Let's talk bamboo survival

It's the time of year when my thoughts turn to the garden, and in my garden that really means "bamboo".

So let's look at some bamboo!


Not that part of the plants, as pretty as it is. No, we're going to look at the leafy parts:

This is the area of biggest concern when you grow bamboo in temperate (read "cold") climates. Green leaves at the end of winter is clearly good, but brown leaves doesn't mean the plant has died. Almost certainly the rhizomes underground are alive regardless of what happened above, but a plant that was "top-killed" -- all culms having died -- is going to be smaller this year.

So a springtime survey of my bamboos tells me what I might expect from the upcoming shooting season.

I'm going to mostly ignore the Phyllostachys aureosulcata family (I have three different varieties), Ph. atrovaginata, Ph. bissetii, Ph. rubromarginata, and Ph. virella. All of them are very cold hardy and are primarily green -- some brown leaves but no real damage. I'm not concerned about them at all.

So I'll focus on the marginal species, those that are not quite as cold hardy so I never really know what to expect. Phyllostachys viridis is shown above and has many brown leaves. Taking a close look at the buds though...

...shows that they are alive and are elongating. This plant will leaf out again.

I can't really see at the top, and can't easily bend one of those culms down since it's growing in a raised bed. I have high hopes though.

Moving on to Phyllostachys makinoi:

The straight vertical culms were new last year. This species has a fantastic blue color to the culms when they are fresh, so I'm hoping for another good year. Let's take a look:

The lower branches (the bent ones) seem to be fine -- note the leaf buds swelling:

Those tall culms though...

...it's hard to tell. There are dead buds, but also some that are alive. I'll have to wait and see, but I'm hoping that these culms survive and more are added:

Nearby Semiarundinaria okuboi looks dead:

But it's quite hardy...

...and new growth is sprouting already! The tips of the culms are most likely dead, but the upper branches will pretty much cover all of that up.

Also nearby is my biggest disappointment, Phyllostachys propinqua 'Beijing'. It's numerous flowers remind me that this guy might not be around much longer:

It was too much to hope that the flowering was a one-year thing, as there are more flower structures growing already:

The leaf buds are pretty much all fine on this one but the flowering will probably sap all of its energy and it will fade away. Maybe not.

If this does die, the Ph. makinoi might take its place. That will be a project.

Moving on to the other side of the yard, behind the veggie garden:

Well, you can't really see anything from this side -- except the arching culms near the top of the image.

A better look is from the other side:

That's Ph. dulcis in the foreground, and Ph. heteroclada behind. Both have lots of brown leaves, but I know that Ph. heteroclada is quite hardy -- I got this from Mike's garden (here in the St. Louis area) and his was doing quite well.

It's so brown though!

Here are the leaf buds to prove it is okay:

Even way at the tops of the culms (bent down for the photo of course):

Phyllostachys dulcis is another matter though. It's not as cold hardy but I really want it to do well -- it produced such thick culms last year!

Very brown up there, and no way to bend one down to look:

There are still some green leaves though, which seems like a good sign! The leaf buds lower down are fine:

This might be the one plant that I want most to leaf out again and put up huge new culms. I have big plans for this one as you'll read in a minute.

My last look is at my two least hardy bamboos:

That's Semiarundinaria fastuosa 'Viridis' on the left and Phyllostachys nigra on the right. Horrible.

The S. fastuosa has lost most of its leaves:

But there is some new growth emerging in places:

I think I've had it with this plant, nearly dying each winter then barely regaining its former size. This should be 20' tall by now, but it's struggling to reach half that. I knew it was probably a little too cold here for this one, and the last eight years proves it.

I'm thinking about putting the Ph. dulcis here instead.

(I left that statement on its own line because it will take a good half-day of work or more to make this happen. Some sort of powered equipment might be necessary too.)

As bad as the S. fastuosa looks, the Ph. nigra looks worse:

It's been top-killed again, meaning everything above ground is dead.

This happened two years ago too, but last year the plant finally regained some size. Now it will be small again most likely.

If that happens I'm definitely removing this one, and will probably give its space to the Ph. heteroclada. That species takes a while to size up, but will eventually look like this:

That's from Mike's garden, showing the parent plant. This is so impressive in person!

So pretty decent results from this past winter if you're a marginal bamboo in my garden.

For comparison, the almost bulletproof Ph. atrovaginata looks like this:

So a bit behind some of the others. I guess this isn't too surprising since this bamboo is one of the last to shoot.

Now, who's up for a bamboo dig?


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outlawgardener  – (March 24, 2017 at 9:18 AM)  

While a bamboo dig sounds like a jolly good time, I won't be able to join you for the fun event. Do keep us posted as we're all curious about who will win, you or the bamboo:)

danger garden  – (March 24, 2017 at 11:21 AM)  

So all those brown leaves, they'll eventually fall? As the green ones push out?

Alan  – (March 24, 2017 at 1:31 PM)  

Peter: I'll pencil you in, just in case you change your mind. ;)

Loree: all-brown leaves will fall, and in fact many of them already have. The leaves that are part green and part brown are the problem -- they stay and can make the plant look "tired" later in the spring.

chavliness  – (March 25, 2017 at 10:32 AM)  

I didn't realize there are so many different bamboos in your garden! It's a shame the Ph. nigra didn't make it; Is it too cold in your area to try again? I saw a towering clump of black bamboo in Seattle's Urban Horticulture center: it's magnificent. I had bamboo in a large pot for many years; 2 culms only. It never grows a new shoot. Although it sheds leafs in the fall, it remains with perfect chartreuse-golden leafs through the winter. I don't quite get it. I suspect magic is involved.

Hoover Boo  – (March 28, 2017 at 5:26 PM)  

I admire you for being able to grow plants of that scale--seems overwhelming to me.

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