Bamboo is a perenial grass and has some unusual growth habits. The above ground stems are known as culms and the underground stems are known as rhizomes. True roots occur at the nodes of the rhizomes. Bamboo is usually evergreen and sheds the old leaves in the spring as the new leaves emerge. In central Georgia the running bamboo send up new shoots from early April to the end of May depending on species. Clump bamboo shoot from late summer through the fall and in our cliamte these new shootsdo not develop branches or leaves until the next spring. Dry soil conditions or a shortage of chill hours (affects running bamboos only) may delay shoot emergence. Rhizome growth occurs during the summer. Individual rhizomes can grow as much as 10-15 feet in a season. In a young bamboo plant the smallest culms are the oldestand the largest culms are the youngest. Bamboo culms become stronger with age and an individual culm lives for 6-12 years. Bamboo does not flower annually, but produces flowers for 1-5 years in a row in cycles that vary from 10-120 years or more. When a bamboo plant is flowering most of the culms are flowering and foilage is sparse. When flowering ends the plant may die, or will gradually recover, and culm diameter and height will eventually return to normal. Flowering seems to be the greatest in the fall, winter and spring months. A very low percentage of viable seeds are produced in the southeast.
Plants of running bamboo can be dug anytime but we usually dig from September to early March. February being the best and late March though April being the worst time to dig. The roots must be kept moist and leaves protected from dessication and wind. Bamboo plants that are carried in the back of a truck or open trailer should be covered with a tarp. Culms may be topped so that the root system can support the foilage.
Bamboos should not be fertilized when planted but can be fertilized lightly in the the first year during the summer. If you have a soil test run turf as the crop (the fertilizer requirements for turf are similar to bamboo). Established plants are heavy feeders and can be fertilized in any of several differnet ways. The easist method is to apply a lawn fertilizer (18-6-12 or something similar) once before the shoots emerge (February or March) at the rate of 2 1/2 lbs./100 square feet. You could apply the same rate in two or three split applications (February and July or February, June and August). You can also apply the lawn fertilizer once before shoot emergence in the spring and then apply nitrogen (urea or ammonium nitrate) once a month through August. The rate used depends on the soil test results, soil type, and the amount of new rhizome growth desired, but the highest rates recommended for turf in your area should work well on bamboo. Organic fetilizers also work well in bamboo groves. If you want to keep bamboo groves small - fertilize lightly or not at all. You may be able to influence the direction the grove expands by fertilizing where you want growth, and not fertilizing where you do not want growth.
Bamboo culms live from for 6-10 years and if culms are not thinned a grove can become unsightly because of dead culms. If you want a thick growth of culms to serve as a screen you may not want to thin or you may be unable to reach all the dead culms. If you do thin culms there are really three levels of thinning:
Many people like the beauty of the running bamboos, but are concerned about the plant growing out of control. Bamboo may be controlled by a barrier (concrete, vinyl siding, heavy plastic 40 mil or grater, or sheet metal). Small plants may be contained in a buried container (plastic drums cut in half work well), but the drainage holes must be smaller than the rhizomes. Bamboo can also be restricted by mowing all unwanted shoots when they are 1-5 feet tall. In addition to mowing, you can cut off new rhizome growth with a sharp spade around the perimeter of the grove. To kill bamboo all growth to the ground until the plant dies (it may take several years). In some cases however the rhizome must be dug also. There are no herbicides that selectively kill bamboo but a high rate of Roundup (glyphosate, etc), Remedy (triclopyr), Transline (clopyralid) will speed up theeradication process. Apply the herbiced to regrowth with leaves. Three to four weeks after applying the herbicide you can cut the bamboo. If the bamboo grows back repeat the herbicide and cutting process.
Questions are often asked about which bamboo would be the most appropriate for a specific use or situation. Some of these questions are listed below. Answers refer only to bamboo that we have available.
