Changing the way we think about bamboo can change the world.
Somewhere along the line bamboo got a “bad rep” as a weedy invasive plant. But bamboo is not only versatile and beautiful, it could well be our best bet for solving some of the most urgent challenges the world faces today–especially in mitigating climate change and fostering prosperity in some of the world’s most impoverished areas.
Any undesirable results of bamboo can be avoided with proper care and management. Although planting and caring for bamboo does take careful consideration, by adopting methods to routinely (and easily) monitor and control growth, you can enjoy the many benefits of bamboo.
Bamboos like the Vivax (Phyllostachys vivax) produce rhizomes that grow laterally through the upper surface of the soil and sometimes right above the surface. In the Pacific Northwest, these primarily grow from early summer until mid-fall. New canes shoot up in the spring to early summer from bud spaced along the rhizome.
Bamboos like Bambusa (Bambusa bambos) slowly grow wider each year but do not run. Canes on cold hardy clumpers often should in late spring to Midsummer and again in the fall. They grow off the tip end of the rhizome.
For newly planted bamboo, keep the soil moist (not soggy) for the first two weeks. Too much water will cause excess leave drop. During the shorter daylight and rainy seasons, bamboo will use less water. When watering your bamboo, especially when the soil is very dry, check that water is reaching the bottom of the rootball as very dry soil can repel rather than easily absorb water.
For the first and second year water deeply at least once or twice a week during dry weather. Make sure the water is soaking into the roots, not just running off. Soaker hoses or drip irrigation grow healthier plants with less water. Occasional deep watering during summer or fall dry spells should be sufficient in the Pacific Northwest if you noticed leaves curling up it’s a telltale sign of stress. Dryness is often the cause.
Pest Management Tips:
Bamboos grown in the US and elsewhere in the world have relatively few pests. Spider mites and aphids often affect the appearance of the leaves, but do not compromise the health of the plant. Slugs and snails however may do significant harm. Simply remove leaf litter when observing infestations and avoid the use of pesticides as they may kill useful predator insects.
Aphids are translucent, soft-bodied insects that often show up in early summer. They will leave a sticky residue on the leaves which later turned into a black film. This will remain until the leaves are shed the following year. You can reduce the aphid problem by pruning your bamboo to allow good air circulation. Also, occasionally spray the leaves with a strong jet of water and wait for predators like birds and ladybugs to do their work. Often horticultural oil or insecticide soaps used for mites can be helpful in the control of aphids.
Signs of bites, gnawing, and chewing on new canes could indicate the presence of slugs or snails. Herbivores such as goats, cows, and horses also enjoy eating bamboo canes and may require fencing. Deer are generally not problematic.
Applying 2 to 3 inches of course mulch, like bark chips, leaves, or grass clippings, can help to conserve water and prevent weeds. Adding some mulch has the additional benefit of insulating rhizomes from freezing temperatures. Allowing bamboo leaves that have fallen to remain on the ground provide a helpful ground cover and offer silica back to the bamboo.
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