Bamboo project #2: transplant and transform

For my second bamboo-related project of the weekend, I'm going to transplant a "groundcover" bamboo and transform a terrible-looking part of my garden. This is the bamboo that I'll be digging:

It's Sasaella bitchuensis and is doing quite well here, even though it gets full sun until around noon or a little later (it's supposed to be a shade-loving bamboo). I'm not going to dig the whole plant up -- just remove some divisions from the two sides.


This is the area that is in need of a makeover:

It's underneath a fairly large silver maple tree:

Over the last few years the tree has shaded this bed out, so the sun-loving perennials that I had here are struggling or dead, and the weeds have taken over. I want the whole area to be filled with the bamboo, creating a lush, relatively low-maintenance area. Step one is to remove the weeds, which are mostly violets:

I'll rip out and compost any perennials that are still here too, like this yarrow:

My flat-edged spade is my tool of choice for this, because I can skim off the top layer of soil and plants relatively simply and quickly:

After a few minutes, I've made good progress:

There are a few rocks here, which are arm-jarring when I hit them. They're mostly hidden under the weeds. Have to be careful of hitting them too hard, because a shoulder injury could result.

This one larger rock is partially buried:

It easily pried out of the ground with the spade -- I didn't even need to get the digging bar. I had forgotten how large this rock was though:

It will look good in this area when it's replanted, so I'll just move it out of the way for a little while.

A few more minutes and the area is clear:

Note the spider web in the upper right corner of that image. It's a nice one, especially with the sun backlighting it:

It's getting sunnier over here as the sun gets lower in the afternoon sky. It's also unseasonably warm today (86 F) and this sunlight is making it quite hot over here. Not exactly the best conditions under which to plant a shade-loving bamboo, but it will be shady again here in a little while, so I'm not too concerned.

Now that the planting area is ready, it's time to get some plants! To make it easier to get the bamboo dug, I just used a bungee cord to tie some off, then a couple of boards to hold the rest of the thin culms out of the way:

Then it's just jump in with the spade and cut the section out. That's a nice-looking division!

The boards aren't really working too well to hold the plant out of the way, but they're better than nothing.

When I get near the driveway edge I need to be careful -- there is a corrugated black plastic drain pipe buried under here:

It's a bit scary since when I feel resistance I'm not sure if I'm hitting rhizomes or the pipe, so I didn't dig as deeply here and got less soil (and roots) with this last division -- I got three plants from this one side.

Notice that the rhizomes do not go very deep -- maybe 4-5 inches. That's good news, because I'm planning on planting these the same way I did the rubromarginata yesterday: by placing them on top of the existing soil and filling around them with new soil, raising the ground level here by a few inches. Here they are in place:

One of the divisions had a lot of extra rhizomes hanging off of it, so I'll run those into one of the gaps between the plants:

I don't expect too much more rhizome growth this fall, so these plants won't fill in too much next year, but these rhizomes should help fill out this middle area.

Back to the parent bamboo patch to dig the other side of the bed. The rhizomes over here got tangled in the plastic that I used to keep the soil from touching the wood:

I only got two divisions from this side because the first one was huge and the third section didn't have enough culms in it to make a decent division. I'll pot some of those up and throw the smaller sections away.

I was worried that the planting would look "chopped" after I removed parts from both sides, but it looks fine. There will be some culms that die on the edges maybe, but with a little mulch (which will soon be provided by the overhead trees) you won't even know I reduced the size of this plant. Looks a little rough right now, but soon will be fine:

So with the two new plants in place, I dumped several loads of the 60/40 "garden mix" (60% compost, 40% topsoil) around the divisions and watered well:

I'm not liking the harshness of the sunlight here, so I'll wait a while until the shadow of the house makes it back here... (cue your favorite "waiting for time to pass" music)...

(Feels good to do nothing for a while, doesn't it?)

Ok, nice and shady now:

Here's the "before" shot for comparison (so you don't have to scroll all the way back up):

Wow, what a difference! Notice that the large rock is prominently featured. The bamboo will look even better in a couple of days once the leaves all reorient to the new lighting, but I love it already. (Since the divisions were all planted in random directions, many of the leaves are facing the wrong way.)

And that's this project finished! Actually, I should mulch here now, but I'll be doing mulching in a few weeks -- no need to do it right now. Besides, I'm pretty hot and tired -- when I said a few minutes earlier "I dumped several loads..." that sort of minimizes the whole "load up the wheelbarrow, run it down the hill, carefully dump the soil or shovel it out of the wheelbarrow" process. It's a bit of effort, but the end result is so worth it. This area looks much better already, and will be simply amazing once it fills in a little more.

Another case of bamboo to the rescue!

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Gerhard Bock  – (October 12, 2010 at 10:51 AM)  

Alan, another great bamboo project. How many different varieties of bamboo do you have now?

Alan  – (October 12, 2010 at 12:54 PM)  

Thanks Gerhard! I have around 45. Only 18 are in the ground right now, and the rest are still in pots. I may plant a couple of more this year still, but next year I'll have to decide what to do with the big pots.

Gerhard Bock  – (October 12, 2010 at 2:39 PM)  

Alan, our lot is 8100 sq.ft. (tiny!) and there's simply no more room left to plant bamboos in the ground so I have to make do with pots. I guess I need to adjust my attitude and get used to the fact that I'll always be dealing with juvenile plants that need to be divided regularly to keep them small enough for pots :-).

Alan  – (October 12, 2010 at 3:06 PM)  

I've posted about another bamboo gardener here in St. Louis (Mike) that has been growing bamboo for 20+ years. Most of his runners have an area about 6' diameter max -- he rhizome prunes to this size. He has mature atrovaginata, heteroclada, Spectabilis, and some others. The atro and heteroclada have around 2" culms, even though the plants don't get enough sunlight. I think he had 8 different species along his back fence alone.

Gerhard Bock  – (October 12, 2010 at 6:44 PM)  

Wow, I had no idea you could confine mature runners to such a small space. That's very encouraging for what I'm trying to do at my in-laws. They have 2+ acres and are letting me "experiment" with bamboo.

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