Feeding bamboos

Late winter (or very early spring if you're an optimist) is when I give my bamboos their first feeding of the year. It's commonly thought that running bamboo -- which spreads by underground rhizomes -- is such an "invasive" plant that you just stick it into the ground and it takes off.

Well, that's not strictly true. Bamboos are heavy feeders and in order to really thrive they need lots of nutrients (plus water). Sure they can still throw out a 15' (4.5m) rhizome even if they're not babied, but I'd much rather have a healthy, vigorous plant that I need to fight back than a weak one that may not look its best but is also not able to spread so much. So I fertilize three times a year.


My plant food of choice for this purpose is Milorganite, an organic lawn fertilizer. (I've also used composted manure, but Milorganite is much more easily obtained and easier to apply.) I left three bags of the stuff in the wheelbarrow on the driveway overnight Saturday, hoping for the best.

At least the raccoons didn't go too crazy! Remember that they love the smell of this stuff.

They did leave one of the three bags undamaged luckily, which will get stored for future use. The other two were applied by first pouring into a bucket:

(It's difficult to control a pour when there are several openings in the bag!)

Then I just walked around to each bamboo planting and dumped several cups of the fertilizer. One of the best things about Milorganite for this application is that it is not a very strong fertilizer and it's almost impossible to use the wrong amount, at least for bamboos.

Since this stuff takes a little while to break down and start releasing nutrients, I put it on before the growing season really starts. I'll apply again in June then August or so -- sometimes I just do two applications.

There's iron in Milorganite too, which helps green up the bamboos (and lawns).

Although the bamboos look quite lush and green right now...

...once everything else greens up they'll need a little boost.

Oh, I did remember to leave a little pile on the ground for the raccoons too!


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danger garden  – (March 7, 2016 at 11:39 AM)  

Thanks for the reminder! I've got to get out there and cut back the Sasa palmata. The ice load caused it to bend not quite to the breaking point and thus it's leaning too far out into the patio space. A nice trim up followed by some Milorganite ought to be just the thing...

outlawgardener  – (March 7, 2016 at 1:27 PM)  

So, you don't fertilize bamboo with round up, rock salt, and gasoline? The interweb is full of interesting suggestions. Mine love Tagro, our local recycled bio solid fertilizer which is very high in nitrogen and free (my favorite price) if you pick it up yourself. Does make them run a bit faster than they would without it though.

Anonymous –   – (March 7, 2016 at 2:48 PM)  

My tortoise loves the organic fertilizer that I use. I found pretty quickly that I couldn't just throw it on the ground. I had to bury it.

Alan  – (March 7, 2016 at 5:53 PM)  

Loree: Don't be afraid to go heavy on Milorganite. Your potted Ph. nigra too -- you'll love how green it gets after a feeding!

Peter: Sounds like a great mixture! :) If anybody reading this wants to know how to kill bamboo, just cut it down, then again after it shoots, repeating as needed. Don't kill your soil! Tagro sounds interesting -- I wish every city used biosolids this way!

gardenqueen: Maybe that's why I've got so many turtles around now? :)

Gerhard Bock (Succulents and More)  – (March 7, 2016 at 9:56 PM)  

What is it in this fertilizer that makes the raccoons go nuts?

Adrian –   – (March 8, 2016 at 7:19 AM)  

If I am doing a new bamboo planting should I mix milorganite into the soil or is there a better additive at planting time? Thanks for this post. Very good information.

Alan  – (March 8, 2016 at 7:56 AM)  

Gerhard: it's made from processed biosolids and does have a unique odor, but I'm not sure why they love it so much. I kind of feel the same way about Espoma fertilizers like Plant-tone and Garden-tone: they just smell so delicious to me!

Adrian: You could certainly mix some into the soil at planting time -- I do that all the time! Bamboo is not fussy about soil type, but I'd probably add some organics (compost, manure, etc.) at planting time just to baby the plant a little.

Unknown  – (March 11, 2016 at 4:25 PM)  

Awesome read, thanks for posting. I live in Milwaukee(home of Miloganite) and have a few species of bamboo that aren't doing to well. I will try to fertilize to see if that's the issue.

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