For a long time in my horticultural career, I avoided bamboo like the plague. All I knew about it was that it grew impossibly high and that it spread like wildfire. I always imagined canes growing to stratospheric levels — way out of the typical suburban landscape — and sending up shoots at random, invading existing trees, shrubs, groundcovers and turf. And, for some Bambusa species, this is an accurate picture.
When a client expressed an interest in using bamboo in his landscape, I did an internal, exaggerated eye-roll. Nevertheless, I thought, this will give me a chance to learn something. When I approached a nurseryman about the idea, he knowingly pointed out a massive stand of 50-foot bamboos swaying in the breeze in an adjacent lot. He did an external, exaggerated eye-roll and said, “You want to plant that?!” Once again, my thoughts turned against the idea. Another thing he knew for sure about bamboo was that it is expensive. However, he promised to get me a price list with descriptions of various species that were available.
The first thing I learned was that bamboo comes in two types: running and clumping. The running types were the ones I knew well. The clumping types had the attractive characteristic of pretty much growing and maturing where they were planted. Suddenly, I realized that I could now utilize bamboo’s unique grace and fascinating canes to use as a screen, focal point or counterpoint to formal hedges and shrubs.
And what a wondrous variety from which to choose. There are huge canes that clack in the wind, colorful canes that are black or striped canes that display blue, green or yellow hues, canes that swell at the nodes suggesting Buddha’s belly. And the foliage can vary from fernlike and weeping to stately and rigid. The mature heights of bamboos can range from the 12-foot Fernleaf to the 55-foot Giant Timber. There are many intermediate species that range in the 20- to 30-foot height that can be used to enhance buildings of two stories or higher. Almost all varieties can withstand below-freezing temperatures — Fernleaf as low as 15 degrees. This is good news in our subtropical climate.
So, you can pick the bamboo that suits your needs. Select the size, color and shape of your dreams and rest assured that they will stay in their place. Shoot, nobody wants to get bamboozled.
Plant of the Month
Having completed my research I wanted to try a little bamboo in my own landscape. Because I had recently cut some tall old Buford hollies way back on the south side of my house, I was thinking of planting something to re-establish my privacy. My choice (because I am a shameless control freak) was Bambusa Multiplex, the Fernleaf variety. Two nice features of this species are an ultimate height of only 12 feet and the possibility of pruning the canes into a pleasing, hedgelike shape. After a year of growing and spreading, it has provided an attractive, feathery screen that has been most satisfactory.
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