pruning, the tiring kind

I've been thinking that I need to prune a couple of my roses soon -- the ones that the deer haven't already taken care of I mean, and the yews in front of the house need to be trimmed back a bit, but these aren't the pruning tasks that have been weighing on my mind lately.

No, the pruning I've been dreading is the rhizome pruning of my running bamboos. There are a couple of plants that I know I neglected last year, and I knew I was going to pay for it with extra work this spring. Well, it's that time.


The first I tackled was what I feared would be the worst: my black bamboo, Phyllostachys nigra. This plant has been doing really well for me, sizing up substantially this last year. 

It's easy to forget that vigorous growth above ground usually translates into equally vigorous growth below, but surfacing rhizomes like the one above remind us bamboo growers not to skip a year when it comes to rhizome control.

So I grabbed the mattock and went to work around the perimeter of the planting, looking for the point at which the escaped rhizomes left their designated area. Bamboo rhizomes are like mice: if you see one, there are usually many more around that you can't see.

The rhizomes of this variety of bamboo turn black over time just like the culms do, so one that's really black has been around for a year -- proof I did a bad job last year as I thought.

A branching rhizome is another sign that I left this too long:

At least I got them out now -- waiting another year would have made this task much, much more difficult. (It was already more work than I wanted).

I then moved counterclockwise around the planting, severing rhizomes as I found them, and doing my best to remove as much of the escaped portions as I could. For me digging rhizomes is a conflicted process: if I don't find any rhizomes I'm relieved but also worried that perhaps I didn't dig deeply enough. If I do find some, I'm frustrated that I did. 

In this case, I found plenty.

Even though I pulled up as much of the escapees as I could some portions were left, mainly in my garden beds. One of them went underneath a Miscanthus so there was no way I was going to be able to pull it out. I'll have to be diligent and remove any shoots that those now-orphaned rhizomes produce. They may shoot several times but will eventually exhaust their stored resources and die.

(Exhaust is the right word, as I was really beat after this task. I guess I'm not quite in gardening shape yet this year.)

I found a little buddy while digging:

Some of the rhizomes showed signs of swelling shoot buds:

Even two years ago I would have been worried about damaging any of these buds while digging these rhizomes, but now I don't care. I broke many off during this process and didn't give them a second thought.  I'll cover these rhizomes with mulch and see which of them produce any shoots in the next few months. The ones that do will get potted up; the others will be destroyed. 

(I now understand the ruthlessness of more experienced bamboo growers I've helped to dig rhizomes when dealing with this vigorous plant.)

So this plant is back under control and I have a pile of rhizomes that I can pot up or share with other gardeners, which makes me feel good.

Knowing that I have another 2 or 3 bamboos to repeat this process on does not make me feel good.


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Lisa  – (March 30, 2013 at 5:04 PM)  

I wonder how long it would take for the bamboo to make a run on the whole neighborhood once you're no longer around to harness it??

Steve Lau  – (March 30, 2013 at 7:35 PM)  

That does look pretty long for a p nigra rhizome especially if you had a prolonged drought last summer.

With the major warmup in the forecast, shoots could be on the way in the next 3 weeks.

Barbara Ehlert  – (March 31, 2013 at 9:50 AM)  

this seems quite a lot of work, no sorry I forgot it´s just gardening...still it does not incourage me to plant some bamboo in my garden!
Have fun gardening :-) Barbara

Barbie  – (April 1, 2013 at 6:37 AM)  

Oh my word - I get sweaty thinking of this type of pruning. I can see the joys and pain of having Bamboo in a garden. And as you say, best earlier than later. Well done! Whew!

SummerAnytime  – (April 6, 2013 at 11:48 PM)  

I just bought that specific bamboo! I still am looking forward to some growth as I have a big space I wantit to fill. It is in partial sun so hopefully the growth will be kept at a manageable pace!

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