curling it is not being watered often enough or too short of a watering time. If the leaves start to indicate stress by changing color from green to yellow then you have over watered your bamboo.
You might want to spray the leaves with water several times a day for the first week to keep the shock to a minimum. As far as fertilizer goes and since bamboo is a part of the grass family, it prefers high nitrogen (N) fertilizer similar to the type used on your lawn. I would not fertilize in the first month after planting.
Bamboos will flourish with a layer of two-four inches of mulch around the base of the plant. You should allow falling leaves to remain on the soil and once a year add other organic material such as mulch or planting mix.
Growing Bamboo Does Encounter Some Pests
This is one of the most frequently occurring pests problems with growing bamboo. Black sooty mold is basically not harmful to the plant but makes an unsightly mess on your leaves.
It is caused by ants which collect a nectar from aphids and sooty mold grows on the fecal residue of the aphids. Your best bet is to control the ants by using ant stakes or other ant fighting compounds to keep the ants away.
As for the aphids, I would use insecticidal soap which is the same cure for my other garden plants. As you can view from the picture, the leaves acquire a white-cotton spot which produces a black sooty fungus on the leaves.
A direct spray is usually not sufficient to reach the hiding location of these bugs. You will need a systemic insecticide available at your local garden shop. The mites form bleached spots accompanied by webs on the underneath side of the leaves.
This can be treated with an insecticide spray and eliminate the mites with an insecticide soap. Good natural predators for aphids include ladybugs and praying mantis. These assist in the control of the disease on your growing bamboo.
Growing Bamboo in Containers Outdoors or Indoors
It is not impossible to plant growing bamboo in containers but it does present a unique problem. The biggest drawback to container planting is the aggressive root structure of most bamboos.
This outdoor structure which is actually an exotic outdoor container has to have at least three feet or more or the growth will eventually be halted and result in killing the bamboo. There are dwarf bamboos available which grow in very narrow planters. You can search on the web for many places that sell dwarf bamboo.
Indoor planting is another story. The most important point here is to pick the largest container possible preferably one that doesn’t take a forklift to move it. I would lean towards at least a 10 gallon size container. A short and elongated container would be much better than a tall and narrow container.
Just keep in mind that growing bamboo likes to spread out. The pot must have good drainage or you will encounter wet feet which definitely leads to the demise of your growing bamboo.
It will outgrow this container and become root bound in a very few years. The option here is to provide a larger container, or remove some of the roots, replenish soil and replant in the same container. My choice would be to move the bamboo outside and start over with a new batch indoors.
I once had a trumpet lily that took over the room and I planted it in ever larger planters until my husband and I together could not move the plant. It was not a pretty picture. The clumping bamboo can be used but has very different requirements.
They require a dormant period which normally is provided by the shorter days of winter and the cold temperatures. This will not happen inside so the plant should receive a lot less water to give it a rest and don’t feed the plant.
It will lose leaves during this period so don’t become alarmed. It should recover when you commence more frequent watering and fertilizing in the spring. The other real problem is the low humidity in the home.
I would place a tray of small rocks with a little water under the plant. It would be helpful to mist regularly or if possible provide a humidifier perhaps you have other plants that might enjoy this along with your growing bamboo.
Control of Growing Bamboo the Running Type
The very simple way to control running bamboo is to cut off unwanted shoots in the spring. Even though it sounds simple it could become a chore because of the enormous amount of new shoots that emerge in your lawn .
If original placement has been thought out maybe you can plant the growing bamboo in an open position in your garden so that it is accessible from all sides. This will allow you to use your trusty lawn mower to mow down the shoots.
You will need to mow every year in order to control the spread of the bamboo into unwanted areas. You have to remember that they will return since they are connected underground to the mother plant. Growing bamboo will be planted in the middle of this finished trench
You will see in the above picture a rhizome barrier constructed with a thirty to sixty mil thick plastic and at least 24 inches wide which is buried upright in the ground with an inch or two sticking out of the ground as the rhizomes would just go over it and continue on if the entire thick plastic is underground.
In researching this information I found that 24″is OK for clay soil but you may need to purchase a 36″ width for sandy soil. This involves digging which could turn into hard labor considering you will have to allow six feet around the perimeter for the growing bamboo.
If you know someone with a backhoe or own one yourself I would advise using it. I would advise slanting your barrier outward at the top to guide the rhizomes upward instead of down as they could eventually work their way underneath the base of the barrier.
The second picture reveals the start of an open trench around the bamboo. This one need only be about eighteen inches deep as there is no plastic barrier forcing the rhizomes deeper. The inspection of the trench on a regular basis will reveal rhizomes attempting to cross the trench and you can cut or break them.
There is another way to handle this method as I talked to a friend of mine who is an ardent bamboo lover (she is also very big on hydrangeas). The ditch is filled with gravel or mulch and each fall he takes a shovel and forcibly pushes it down into the trench going the entire way around, and also pruning any rhizomes that are visibly crossing the ditch.
This is an act of vigilance and must be performed regularly to keep your growing bamboo in control. Yes the joys of being a gardener! I hope I have not discouraged you from planting bamboo because it is beautiful and graceful in its majestic stand.
Yes my husband is getting his bamboo and I am making chiropractic appointments in advance for my back. Joking aside, I would give it a try and particularly if you happen to reside in the North up to zone 4 as all your friends will figure that you’re a genius growing bamboo in the north.