Bamboos – Lovely Hardy Exotics
Bamboos – Some Of The Most Popular Hardy Exotics
Along with all the other hardy exotics with which they associate so happily – palms, tree ferns, phormiums, and the like – bamboos have deservedly grown in popularity.
For many years the real potential of bamboos in the garden was not exploited, and as a result, their full beauty was not appreciated.
However, that their time has arrived and their important role in the formation of the hardy exotic garden will be realized. Until comparatively recently bamboos were used in gardens only as screening or as ‘accent’ plants, but their full beauty cannot be fully appreciated when they are mixed with ordinary garden plants.
They need to keep company with other hardy exotics – after all, that is where they belong – their graceful habit rustling with the faintest breeze.
Bamboos are useful for filling corners, diverting paths to create mystery, and as a substitute for trees. They are also one of the best subjects for planting at the water’s edge where their arching fronds will cast reflections equal in beauty to any weeping willow.
Their huge diversity and range of size and habit mean that they suit gardens of any size – some can even be grown in pots and are a great addition to small gardens.
They range from a few feet tall – some are ideal for ground cover – to impressive towering giants of up to 9m (30ft) in height. Their leaves also vary from only a few inches to more than a foot in length, some being narrow while others are wide, and some with colored canes (culms) or variegated leaves.
Varieties of Bamboos
For many years only a few varieties of bamboos were found in garden centers, such as Pseudosasa japonica (previously called Arundinaria japonica), a rather coarse but tough bamboo with largish leaves, reaching about 3.5m (12ft), and Fargesia murieliae and F. nitida (both then called arundinaria), with slim canes and small leaves, growing from 1.8-3m (6-10ft).
Also to be seen were little bamboos such as Sasa veitchil with its bleached leaf tips – a good ground-cover plant, and Pleioblastus auricomus (then called P. viridistriatus), with its acid-yellow striped leaves – a lovely bamboo for a pot at around a couple of feet. Wherever grown, it should, however, be trimmed to ground level at the end of each winter to ensure good growth and color the following season. It likes a sunny position whereas Sasa veitchil will tolerate shade.
The beginner could not go wrong with the easily available Phyllostachys aurea, a substantial plant between 1.8-4.5m (6-15ft), with yellow-green canes up to about 2.5cm (1 in) in diameter and fresh green leaves. The canes of the strikingly handsome black-stemmed Phyllostachys nigra are green at first, maturing to jet black. These two varieties of bamboos of similar structures have an elegant arching habit and smallish leaves of some 7.5cm (5in).
Semiarundinaria fastuosa is a very upright bamboo growing up to 7.5m (25ft); the young canes mature to a purplish brown and bear 15cm (3in) leaves. Only available from specialist nurseries, this very hardy bamboo is well worth seeking out.
Though the majority of bamboos are tall, there are a few of medium size. Fargesia spathacea at around 3m (10ft) is a very elegant plant, with arching canes and delicate leaves. Fargesir robusta is a new introduction and of similar character.
By contrast, at around 1.8-2.4m (6-8ft), Sasapalmata nebulosa has huge leaves 25-35cm (10-14in) long and up to 10cm (4in) wide, giving it a very distinctive appearance. Though invasive, it can be easily controlled with a sharp spade; alternatively, it could be grown in a large pot or tub. A smaller version of this is Indocalamus tessellatus at around lm (3ft). These have the widest leaves of any bamboo, while some of the narrowest belong to Pleioblastus linearis, which grows to around 3.5m (12ft).
Chusquea culeou, with distinctive canes bearing ‘tufts’ of small leaves clustered at the nodes, has perhaps lost some of its earlier glamour since the introduction of many other desirable varieties of bamboos.
More beautiful is Chusquea breviglumis, with tufts of leaves held on long side branches. Unfortunately, this bamboo needs a huge space in which to develop properly as the canes are widely spaced out and can reach 9m (30ft) in height.
The canes of chusqueas are solid whereas with other bamboos they are hollow.
Large-diameter canes are desirable, of course, but the British climate means that the heavy gauge – and height – of tropically grown bamboos can never be achieved; nonetheless, some varieties of bamboos are impressive.
Phyllostachys viridiglaucescens is another good-doer with impressive canes.
Colors Of Bamboos
Next to cane thickness and height, color is fast becoming a desirable feature and there is no shortage of species to choose from. Most varieties of bamboos have either plain yellow canes, yellow canes striped green, or green canes striped yellow, and most belong to the phyllostachys group.
Phyllostachys sulphurea ‘Robert Young’ and P. aureosulcata ‘Aureocaulis’ both have bright golden-yellow canes; P. a. ‘Spectabilis’ has yellow canes striped green; P. bambusoideds ‘Castillonis’ has thick, deep yellow canes with a broad green stripe. P. aureosulcata and P. bambusoides ‘Castillonis Inversa’ have reversed color.
Confused? then try Phyllostachys vivax ‘Aureocaulis’ as one of the best, though not the most vigorous, with thick yellow canes striped green.
All these plants grow anything from 4.5-6m (15-20ft) in height.
