For most people the first thought or vision of a Bamboo is of a tropical giant from a wild, equatorial jungle. Although the plants from these hotter climates are more numerous than their temperate relatives, there are well over 200 species, varieties and cultivars. At SAS Interiors we love bamboo!
These temperate Bamboos are mostly all evergreen and without doubt some of the hardiest outdoor plants within British gardens, many native to the harsh climates of the Himalayas, East China and Korea. Bamboos are fast gaining in popularity, their Winter greenery and constant movement add a different dimension to the garden.
Choice can be made from foliage and canes (culms), specimen plants, ground cover or screening. Habits vary from the tight clump forming to the incredibly invasive; heights from 10cm to 7m; cane colours from gold, through blue and green to red, deep purple and black.
The foliage is as varied; ranging from thin almost needle-like to massive ashet sized leaves, usually green. However, within the genera there are some striking ariegations; white, cream and yellow stripes, streaks and mottling.
Combine some of the above and you have a recipe for a group of outstanding ornamental plants.
Of course – you can have a jungle if that is your desire, but remember – bamboo is one of the most versatile, tranquil and peaceful of plants – lending itself to the creation of an ideal – whatever your conception of that ideal might be!
Bamboos are a subfamily of Grasses:
- FAMILY: GRAMINEAE / POACEAE
- SUBFAMILY: BAMBUSOIDEAE
They can be defined as “Tall or Shrubby Grasses with Woody Stems (Culms)”. They are some of the hardiest evergreen plants around and a visit to our Nursery in the depths of Winter will be amply rewarded.
Origin of Genera
Bamboos, including tropical bamboos, cover large areas north and south of the Equator, and occur in all continents except Europe and the Poles.
Temperate bamboos are limited in their distribution to the following areas:
Bamboos Native to China and Taiwan:
Bambusa, Bashania, Chimonobambusa, Fargesia, Indocalamus, Oligostachyum, Phyllostachys, Pleioblastus,Pseudosasa, Sasamorpha, Schizostachyum, Semiarundinaria, Shibataea, Sinobambusa, Yushania
Bamboos Native to Korea and Japan, including the surrounding islands:
Chimonobambusa, xHibanobambusa, Indocalamus, Phyllostachys, Pleioblastus, Pseudosasa, Sasa, Sasaella, Sasamorpha, Semiarundinaria, Shibataea, Sinobambusa
Bamboos Native to North India, Himalayas, Nepal and Tibet:
Borinda, Drepanostachyum, Fargesia, Himalayacalamus, Thamnocalamus, Yushania
Bamboos Native to North America:
Arundinaria gigantea, Arundinaria gigantea subsp. tecta
Bamboos Native to South America, mainly Chile:
Bamboos native to South Africa:
Habitat, diversity and plant habits
The native habitats of Hardy Bamboos fall mainly into three categories. Simply put, the divisions are due to altitude – highland and lowland – andi solation, as the third category is island.
Mostly from the Himalaya and the Andes and include Chusquea, Fargesia and Thamnocalmus. These Bamboos often have small leaves and are mostly tight clumping and reserverd in their growth and spread.
Mainly from the plains of China which are inhabited by the many structural timber bamboos, eg: Phyllostachys and some Semiarundinaria species. In the wild these plants form large groves, but are often very refined when brought into our more temperate gardens.Indeed many can be tight clumping according to the location you give them.
The Japanese islands are a fine example of this maritime influenced group of Bamboos. Many have larger leaves such as Sasa and Indocalamus offering that “tropical touch”, but they can take up room, forming dense colonies. Choose carefully, and plant wisely, or grow them in pots for versatility.
Bamboos are adaptable to most soils, except permanently boggy conditions. They are mostly tolerant of sun, shade and wind. The following measures will help make a Bamboo healthy and attractive:
- Addition of humus when planting, particularly as a heavy mulch.
- Continued mulching and occasional top dressing of a balanced fertilizer.
- Adequate watering during the first 2 years.
- Thinning of old and weak culms as the Bamboo matures.
- Some pruning of lower branches will enhance the appearance of the culms, particularly of Phyllostachys.
Rhizome and culm (cane) development
The Important part of a young nursery plant is the rhizome system in the pot. The development of this is a priority after planting.
As the rhizomes become stronger, the culms will grow thicker and taller, gradually replacing the smaller juvenile growth. A culm produced during the course of one year will have reached its ultimate height; further branching will occur and in turn more leaves.
With more culms and foliage there will be a better supply of nutrients to the rhizomes which will provide for even stronger growth.
Some characteristics of the main genera
Arundinaria: Persistent pale sheaths on green culms. Coloured young shoots. Medium to large leaves on plentiful, upright canes.
Bashania: Culms and leaves usually pale, grey-silver and upright. Deep rooted and evenly spreading. Ideal for getting lost in.
Borinda: Almost identical to Thamnocalamus apart from the extremely hairy culm sheaths.
Chimonobambusa: Early Winter, as well as Spring shooting. New culms often marbled, naked in the first year apart from some congested foliage at the tips. Usually short to medium, delicate leafy growth on thin flexible culms, (apart from C. quadrangularis which is bolt upright and very inflexible – there’s always one!)
Chusquea: Solid culms, almost leafless in the first year. Clustered branches in a ring around the nodes with dense, spiky looking foliage. Pale, persistent sheaths last well into the second year.
Clavinodum: Thin, arching culms, dark coloured. Large leaves for the size of the plant. Very rare.
Fargesia: Finely leafed Bamboos with thin, flexible and plentiful culms. Very strongly clump forming. Some species with leafless culms in the first year and persistent sheaths. New shoots are often early and colourful.
