Those of us gardeners who grow and love bamboo have a single goal. Whether we have one bamboo plant that we baby or nearly-unmanageable plantings of dozens of different varieties, we want big bamboo. We want it to be tall, with impressive, thick culms.

That's what makes every shooting season so exciting: we get to find out if our favorite plants have "sized up", and if so, by how much. The good news is that several of mine are starting to put on some respectable size this year.


Young plantings -- while the plants are in their "juvenile" stage -- will produce thinner culms that tend to droop more. Once the culms get thicker they usually hold themselves more upright:

Phyllostachys aureosulcata 'Aureocaulis'
That bamboo is in a very prominent spot in my garden, and I'm glad to see it jumping up in height. Those new culms are about 15' tall. I'll be able to prune some of the thinner culms later this summer and get them out of the way of the stairs.

Height isn't everything of course. What we really want from our bamboo are thick culms, and I'm starting to get some decent ones now. This Phyllostachys dulcis culm grew on a plant that's still in a pot, and is about 1" (2.5 cm) in diameter:

Phyllostachys dulcis.

My Phyllostachys nigra has finally decided to act like a bamboo:

Its tallest culms last year were 5' (1.5m) tall or so, and flopped over. This let me easily tarp over them to protect them for the winter, as nigra is not extremely cold-hardy here, and suffers a lot of damage most winters. The new culms are at least 10' tall right now so I won't be able to protect those this winter, but I'll definitely be tarping over the smaller culms again.

Phyllostachys nigra.
You can see that the green new culms are much thicker than the darkening culms from last year. The culms start green and will turn black over a year or two.

The new culms on all of these plants look a bit thin rising above the lush green of the existing plant:

Even so, it's a wonderful sight seeing the tops of new culms emerge from the top of an existing plant (they'll start getting leaves in a week or so). How tall will they get? Even at this stage it's still exciting!

Alas, not every plant produces larger culms each year. Those that are freshly dug and haven't produced any new rhizomes might not have enough stored energy to produce larger culms. Also if a plant has been "top-killed", losing all of it's leaves and culms to cold damage, the rhizomes will produce smaller shoots.

With this plant in the blue pot I think there is a small piece of rhizome that is not connected to the existing culm, and that rhizome has produced tiny "survival shoots" -- it needs some leaves in order to survive, but doesn't have much stored energy. These small shoots are what many rhizome cuttings produce their first year. I'm still hoping the existing culm's rhizome will produce a real shoot or two this year.

Finally, let's take a look at a plant that hasn't started shooting yet, but will sometime in the next month. This is my Phyllostachys atrovaginata, which lost all of its leaves over the winter:

As you can see, it's leafing out nicely again, with the loss of the leaves only a minor setback.

When this plant does start shooting, it will have the benefit of a full set of leaves providing extra food to fuel the shoot production. I'm hoping that means some nice, big shoots!

But that really goes without saying, doesn't it?


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Steve Lau  – (May 19, 2011 at 8:57 AM)  

Dulcis is one of my favorites since it is very cold hardy, and unlike many other bamboos, it tries to put on size before expanding in numbers.

Gerhard Bock (Succulents and More)  – (May 19, 2011 at 9:33 AM)  

Very impressive! Your 'Aureocaulis' must have dozens of new culms. What about the Bissettii by your driveway?

:: Bamboo and More ::

Dave@Gardeningonadime  – (May 19, 2011 at 9:57 AM)  

We know the feeling you experience seeing one's bambbo shooting. We have some Baby Blues (Bambusa chungii barbellata)popping up from the ground faster than we can count them. Our Graceful bamboo (bambusa textilis gracilis) likes to wait until the height of rainy season, about July, before we see anything from them. Enjoy the thrill and thanks for the info.

Alan  – (May 19, 2011 at 10:23 AM)  

Steve: My dulcis hasn't spent the winter outdoors unprotected yet, but from what I've read from other growers it's not as cold-hardy as the aureosulcatas or bissetii.

Gerhard: Yes, dozens. I've stopped counting the number of shoots each plant has. :-) The bissetii put out about 10 shoots per sq ft, so at least 200 of them. They're about 12' tall.

Steve Lau  – (May 19, 2011 at 10:56 AM)  

My Dulcis has spent 2 winters outdoors unprotected, and it will leaf burn, but never top-kills. I also have it planted in mostly shade closer to a lot of trees which cuts down on the winds which makes it one of the hardiest ones.

Oddly Bissetii is not very hardy here, maybe because I neglected it last year by not mulching or watering.

Cat  – (May 19, 2011 at 7:46 PM)  

It's exciting to see a plant that you love flourish! Glad you're having an exciting spring.

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