For something more modest, try two lovely small bamboos with white-striped leaves: Pleioblastus shibuyanus ‘Tsuboi’ at (1-1.5m (3-5ft) has subtle creamy-white stripes while x Hibanobamusa tranquillans ‘Shiroshima’ has bolder, more distinctive, striping of the leaves and is taller at 2-3m (6-10ft).
With all this choice there cannot fail to be something to suit every palate. The Japanese have long valued and used bamboo in their gardens, always in association with water.
Even the smallest plot could accommodate a few of these lovely hardy exotics which, along with their foreign cousins, help so much to convey the atmosphere of warmer climates. The hardy palms, tree ferns, cordy-lines, phormiums, bananas, and, not least, the bamboos create a picture that is second to none.
Where To Grow Bamboos
In general, bamboo plants are widely adaptable to numerous environments, and most species are able to survive harsh conditions. However, bamboo that is growing in the sunshine will grow at the fastest rate.
Furthermore, bamboos prefer being in a fertile, fruitful, slightly acidic, moisture-retentive, and well-draining soil.
This situation simply indicates that you are under the best conditions in order to grow the bamboo to its full potential. The majority of bamboos will still thrive in your garden if you provide a few of the above-mentioned requirements.
How To Grow Bamboos
When you have chosen a location where you want to grow bamboo, you can plant the bamboo.
For a bamboo rootball, you will need to dig a hole twice the width of the bamboo rootball.
Spread the roots of the bamboo out into the hole and place it in the hole, making sure to spread the roots, if needed.
Fill the hole slightly with soil and gently backfill it. Tamp the soil down as you go. To fill the air pockets in the hole, water the hole thoroughly.
By planting the bamboo in a loose mound of soil around it, the bamboo will be able to take root faster, since the roots will be able to reach the soil for their first growth in a shorter amount of time.
The bamboo plants need to be watered weekly until they grow strong enough. For the first couple of weeks after planting, it is highly recommended to provide some shade at the newly planted bamboo.
How To Grow Bamboos In Containers
With container gardening, you have flexibility in moving around the garden, patio, or balcony. It isn’t necessary to worry about bamboo taking possession of the garden since the container itself serves as a barrier.
As bamboo is capable of reaching tall heights with little space, it is ideal for those balconies with limited areas. Most varieties of bamboos can be grown in pots or containers.
Caring For Bamboos
Despite their exotic appearance, the majority of bamboos are very hardy plants, some withstanding very low temperatures. Providing they have sufficient moisture especially in the first year after planting, they are generally of very easy culture, but they may take four years to become properly established.
Next to drought, their only other dislike is a strong wind which can burn the foliage, but some species tolerate this more than others.
Each year, bamboos produce a batch of new culms. These usually increase in height annually, some by a few feet or more, until the plant has reached its ultimate height.
The culms live for several years, after which they begin to defoliate, at which time they should be cut out close to ground level, preferably with a sharp saw.
Bamboos replenish a percentage of their foliage each year, usually in early summer, just before which they will shed some of their old leaves.
Today, many varieties of bamboos available are non-invasive, their canes forming fairly tight clumps which gain in height faster than they spread horizontally, an advantage in small gardens.
If and when they do become too large they can be reduced by cutting off portions, preferably with about six canes. This will require a sharp spade and saw, for, although bamboos are shallow-rooted, their rootstocks are very tough.
This is a good way of multiplying your plants as you have an ‘instant’ specimen larger perhaps than you would be able to purchase. Water the clump well before you divide it, and prepare the hole for your new plant with good friable soil that has had a sprinkling of hoof and horn or blood, fish, and bone mixed into it. Water in after planting and stake if necessary until it is re-established.
Bamboos appreciate an annual dressing of a fast-release general fertilizer and, because of their shallow roots, plenty of water, especially in summer.
Generally speaking, the short-growing varieties of bamboos will tolerate shade while the taller ones prefer more open situations. Bamboos flower, though rarely, and can consequently die because the plant expends so much energy in doing so; even if the plant survives, it is often left looking so denuded that it is best removed.
Although only a half dozen or so different bamboos may be found even in a good garden center, there are now actually nearly 200 varieties of bamboos in cultivation, and a good number may be found in specialist nurseries.
Pests and Diseases
Bamboo mistakes tend to be related to water. The chlorine water will kill them in a relatively short period of time, and dirty or water that contains bacteria can be extremely dangerous as well.
An infected plant should be treated if the roots turn black or brown. It is also advisable to ensure that dead leaves do not rot in the water, as they may introduce bacteria. When algae grow, this is usually because the plants are potted in a clear vase, allowing light to penetrate and encouraging algae growth. Whenever you notice algae appearing, simply clean out the container, or switch to an opaque one if the problem persists.
The yellowing of the leaves usually indicates too much sun or fertilizer. Do not fertilize the plant anymore and move it to a shadier location.
Brown leaves often indicate air that is too dry or water with a high concentration of pollutants, where you can overcome this by watering the plants frequently. Stamens that turn mushy or rot have little chance of being saved. Any decaying stalk threatens the stalks around it, so you would be wise to remove them right away.