X Hibanobambusa: Hairy leaf sheaths. Long, broad, leathery leaves with hairs at base. Good straight culms, fresh green. Culm sheaths are not persistent. Intermediate in habit between Phyllostachys and Sasa. (A good choice for those who can’t choose between large or small leaves).
Indocalamus: Thin culms with large leaves (often very). Not as rampant as Sasa, with less Winter leaf bleaching. Usually short(ish) in height and dense in foliage.
Phyllostachys: Each culm has a sulcus (groove) on one side between nodes, alternating on opposite sides of the culm. Most produce very strong, tall and thick canes when mature. Cane colours exceed the limitations of the rainbow.
Pleioblastus: Persistent, leathery culm sheaths. Short forms provide excellent ground cover. Upright, tall forms are very distinct with rounded canes and fresh greenery. Essentially grown for foliage. Massive variation within the genus.
Pseudosasa: Tall, bare culms with very persistent sheaths. Branches at the top half of the canes hold the fresh, medium large, leathery foliage very gracefully. Seriously architectural.
Sasa: Persistent dry, papery culm sheaths. A single branch per node. Leaf margins often attractively bleached in Winter. Likes to go about from place to place aimlessly. (The Concise Oxford Dictionary – Ninth Edition, definition of ‘Wander of’).
Sasaella: As above, except more than one branch per node. (You can yawn if you get as far as here!)
Semiarundinaria: Faintly developed sulcus (groove) on lower internodes. Hairy outer culm sheaths, smooth and pink on the inside. Good for canes and foliage. Please note: do not let the neighbours hear you discussing the hairy culm sheaths.
Shibataea: Usually short and broad leaves, often with unique tip bleaching in Winter. Short, thin, zig-zag culms.
Thamnocalamus: Small, thin, leaves, often glaucous, on relatively thick culms. Faint swellings on internodes, (not visible but can be felt ~ preferably not in front of the neighbours). Clump forming. Usually deep rooted. Very airy and graceful. T. tessellatus is the odd one out and tries to be like a Chusquea.
Yushania: Long, thin green leaves on tall, flexible culms. Evenly spreading habit. Culms bloomy when young with persistent sheaths. Most are fountain like in habit.
Propagation of bamboo
Apart from seed, which is scarce as flowering of Bamboos is very rare, the only method is division. With some of the rarer species being dense in habit, it is obvious that the rarity will continue because of the slow and limiting process of division at the root.
Division of thin, juvenile plants is more rewarding than taking an axe to an ancient specimen with thick growth and it is often wiser to purchase a plant with juvenile growth as it will establish better in the average garden.
Division of older mature culms only results in young juvenile growth. Mature culms are produced more quickly from juvenile plants. Some of the more invasive types will produce readily from rhizome and bud sections and it is possible, with more luck than judgement, to layer canes.
Drought tolerant bamboos
After growing Bamboos in Norfolk for over 15 years we can safely say that most established Bamboos will adapt well to long periods of drought. We may recommend the optimum conditions of mulch and regular watering to our customers, as this will establish plants more quickly.
We have in fact just planted quickly, with the minimum of cultivation. If the plant is lucky it may get an initial watering, particularly if planted in Spring. If we’re feeling generous it may get a sparse mulch which we always recommend but never seem to have time for. We certainly never provide additional watering to the garden.
The best food and mulch a Bamboo can have are its own sheaths and leaves which are shed without you really noticing; these must never be cleared away from the base of a plant. Young plants in a cultivated garden do not have the luxury of plenty of shed leaves so a little bit of nurturing for the first year or two will be acceptable.
Bear in mind that nature does not provide artificial fertilizer and if it doesn’t rain, there’s no one to be seen anywhere with a hose pipe. The only way to persuade you that these plants can cope with a low annual rainfall and absolutely no mothering at all is to visit our garden.
Plants in the main section marked are especially good under severe stress and are usually slightly deeper rooted.
Bamboos in containers
For those with restricted space, small gardens and acres of patio, there is no reason why Bamboos can’t be used in pots to provide a mobile display. The following points may be noted to make container culture easier:
- Never over pot a Bamboo, pot on in stages as the root develops.
- Never let the plant dry out at any stage.
- Be prepared to divide (often with a saw) every two years; reduce some of the leaf area when this is done.
- Use a heavy compost. Mix a loam based with peat based and add some grit for weight. Slow release fertilizer is essential and liquid feeding a bonus.
- Be prepared to prune, to keep the plant in shape and reduce height if necessary. Never prune a cane until it has matured and come into leaf or it will abort.
- As the roots are above ground in Winter, when the weather becomes severe, either plunge the container, or move to the shelter of a wall and wrap the container. The aim is to prevent desiccation of the leaves as frozen roots can not take up water.
- Bamboos drink and sometimes feed all year round, be prepared to water in Winter.
Bamboo Flowers are small, insignificant and grass-like. Flowering uses the plants energy and the plant can die or rejuvenate. Badly affected plants nearly always produce some seed. It is a misconception that all Bamboos die after flowering. Most that do flower, will eventually rejuvenate strongly.
The most widely planted Bamboo in cultivation (Fargesia murieliae) flowered approximately 5 years ago and most mature plants are now dead. However, nearly all plants with maturity have produced a heavy crop of viable seed ensuring the plant will again be widely grown. There has been some new cultivars raised from this massive crop of seed.
Bamboos flower very rarely, in some cases at long intervals of a century or more. Some have never flowered in recorded cultivation. Simultaneous flowering of a species usually occurs World-wide unless there are clonal variations proving that all stock of one species originated from one source. The reasons for Bamboo flowering are not known and considering modern science, technology and understanding, it is obvious that the Bamboo has the upper hand and there is still much to learn.