Say Goodbye...

Not to me! Although I wouldn't blame you for jumping to that conclusion based on the frequency (low) at which I've been posting lately. No, I mean say goodbye... my wonderful green bamboos! At least for a few months. Shall I explain?


Almost universally, those of us bitten by the bamboo bug (a.k.a. "crazy bamboo growers") want one thing from the plants they love so much: size. We want those huge, thick culms that are so impressive. The only way to get that when you live in a cold climate is to have the plant keep as many green leaves over the winter as possible.

In my zone 6b (probably? changing?) St. Louis garden, this means I hope like crazy for a mild winter each year.

Up until a week ago, I thought we were going to have one. The low temperature for December has been about 10ºF (-12ºC) for one night, and has always climbed back up above normal after dipping down. Just last week it was nearly 60ºF (15ºC). That seems pretty mild to me!

Then they started mentioning those two words that make us bamboo growers start to worry: polar vortex.

Yesterday we hit a record low of 1ºF (-17ºC), although I think it was a couple of degrees F warmer in my garden -- which is a bit protected and usually just a touch warmer. Even 1ºF for a single night wouldn't worry me too much, as it was not very windy (wind plays a big factor in killing those leaves and leaf buds). Today it's "warmer" again, as the low should be 15ºF (-9ºC).

Crisis averted, right? Nope.

New Year's Eve revelers in St. Louis will need to bundle up, as -4ºF (-20ºC) is forecast. New Year's Day is only slightly better with a low of 1ºF (-17ºC). Those 48 hours of cold-cold will mean not only dead bamboo leaves, but quite possibly topkill -- all existing culms dead too -- at least on some of the plants.

Therefore I thought it would be appropriate to take a look at the greenery now, before it starts turning brown -- although that usually takes a couple months. (Images taken today, 12/28/2017)

The smaller bamboos in the front yard are already showing various amounts of damage:

That's to be expected, as I cut these down or at least remove all of the foliage each spring.

Those along the driveway though...

...I'll be missing their big, strappy foliage for sure! That Phyllostachys bissetii I made the support for -- that one will be hard to see turn brown too:

Incidentally, the Sasa veitchii between the driveway and the house is best when it does start to turn brown a little:

It will soon be more brown than green though.

This one is probably going to hurt the most, as it's such a beauty:

Phyllostachys aureosulcata 'Aureocaulis'. Remember how I spent so much time clearing out all of the dead culms earlier this year? I hope I don't have to remove every single one of these in a few months.

The plants I'm most worried about are the two that were just transplanted this summer:

That's them at the left edge of the image, Ph. dulcis and Ph. heteroclada. The bushy one in the middle of the image is Indocalamus sp. 'Solidus' -- so cold hardy -- and the big mass of green way in back is Ph. rubromarginata and Ph. aureosulcata 'Spectabilis'. It's so easy to spot the bamboos at this time of year, isn't it?

Back at the other side of the yard (just behind the deck) there's Ph. virella in the planter box -- it may be the most cold-hardy bamboo I grow. We'll see soon.

Ph. atrovaginata is at the right of the image, behind the remnants of the castor beans. I'm a bit concerned about that one as it's a favorite, but it is also plenty cold hardy so there might not be too much reason to worry.

There are others too, but I won't bother naming them all:

I really just included that (blurry, terrible) photo so I'd have a "before" image, thinking that the "after" will be much uglier.

I'm hoping either the forecast is wrong or I am, but I still think it's best to say "goodbye" to these now. Sigh.


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Renee  – (December 28, 2017 at 11:00 PM)  

So green! Best of luck with the temperature... Hopefully that polar vortex will not stay as long?

danger garden  – (December 29, 2017 at 7:28 AM)  

Damn. I am sorry, that’s a lot of green to have to watch die back, that beauty by the! Fingers crossed for you and your bamboo.

Lisa  – (December 29, 2017 at 7:47 AM)  

It's much easier to see the sheer mass of your bamboo when they are singled out like that! Wow! I thought we would escape the bitter cold, too. Or at least I hoped. But we've passed the Solstice so we are on our way out!

Salty Pumpkin Studio  – (December 29, 2017 at 9:38 AM)  

4th photo from bottom, stunning beauty!
Farewell Bamboo!

Hoover Boo  – (December 29, 2017 at 9:59 AM)  

Our lack of rain means a polar vortex for you. Sorry to see you lose such magnificence--hope everything recovers.

outlawgardener  – (December 29, 2017 at 12:40 PM)  

Well, that sucks! Fingers crossed that your bamboo die back will be minimal!

Gerhard Bock (Succulents and More)  – (January 2, 2018 at 2:30 PM)  

Oh man, I hope the forecast was wrong. Few words scare the **** out of me like "polar vortex" even though for us that usually means mid-20s.

Unknown  – (January 6, 2018 at 10:32 AM)  

I am on pins and needles...I refuse to believe that Missouri weather is becoming too unruly to grow Bamboo but the high heat and humidity Florida summers with the polar vortex winters challenge the "crazy bamboo grower" inside me significantly. Specifically my expectations for a permanent green screen may need to be amended. I am already looking around for Ph. virella as my Ph. bissetii becomes dessicated.

Lucy Corrander Now in Halifax!  – (January 8, 2018 at 10:13 AM)  

We have two feathery bamboos in pots outside the house and have brought one in to save it from the cold. It is rather heavy so I doubt I will be able to do it again next year. I now find some lower parts have greenfly on, which surprised me. But fingers crossed it will last through.
It must be a worry for you. Having so many splendid specimens. No bringing them indoors! (However strong you are!)

Alan  – (January 9, 2018 at 8:18 AM)  

Sr. Sinc: Ph. virella desiccated too. Now it's just wait and see which of these will leaf back out. I'm hopeful.

BTW, don't let the rehydrated look of the leaves after our rain yesterday fool you -- those leaves that look fried before the rain are still dead.

Unknown  – (January 9, 2018 at 9:27 AM)  

Hi Alen, Love your blog! From your experience do you know which bamboo cultivar is the most hardy for you? I am in Denver zone 5 and looking to try one this year.

Unknown  – (January 15, 2018 at 10:25 PM)  

You read my mind. I got so happy to see them unfurl again but I was skeptical. I'm not looking forward to the new ravages tonight's 6°F are going to bring... I'm looking forward to seeing which of yours survive the best. Best wishes.

Unknown  – (January 19, 2018 at 4:36 PM)  

Ben: I always defer to Alan but I just came across this- and it made me.think of you. Apparently you can check out a specimen at your Zoo. St. Louis Zoo uses a lot of Ph. Aureosulcata "Yellow Groove" for some of our bears. Happy bambooing.

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