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CARING FOR YOUR BAMBOO IN THE NORTHWEST

The climate of the Pacific Northwest is well suited for the cultivation of temperate species of bamboo as demonstrated by the current collection and variety of bamboo species grown here at Jade Mountain Bamboo in Tacoma, Washington. Anyone reading this, especially those considering establishing bamboo in their own landscape, is encouraged to visit the bamboo groves at Jade Mountain to observe for themselves the growth habits and characteristics of various species in their collection.

Why Grow Bamboo?

Bamboo is beautiful. Bamboo sounds nice with the wind in its leaves. Bamboo comes in many colors, sizes and shapes. Bamboo, like other plants, enriches the air with oxygen. Bamboo can provide shade to cut your cooling costs. Bamboo can slow the wind in heavy storms. Bamboo can break the rain and bind the soil to slow erosion. A bamboo hedge can screen out street noises or the neighbor's view. Bamboo can provide edible shoots and materials for crafts. Bamboo can reduce the area of grass to mow. Bamboo provides privacy for you and your family.

Soil

The classic soil for bamboo is a well drained fertile soil that is rich in organic material and has a near neutral to slightly acid pH. -- Exactly what we have here in the Pacific Northwest!

Space

If you don't think you have enough space for bamboo, don't let a perceived lack of space dissuade you from growing bamboo; all bamboos, even the giants, can be grown in pots and planters. Although a giant bamboo grown in a planter may not reach its maximum size, it still makes a beautiful plant. Here at Jade Mountain Bamboo we sell 40 mil polyurthene bamboo barrier that effectively contains spreading bamboo.

In general, for optimal growth, bamboo likes an area at least as wide and long as the ultimate height of the species. In an average sized lot, this amount of space is not always available and, as a consequence, the plants may not reach their ultimate height. To compensate for this, select species with an ultimate height greater than the height you desire. If you want large plants in a small space, plant giant species and pamper them with mulch, water, and fertilizer.

Light

Bamboo, like other plants, needs the right lighting to grow well. Most species in the Phyllostachys and Bambusa genera prefer a full sun exposure. However, as with other plants, new plantings of all bamboo can benefit from some form of temporary shading until they become established. Species in the Pseudosasa and Sasa genera typically occur as understory plants in forests and prefer partial shade. They will not generally do well planted in direct sun.

Site Preparation

To get the best growth from bamboo, prepare the site before planting. Site preparation should include installation of barrier if it is to be used, general addition of soil amendments if they are to be used, and most importantly, preparation of the planting hole. (Instructions especially for clumping bamboos:) To prepare the planting hole, excavate a roughly circular hole with a diameter as wide as it is deep (suggested 3' wide by 3' deep). If you are able to dig a post hole down in the center of the hole, go down to a depth of five feet. Distribute the dirt from the hole in low piles around the hole. Refill the hole to the level of the low piles with a good soil mix such as compost, compost plus horse manure, mushroom compost, or compost plus organic peat. Be sure the soil mix is fertile and well drained. This site preparation provides a raised bed of good soil to get your bamboo established. The final profile of the hole should be higher at the edges with a depression at the center. The hole should be well watered to assure a stable profile has been established.

Planting

Bamboo plants and rhizomes should be kept moist at all times during shipping and planting. After planting, the bamboo should be watered regularly until it becomes established. All new plants can benefit from some temporary shade until they become established.

Potted plants can be planted into the ground at any time as long as they are kept watered and the roots are not severely disturbed during planting.

Watering

New plants may need watering every day during dry spells; older plantings can withstand dry conditions quite well, although some species are more drought tolerant than others. In general, good growth can be established by soaking once a week when rainfall is scant. As with ordinary lawn grass, deep watering encourages deep root growth. Use of a layer of mulch such as leaves, grass clippings or compost to conserve water, adds fertility and controls weeds; use 2 or 3 inches on new plants and thicker layers on established plants.

Weeding

Weeding around new plants should be done by hand; use of cultivating tools can damage rhizomes growing just beneath the surface.

Fertilizing

Bamboo, like grass, does well with fertilizer additions; regularly fertilizing the grove will result in larger culms sooner. If you are only going to fertilize infrequently, do it in the late March to late April time frame to have maximum effect on spring shooting.

Grooming

To keep your bamboo grove looking its' best, you should groom it regularly. Remove any dead culms when they are noticed and remove smaller or disfigured culms in the fall. Avoid damaging growing shoots if grooming in the spring or summer. Removing clutter from the grove clears the way for new growth. Once the grove is established, approximately one quarter of the culms can be removed from the grove each year. As a rule of thumb for running bamboo, the grove should be thinned by removing the oldest culms until a little bit of broken sunlight reaches the ground. For the first few years, it is best to allow all the culms to remain in the grove. Until the grove becomes well established, remove only culms that are dead and dry.

To remove culms, use a saw or clippers. Culms should be cut as close to the ground as possible to avoid creating hazards. Do not use axes or machetes to remove culms as this will leave sharp hazardous stumps. To remove branches, so that there are no stubs left to rip your clothing as you stroll through the bamboo, use a saw or sharp knife to undercut on the outside - where the branch joins the culm and the give the branch a quick tug. This will result in a clean branch removal. Clippers can be used instead of the undercut method, but over time, one will learn that the first part of the branch (on Phyllostachys) is very solid and hard to cut with clippers. Do not use downward strokes with knives or machetes for branch removal, as this tends to scalp the node and internode beneath the branch.

If you are grooming to harvest poles for crafts or construction where the durability of the pole is important, mark the culms each and wait at least 3 years before harvesting.

Shooting

Most temperate species shoot heavily in the spring and early summer, and to a lesser degree the remainder of the season. The bamboo shoot contains all the components of the mature culm in a compact package wrapped with the culm sheaths. When the shoot emerges, it is at the full diameter of the mature culm! Unlike a tree, the bamboo culm does not increase in diameter as it matures.

Flowering

Bamboo has an internal biological clock which triggers its flowering. The interval between flowering varies among species from 30 to 120 years. Some species have never been know to flower. Flowering greatly impairs a grove. No one knows why bamboo flowers or how to prevent it.