Bamboo chops

No, I haven't started my third year of posts with a drastic change from gardening to recipes -- it's time for some bamboo maintenance!

"Mowing" of the groundcover bamboos and some rhizome pruning. We'll start with the easy stuff.


This raised bed is not going to contain this bamboo. The rhizomes (underground stems) can go under and out into the surrounding area -- my neighbor's yard, my lawn, other planting beds.

Usually I just rhizome prune around this box with a sharp spade once a year, but this year I did a little more work so that there will be less work in the future. I dug a trench around the box, then filled the trench with mulch. The idea is that I can more easily dig through the mulch next year and find any escaped rhizomes, cutting them off then replacing the mulch.

Surprisingly, I only found two little rhizomes that had made it out, and both were on the deep end of the box. I've never found a rhizome escaping from the shallow end of this box (the ground slopes over here). Perhaps the rhizomes just went a lot deeper than I think they can on this end -- I'll know when shoots start coming up all over the place in a month. I'm pretty sure they didn't though.

(If you don't fill the trench in with something, it will eventually collapse and fill in with soil. The trench around one of my other bamboos completely disappeared over a couple of years. So I put the mulch into the trenches now and pack it down a bit by walking on it. Plus, who really wants open trenches in their garden?)

Next up was a trimming of the Pleioblastus viridistriatus groundcover bamboo. It's still remarkably green after our mild winter, but it's not nearly as attractive as the new growth will be, so it gets mowed down.

I didn't actually use a mower, but some hedge clippers instead. That was a nice forearm workout! (I really need to get some new clippers or do some work on my goofy set. They're terrible!)

The new leaves will start coming up in a week or two, and I can't wait!

I did the same thing to this Pleioblastus fortunei (in the foreground):

Terrible photo, but as you can see it also has quite a bit of green leaves remaining. I trimmed off all of the taller ones, leaving only those that are about 4" (10 cm) tall or less. Again, the new growth will be so much prettier than the existing foliage.

I did the same with Sasa veitchii, which is green through most of the year, gets the brown edges in the fall, then usually turns mostly brown or at least very ratty looking over the winter. Not this year though:

Still, as nice as the withered leaf edges look now, they'll look terrible mixed in with the all-green new foliage, so I clipped most of them off. (I may need to trim a few more off later in the year if they're still visible).

Some of the others I'm going to trim in the same way, just not yet. These two different plantings of Sasaella masamuneana 'Albostriata' for instance:

Both look almost untouched by winter, and the second planting has a lot of variegation left too, even if it is more yellow than it should be. Still, the fresh leaves will have more of the lovely cream color that makes this plant so pretty, so a chop is coming soon. I'll wait until I see evidence that the new leaves are starting to emerge before clipping, as I want to minimize the amount of time I need to look at a leafless bed.

Same for Sasaella bitchuensis:

I clipped the culms that were hanging over the driveway as they had a fair amount of damage (brown) from being driven over, but I'll wait a little longer before cutting the rest of them, as the new leaves haven't really started growing yet:

I pulled off one of the leaf sheaths to check the progress. Soon, but not yet -- the branch is that powdery grey section, and it hasn't really started elongating yet.

I could trim this plant down right now and I would if it looked worse than it does, but I've been spoiled this winter and want to see the green as long as possible.

Last on the list is the toughest job: trenching and rhizome pruning around this bamboo:

Remember last year I had some shoots come up right in the middle of the stairs, and also on the other side which I let grow and turned into a great division? Well, I was planning on trenching around this plant in the fall and actually started the project, but only got two of the four sides trenched before winter.

So I continued digging this the other day, and there were a half dozen or so rhizomes that had escaped. I had to remove a couple of my stairs in order to get the rhizomes out, but there were a few others that I could not remove -- they're severed from the main plant but I'll have to let them produce shoots, remove the new culms before they leaf out, then let the plant shoot again, repeating until the rhizomes are out of energy reserves and die.

What makes this planting particular difficult to rhizome prune is the steep slope, and that some of the boards end up being buried pretty deep. I may need to cut some of the ends off of those, as they're deflecting rhizomes too deep into the soil.

The sides were really the hardest part to dig, but only the bottom is left now. There are a few rhizome escapees down here for sure -- you can see them:

There are two in that photo, but I think I see four total down here. I wonder how many there really are? They all don't come up to the surface like this usually.

I have a few more plants to rhizome prune, and a couple more that need a foliage trim, but I don't expect them to be as much work as this job has been. Well, unless you count the bamboo along the driveway -- that's sort of a big project too.

Bamboo shooting season starts in a couple of weeks (or less because of the warm winter), but until then I'll be working on my veggie beds, planting cool-season edibles, cutting down grasses, cleaning up beds -- you know, basic gardening. Stay tuned!


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Gerhard Bock (Succulents and More)  – (March 6, 2012 at 10:43 AM)  

Great post on how to maintain running bamboos. Should be required reading for all homeowners who have running bamboos :-).

Christine  – (March 6, 2012 at 12:19 PM)  

So much work for you to do right now ... and the rewards are around the corner. I am looking forward to seeing your garden 'spring' to life in the next few weeks. :)

M  – (March 7, 2012 at 12:53 AM)  

Alan, this is what happens when you do not cut Pleioblastus fortunei to the ground at the end of winter. Old leaves get dropped and new ones come out in a flush at at once.


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