Try any of the clump bamboos, Bambusa multiplex or Bambusa ventricosa. Semiarundinaria fastuosa, Pleioblastus simonii heterophyllus, Pseudosasa japonica, Pseudosasa japonica ‘tsutsumiana’, or Yushania anceps ‘Pitt White” are running bamboo that are not as aggressive and are easier to keep contained.
All temperate bamboo species are edible but some are more astringent in the raw state than are others. This astringency can be removed by cooking in one or more changes of water (this procedure is used for many wild greens also). Phyllostachys dulcis, P. vivax, and P. viridis are suggested because they lack astringency when raw, grow fast, and produce moderately large to large shoots. The Japanese and Chinese commonly use Phyllostachys heterocycla pubescens for shoots. A good reference that describes flavor qualities and acridity of bamboo shoots is: Robert A. Young, 1954. Flavor qualities of some edible oriental bamboos. Economic Botany 8(4):377-386. A broader approach to choosing bamboo for shoot production is to select species with large culms (2 1/2” and up) and choose early, midseason, and late shooting species to ensure a steady supply of shoots for the longest period of time.
Bambusa multiplex cv. Alphonse Karr, Phyllostachys viridis cv. Robert Young, Phyllostachys bambusoides cv. Allgold, Phyllostachys bambusoides cv. Castillon, and Phyllostachys aureosulcata spectabilis all have yellow culms with green stripes. The first three have narrow pinstripes of green and the latter two a broader green stripe in the culm groove (sulcus). Bambusa multiplex cv. Silverstripe, Pleioblastus simonii heterophyllus, and Phyllostachys bambusoides cv. Castillon all have green leaves with white or cream colored stripes. Pleioblastus (Arundinaria) viridi-striata has yellow leaves with green stripes in the spring but these fade to solid green later in the year.
Our bamboo that are dwarf (1-7 feet in height) include Pleioblastus viridi-striata, Sasa palmata, Indocalamus tesselatus, Bambusa multiplex cv Tiny Fern, Pleioblastus (Sasa) pygmaea, Shibataea kumasaca, and Pleioblastus distichus. Pseudosasa japonica tsutsumiana and Hibanobambusa tranquilans cv. Shiroshima are under 10’ for us at this time but grow to 16’ and 15’ respectively.
The typical form of Phyllostachys bambusoides should produce culms from 2-5 inches in diameter but it will take 10-15 years to reach full size. P. vivax is similar to Phyllostachys bambusoides but is more vigorous and cold hardy. P. heterocycla pubescens produces the largest culms of the three species (6 1/2” +) but it is more difficult to grow. Plants of all of these species must have plenty of water to produce really large culms.
All of our bamboo can be used for various landscape purposes. However some of the bamboos are more widely used by landscapers. Often preferred are clumping bamboo or running bamboo with small rhizomes that are easier to contain or dig up. The running bamboo are often planted using sidewalks, curbs, roads, buildings, parking lots, creeks, rivers, ponds, and lakes as barriers to control them on one or more sides. This works quite well as long as they receive adequate water. Bambusa multiplex, Pleioblastus simonii heterophyllus, Pseudosasa japonica, Sasa palmata, Pleioblastus viridi-striata, and Phyllostachys nigra will work well for landscape use. Distinctive bamboo such as large timber bamboo, bamboo with colored culms, or bamboo with variegated leaves are often preferred for ornamental landscaping. The use of the plant in the landscape will determine what type of bamboo you choose. Uses include screens, hedges (short and tall), specimen plants, groundcovers, accents against walls, and as barriers to foot traffic.
Any of our bamboo with culm diameters between 3/4” and 1 1/4” could be used for tomato stakes. Phyllostachys aurea is commonly grown in the S.E. and is excellent as plant stakes. P. nidularia, P. purpurata Solidstem, P. aureosulcata and P. bissetii are bamboo with smaller culms that make excellent plant stakes.
