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GROWING BAMBOO IN CONTAINERS

by Phil Davidson, co-owner of Jade Mountain Bamboo

As in the case of garden bamboos, container bamboos need the right site for optimal development. Some need sun while others do best in semi-shade, depending on the species and genus. Above all containers must be large enough - 10 gallons is too small for most of the larger species! We suggest a whiskey or wine barrel as they are wide, attractive and around 25 –30 gallons.

Unlike outside, where the rhizomes are free to spread, in this case they are restricted causing the bamboos to become stunted, rootbound and difficult to water if left in the containers for more than 4 years. To prevent this we suggest the bamboo be removed no later than the fourth year and halved or quartered and repotted with one of these newly cut sections back into the container.

Watering

It is very important with bamboos in containers not to let the soil dry out as the soil in the containers will warm up much more quickly than in the garden and also dry out quicker, plus the bamboo’s water loss will be much higher. The container bamboos must be watered more frequently than those in the ground! A daily watering during our hot dry summers is highly recommended! Adequate drain holes are a must!

Fertilizing

Container bamboos can be fed in the same way as those in the open. Fertilizer should be applied to container plants when the culms (shoots) sprout, then 3 months later when the rhizome develops further and then 2 to 3 months after that, when reserves are laid down in the rhizome. For the hardy species this would be in April, June and September, for tropical species that begin to put out their culms in late summer or autumn, somewhat later, usually just before they are brought inside to protect them from the winter cold.

Overwintering

With mostly mild winters we have overwintered (really, just left in place) our containerized bamboos outside for the last 12 years with little or no problem. Overwintering bamboos can be somewhat trickier than for other container plants as they need more light in winter, otherwise their foliage may deteriorate. Bamboos will not survive overwintering in a reasonably lit garage if left there for the winter. A temperature of 41°F in a greenhouse environment is adequate for the temperate species and 50°F for the tropical ones. Overwintering our hardy planted-in-the-ground species has never been a problem as the earth acts as a superb insulator.