The myth about bamboo: Stick it in the ground and it will take over! In truth, bamboo needs routine care and attention the first two to three years until the rhizome system becomes established. After this, the bamboo can fend for itself if need be. It will always respond to extra care, however, and the rewards can be stunning. Each cane emerges from the ground at its mature thickness. Bamboo will produce larger canes in height and diameter each year until it reaches its maximum potential. But the canes themselves never get thicker after emerging from the ground.
To encourage new growth, it is important to adequately feed and water your plants to ensure large, healthy, and robust growth the following spring.
Containing Your Bamboo
There are several successful strategies for containing bamboo. Groundcover types are the easiest, needing only a shallow barrier. Generally speaking, the taller the species the more complex your strategy must become. There are a few natural barriers for bamboo - extreme moisture, a pond, river or stream, extreme dryness. Here at Seven Arrows stands of Phyllostachys planted in areas bound by a gravel drive in one case and a gravel path in another have yet to escape these barriers after ten years in the same space. That's not to say it won't be more aggressive where you live, so plan accordingly. Some nursery owner friends of ours have a horror story involving brand new asphalt paving and running bamboo, so be advised: IT WILL SPREAD! That said, this shouldn't deter you from planting bamboo, provided you've thought it through and have a good strategy. Here's the recommended method - Consider the ultimate size of the area you want your bamboo grove to fill. Dig a 3' trench around the entire area. (Better yet if it's not too large, dig out the entire area to 3' deep. This is when you thank the gods for heavy equipment!) Use a thick UV resistant plastic sheeting, at least 40 mil in thickness. Specific liners are sold for this purpose (we sell them -call for pricing). Line the entire perimeter, making sure to overlap any seams by at least 12". Plant as explained below. Instead of the plastic, a concrete wall will work well. Don't make the mistake of thinking that by planting the bamboo in the pot you bought it in will either contain your plant (it will find its way out the drainage holes, if it already isn't poking its roots out) or allow the plant to thrive. These are plants born to roam.
"Have a compassionate heart towards all creatures" - Ko Hung
There are very few pests and diseases which affect the temperate bamboo species. With proper care and management most pest problems can be avoided all-together. Listed below are the more common vectors and general remedies for controlling them:
- Bamboo Mites: Bamboo mites are a specific pest of bamboo. Native to Japan, they have no known predators indigenous to the U.S. The best way to avoid these mites is to buy plant material guaranteed mite free! In the event of a mite infestation occurring, use a miticide, spraying the lower side of the foliage thoroughly. Several applications may be necessary for complete eradication.
- Aphids: Aphid infestations can occur at any time on any bamboo. When bamboo groves are congested and overgrown this exacerbates the problem. Sooty mold is the tell tale sign of an aphid infestation resulting from the honeydew deposited by the aphids. Sooty mold is characterized by a black shiny covering on the upper surface of the bamboo leaf. Most soap based insecticides work well on aphid out-breaks.
- Slugs and Snails: Slugs and snails feed on the tender new shoots of the bamboo, making small holes in the new canes. As these canes harden, the holes often become larger, destabilizing the strength of the cane as a whole. Some species are particularly prone although this doesn't seem to be a big problem here on the East Coast. If slugs appear to be a problem apply slug bait around the groves in late winter and again in the spring to discourage activity. We love and sell Sluggo brand here at Seven Arrows, although it's principal application around these parts is for hosta protection.
Furry Four Leggeds:
Bamboos are most vulnerable to damage by animals when they are new plantings. There are exceptions to every rule. In the Pacific Northwest large bamboos are particularly affected by vole infestations. Voles have been known to topple large established canes by compromising the anchor roots found at the base of the cane. They eat all the established and newly emerging buds and rhizomes. This leaves a large running timber bamboo susceptible to toppling in winds and heavy rains. Here are a few suggestions for protecting your bamboos as they're getting established.