Most of our bamboo are suitable for screening out unwanted views and you should select a bamboo that is attractive to you (bearing in mind of course that the bamboo may look different when grown in your yard). The larger timber bamboos tend to form an open grove if unrestricted. If the grove is mowed or cultivated on two or more sides and only dead culms are thinned out then it should form a suitable screen. Small to medium sized bamboo should be mowed as described above but the culms will probably be too crowded to even thin out dead culms.
For hedges directly on property lines the clump bamboos are best. For hedges where you can allow 5’ to 10’ for mowing or cultivation the running bamboo can be used if you are on good terms with your neighbor! Pleioblastus simonii heterophyllus, Pseudosasa japonica, Phyllostachys meyeri, and Phyllostachys bissetii as well as many others can be used for hedges. Phyllostachys aurea is especially good for a hedge because it has branches nearly to ground level. The shoots of the clumping bamboo emerge in late summer, fall and winter and culms should be pruned back after the new growth is fully elongated (this is variable - it may occur in the fall in subtropical areas and in early spring at other sites). In running bamboo hedges the new culms emerging outside of the desired area must be cut off at the ground in April and May to keep the hedge at the desired width. Then in June or July when the new culms within the hedge are fully grown these can be cut to the desired height.
Use the methods described for developing a hedge or screen outlined in the previous question but use a fast growing bamboo such as Phyllostachys aurea, P. bissetii, P. rubromarginata, P. purpurata or P. nidularia.
Phyllostachys bisetti, P. aureosulcata, and P. nuda are reliably cold hardy to -10 to -15 degree. With TLC and lots of mulch they could probably tolerate - 20 to -30 degree F for short periods. These bamboo are grown in Illinois, Ohio, New York, and Pennsylvania where all above ground parts are killed but the rhizome survive and send up new culms each year.
Phyllostachys bambusoides, P. aurea, P. nigra, P. meyeri, P. viridis and P. angusta all have strong hard wood when mature. Culms should be 3-4 years old or older for maximum strength. P. aurea is favored for fishing poles but P. angusta or P. meyeri would be acceptable. Arundinaria amabilis also has excellent quality wood and is used for split bamboo fly rods. Strength of the wood may or may not be a requirement for other handicrafts and many bamboo species are suitable. The preferred bamboo for making Japanese fences and shakuhachis (Japanese bamboo flutes) is Phyllostachys bambusoides.
Avoid bamboo that produce large numbers of culms such as Phyllostachys bissetii, P. rubromarginata, P. nidularia, P. aurea, P. aureosulcata and P. purpurata and thin culms to the desired spacing. Harvesting shoots or poles will assist thinning efforts.
Thorough drying requires several months and the exact length of time is determined by the humidity and temperature of the air. The culms should be laid horizontally on a rack with the supports at intervals of a few feet to avoid bending. To dry a large quantity place the culms with butts and tips alternating and tie them to bundles to prevent the formation of new curves. Culm sections of large diameter need to cure for a longer period of time but this time interval can be shortened by splitting the sections into halves.
Another Method of surface finishing. Bamboo culms can be scoured with wet sand or a pot scrubbing pad and then exposed on all sides, in a vertical position, to direct sunlight. During this exposure the culms are gradually turned - about one-third of the way at a time - in order to obtain even coloring from the sun. The length of time of exposure required will vary with the intensity of the sunlight and may amount to a total of 12 hours or more in each position. Move the culms to a sheltered place at night (to avoid dew) or during rainy periods. This method is useful where heating is not done.
Place small culm pieces in an oven at 200 degree F. until the waxy coating becomes soft. Then wipe the culm pieces clean with a cloth and let them cool.
The American Bamboo Society (ABS) publishes a newsletter, a bamboo source list, and a journal that are issued to members. To join ABS write to : American Bamboo Society, 750 Krumkill Rd., Albany, NY 12203-5976. The journal appears on an irregular schedule that is dictated by the number of articles submitted and the money available for printing. The newsletter contains ABS news and very informative articles covering a wide range of interests within the world of bamboo. The website for ABS is: http://www.americanbamboo.org/. The website for the SE chapter of the ABS is: http//www.sec-bamboo.org/.
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