Time to split

Split a bamboo that is, or to use the more-accepted terminology, "divide" the bamboo. You do this when a plant is too big (like many perennials) or when you want more plants. I've been debating whether or not I should divide this clumping bamboo (Fargesia dracocephala 'Rufa' or often just Fargesia 'Rufa') for over a year now:

Since it only spreads a few inches a year it's not really out of control, but it is getting in the way a bit and I want more plants, so I finally decided to stop thinking and start gardening, and just do it.


(I should say now that many of the photos in this post aren't the best. It was clear and sunny which was nice for garden work but not so nice for photography, since the high contrast between the sunny and shady areas is difficult to deal with -- especially during a project like this where I'm constantly picking the camera up and putting it down. I did my best, but don't expect anything too beautiful today.)

So, the plant. It's the first bamboo I got, planted in 2006. The first spring its shoots were all killed by a late freeze, but it's been doing quite well since then. It's now about 7' (2m) wide, but that's partially because of the way it flops and spreads open. I've tried to support it with some wire and it helps somewhat, but not completely:

I'm not sure if this plant is floppy because it's growing in more sun than it really wants, or because it's what we call a "tissue culture" plant. There's been some discussion about these mass-produced, laboratory-propagated  bamboos, and how they seem to be weaker than the "field division" plants of the same species. I don't want to get into all of that right now, but I will say that one of the reasons I want a division from this plant is so I can put it into the ground in a shadier area and see if it becomes stronger.

For whatever reason, this plant is too wide now, and is blocking the path here next to the patio:

Also here:

There are stepping stones under there somewhere!

So I'm going to take a big chunk off of the side facing the patio and path. Since the interior is so full of thin culms, I wasn't sure how to proceed:

But I decided to use a heavy board to keep the plant open so I could attack it with my digging bar:

I took two large chunks of the plant off. Here's the first:

You can see the rhizome structure of this clumping bamboo:

Instead of putting out long rhizomes that will then produce new culms (canes), the rhizomes on this species are short, and each one turns into a new culm after just a few inches.

Taking these divisions from the most visible side, as I expected, left the plant looking a little less beautiful:

Well, it's pretty difficult to see in those photos, so let's move on for now and I'll take more photos once the sun goes behind the house.

I split one of the large divisions I dug in half, and the other into three parts, and potted them all up:

Brad from Needmore Bamboo recommended that I do it this way: take large divisions then divide them, instead of trying to take several smaller divisions from the plant directly. He said it would result in "less loss". I wasn't sure what he meant by "loss" at the time, but now I do:

A lot of the small culms get broken or chopped during the digging process. Bamboo is tough though, so this won't matter on the divisions I took.

Even the "small" divisions I potted were quite substantial and make pretty good "instant impact" plants even while they're still in pots:

I'll give these potted plants some protection this winter, then I'll plant one or two of them in my yard in the spring.

Here's what the parent plant looks like with some softer lighting:

I don't think it's as attractive as it was before I took the divisions, but I expect that it will look fine after next spring's culms grow and leaf out. I don't need the supporting wire anymore right now either!

The benefits outweigh the temporary negatives though: there's more room to walk through here now, and I have more plants! Plus I shouldn't have to divide this bamboo again for a few more years.

So although it took me almost a year to decide to do it, I'm glad I finally did.


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Steve Lau  – (October 22, 2011 at 10:56 AM)  

Seems like the parfect time to divide since dormancy season is right ahead with less heat, and very high success rates for the divisions. Almost as good as spring.

I have 1 culm fargesia rufa divisions from last fall that made a few culms before the end of the season, and then more for the spring, creating bushy plants by the summer.

Gerhard Bock (Succulents and More)  – (October 22, 2011 at 11:33 AM)  

Excellent post. I have two potted rufas that are beginning to fill their pot and I had been considering taking a chunk out.

Alan  – (October 23, 2011 at 11:46 AM)  

Steve -- I'd say that for early shooters like 'Rufa' the fall is better than spring for dividing. Maybe there's no real difference, but that's my feeling.

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