- Livestock such as chickens, goats, cattle, horses, and deer can become fond of bamboo as fodder. Although high in protein, nutritious and delicious, the outcome of this type of foraging may not be desirable. Planting outside the reach of livestock is the prudent way to avoid the issue. Planting within an animal's foraging area is a personal choice. Coyote Urine Powder is thought to be a good organic repellent for deer.
- Rabbits: Rabbits can be a nuisance to new plantings by eating the new shoots and young leaves. Try fencing in the plants when they are small to keep the rabbits away.
- Voles: Voles are tiny meadow mice with big teeth that love to feed on bamboo shoots and rhizomes. Keeping the lower branches trimmed up on the bamboo and the ground clean under the bamboo will help take away the voles' natural cover and make them more susceptible to predators. If you suspect that you have a vole infestation keep all leaf litter and mulch away from the affected bamboo. Vole runs are characterized by one-inch entry and exit tunnels and shallow subterranean runs. If you find canes falling or blowing over, check around the base of the planting to reveal the tell-tale tunnels or runs. Sprinkling Fox Urine Powder is thought to be a natural repellent for voles and other small critters.
Special thanks to BooShoot Gardens for letting us share some of their fabulous information about bamboo!
- Dig a hole twice the width of the container size and the same depth as the pot.
- Add a few inches of well-rotted or bagged compost or manure into the bottom of the hole and mix into soil. (Make sure the manure is well rotted to avoid burning the root system).
- Plant your bamboo level with the existing soil. Never deeper!
- Water thoroughly.
- Cover the planting with two to three inches of bark or compost to keep moisture levels high and insulate the planting through winter.
- New plantings require regular water the first two to three years
- Water thoroughly once or twice a week depending on weather conditions.
- For a running bamboo, make sure to saturate the soil around the entire planting area to allow for rhizome expansion.
- For a clumping bamboo, it is only necessary to water around the base of the plant, as you would a tree or shrub.
- Once the bamboo is established, water one to two inches per week during the growing season (May through September).
- Bamboo will show signs of water stress (lack of water) by curling its leaves up in a "V" shape. Water the plant immediately if this is noticed.
- Do not over-water your bamboo. Make sure the planting has adequate drainage. Most bamboo will not grow well in water-logged soils. In cases where the natural soils are soggy, use water tolerant bamboo species. Generally, symptoms of over-watered bamboo or bamboo planted in a wet site are excess yellowing foliage, rotting new canes and leaf tip die back.
Good fertilization practices are one of the most important aspects in maintaining a healthy bamboo grove. As the largest member of the grass family (Poaceae), bamboo is in constant need of a good nutrient supply. We recommend the following fertilization regimen for optimal growth of your bamboo groves.
Beginning of March
(or when weather warms)
Apply an organic liquid fertilizer, high in nitrogen, such as liquid seaweed to your bamboo groves. The first number in the series of three numbers found on any fertilizer package indicates the percentage of nitrogen in the product. You are looking for a ratio of approximately 3:1:2. Fertilizers formulated for lawns are usually quite compatible with bamboo. Be sure to follow the directions given by the manufacturer when applying the product. Apply the organic liquid feed every week until May.
Beginning of May
Apply an organic fertilizer to feed the groves throughout the remainder of the year. Again, most organic lawn fertilizers will have the perfect nutrient formulation for your bamboo. NEVER use commercial weed & feed formulations. This will kill your bamboo!
Thinning or Trimming
- Bamboo can be kept as thin or as dense as desired. Once a particular cane tip is trimmed, it will never again gain in height.
- Always keep a combination of new and old canes in the grove. For a healthy grove of timber bamboo, remove old, dying, dead, weak and leaning canes, but never remove more than 30% from the grove.
- Bamboo can be "legged-up" or trimmed from the base of the cane upwards to provide more air circulation and increase the amount of sunlight on the rhizome system. This will promote earlier shoot initiation and show off the beauty of the canes themselves.
- Clear-cut or mow groundcover bamboo (not the tall species) at the end of February to the first of March to get rid of old canes and maintain a compact appearance. The new growth to follow will be healthy, vibrant, and outstanding in appearance.
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