What to do about the bamboos?

Of all of the overwintering tasks I have each year, the potted bamboos are the most work. Not that overwintering bamboo is difficult, especially since most of the plants I have should be cold-hardy here, but they're in pots which reduces their cold-hardiness.

I have so many pots of it, and some of those pots are quite large. That's the difficulty. For the past two years I've created a temporary greenhouse, but I've decided not to bother this winter. Instead I'll be burying pots and will tarp over some of the plants, as I did last year.


The area that I'll use for this is the "foundation" for the temporary greenhouse:

I'll use this space for the pots that will be tarped over. First step is to clear it:

Next step is to start digging:

I want the pots to be buried as much as possible. I know that tarping over the topgrowth will preserve the leaves and leaf buds -- these plants will be fresh and green when I uncover them at the end of winter -- but I also want the rhizome buds to survive the winter too. If the buds (under the soil in the pots) are killed by cold, the plant won't produce any new culms next year, and may not be able to create any new rhizomes either, essentially dooming it.

I dug as deeply as I could -- which was only about 12" (30cm) before hitting major tree roots -- but the soil piles will help, and I'll be dumping mulch here too.

This is the view from where the tops of the plants will be laying and covered with the tarp:

I'll have to cut down the butterfly bush, which is no problem since I do that every year anyway.

I worked on this project over several days, since I had limited time at lunch, and was battling that cold. I would have put it off longer, but the forecast for the end of the week said that the nighttime low would be 15ºF or less, and if those temps would be around for a few days I needed to get these pots covered.

So plants got dragged into the hole and laid down:

A few plants got buried here too. I put most of the small pots (mainly groundcover bamboos) into the trench that I luckily hadn't yet finished filling with mulch:

I'll then mulch right over the plants, and they should be fine. Nice that I didn't have to dig any more holes for these.

Some of the most cold-hardy species went into empty planter boxes, or right into the ground:

When mulched over, it looks like they belong here:

I don't have to worry about rhizomes growing out of the drainage holes of the pots, as there won't be much -- if any -- rhizome growth until spring. As with most plants, once soil temps drop below 40ºF (4ºC) or so, bamboo root and rhizome growth stops completely.

I just didn't have enough time or energy to get every single put buried into the ground though. Some got buried in leaves:

Some I just placed along the house:

I'll probably bury those in the near future, but the warmth from the house should help protect them for this cold snap.

Some plants just got left out on the driveway unprotected. I hated doing this, but just didn't have any other choice right now:

I used some of the retaining walls in my yard to "half-bury" pots:

The wall covers one side, while the mulch I added covers the downhill side (which you can't see in this photo). I'm not sure how well this will work, but I'm running out of options. Plus I'll be getting rid of some of the bamboos that can't take our winters, so I can't baby them forever.

Finally, a few of the more sensitive bamboos got moved into the garage:

Hopefully they won't decide to start shooting while in there, but if they do I suppose I can move them under more light.

As it turned out, it did get down to the temperature they predicted on Friday night, but then warmed back up above freezing, and this coming week it won't get much more than a couple of degrees below freezing again. So although I didn't actually tarp over these plants yet, that's probably a good thing. Having that plastic in place when it's 60ºF (15ºC) and sunny makes it really hot under there!

I still have a little more work to do (and a few more plants to protect somewhere), but Nature is cooperating and giving me plenty of extra time to finish up. It's a nice change!


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Gerhard Bock (Succulents and More)  – (December 12, 2011 at 9:59 AM)  

Now THAT is dedication--you truly are a bamboo aficionado! Do you find burying the pots and subsequently tarping them easier than building that temporary greenhouse you had last year?

:: Bamboo and More ::

Alan  – (December 12, 2011 at 10:24 AM)  

Last year I had the greenhouse AND tarped over plants. The big ones just won't fit in the greenhouse. My goal is to have very few (if any) potted bamboos to worry about next winter.

Christine @ the Gardening Blog  – (December 12, 2011 at 1:14 PM)  

This sounds like so much work ... My Hat off again to northern gardeners!

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