Grow bamboo in michigan

Earle Barnhart and his wife, Hilde Maingay, have a landscaping business called Great Work, Inc. in Massachusetts. Great Work specializes in what they call “ecological landscapes”, where many of the plants are herbs and food plants, areas for wildlife have been preserved and the emphasis is on using natural processes to maintain the health of the garden. Bamboo plays a prominent part in their landscaping.

Earle is an ABS member who has known the joy of bamboo for a long time and wrote an article about it for Fine Gardening magazine in 1989. The article is particularly about growing temperate bamboo in New England, where many people may not expect to see bamboo flourish, but it does.

Earle’s article touches on many subjects that are of interest and use no matter where you live and the species you plant.

In the article there are references to bamboo species that are highlighted by your Web browser. These highlighted words are links to the ABS Species Source List entry for that plant.

This article first appeared in Fine Gardening magazine in 1989. It is reproduced here with the permission of Mr. Barnhart and of Fine Gardening.

If you are interested in particularly hardy species, have a look at the index of bamboo that members have reported surviving temperatures of -5°F and colder.

The beginning

It’s midwinter as I write this, and outside my window stands a grove of bamboo – tall, green, and swaying gently in the breeze. Ten years old, its straight, strong culms are 25 ft. high and the largest are 1 1/2 in. thick. From it, each spring I enjoy a feast of succulent bamboo shoots to eat, and each winter I cut strong poles for building gates and fences. Most American gardeners would not think it possible to grow bamboo here in New England, where the winter temperatures drop below 0°F and the ground freezes solid. But there the bamboo stands – elegant, serene and useful.

Bamboo is a rare plant in American gardens, particularly northern ones. There were not native bamboos in Europe or in early European landscapes, which is where American landscape design draws much of it inspiration from. And, as most of the bamboo species grown in the United States today originated in Asia, many gardeners assume that all bamboos need warm climates. (The two native North American bamboos, canebrake and the smaller switch cane, were eradicated by early farmers because they grew in the richest soils best suited for crops.) What’s more, many introduced species are rapid spreaders and have been stigmatized as invasive pests.

I became interested in bamboo when I moved to Cape Cod, Massachusetts, in 1972 to work with the New Alchemy Institute, a research and education group seeking safer and more energy-efficient ways to provide basic human needs. Of the world’s major crops and trees we surveyed, bamboo stood out as a superstar, used by more humans on the earth for more different purposed than any other plant.

To my amazement, I soon found impressive stands of bamboo growing on the Cape, cultivated by a few local gardeners. The plant was yellow-groove bamboo, Phyllostachys aureosulcata, a cold-hardy species from China imported by the USDA decades ago and since then wide distributed because of its hardiness and edible shoots. The elegance of these tall, fully mature groves inspired me to include bamboo in my garden.

In April 1977 I transplanted several culms of yellow-groove to my property. I placed one against the north side of a building, six in the open by a parking lot to become a windbreak and four on a steep north-facing slope that was bordered by another building 40 ft. away. The first winter taught me a lesson about the conditions yellow-groove needs in order to survive in this climate. Plants sheltered by either building from the full force of the wind tolerated our coldest temperature, -5°F, while plants in the open were freeze-dried and killed. I also learned that when frozen leaves and culms are exposed to direct sunlight, they can be damaged and killed by drying. If the leaves wither, but the roots aren’t killed, the plant will produce new leaves in the spring.

Since that first winter, I’ve planted and observed bamboo here on the Cape and in numerous landscaping jobs I’ve done around southern New England. I’ve used the bamboo planting on the steep slope as my major test plot, where I observe hardiness and growth and measure the yields of edible shoots and useful poles. Because of its multiple uses and hardiness, I’ve done most of the backyard research with yellow-groove bamboo.

In the spring of 1980, however, I began a hardiness test with 17 other bamboo species started from divisions I took at the USDA’s bamboo collection in Savannah, Georgia (now operated by the state of Georgia). Planted on the north and south sides of a barn at the New Alchemy Institute, the plants were subjected in the two following years to unusually cold winters. Some plants were killed completely, others were killed to the ground but re-sprouted in the spring, and some suffered only leaf damage. Five species – Phyllostachys angusta, P. bissetii, P. congesta, P. flexuosa and P. nuda – seemed as hardy as our local P. aureosulcata.

There are more bamboos suitable for northern gardens than the ones I’ve tried. I’ve talked gardeners who grow bamboo in temperatures as low as -23° F. The chart lists some hardy bamboos that are commercially available. It’ s based on information from the American Bamboo Society, a nonprofit group of bamboo enthusiasts that works to expand the range of bamboos available in the United States, sponsors testing and publishes pertinent information.

How bamboo grows

Despite it’s treelike structure, bamboo is actually a giant grass. Like many grasses, it self-propagates by spreading underground, or “running.” The culms (the above ground stems) in a grove are all connected by a network of rhizomes (the underground stems), and the grove acts more like a single plant than many separate ones. Unlike other grasses, however, bamboo plants rarely produce seeds. If they do, it may be at intervals of 15 to 60 years or more, and the plants often die after seeding. Interestingly, all plantings of some species seed at the same time, no matter where on the earth they grow.

Most hardy bamboos are invasive. Their rhizomes can grow as much as 5 ft. in a year, and a healthy, uncontained grove may double its root area every year. Varieties that spread this vigorously are called running bamboos. A few hardy bamboos and most tropical species are much more restrained growers. The rhizomes of these noninvasive, “clumping” bamboos grow only several inches or so a year. (Two hardy clumping bamboos, Fargesia nitida and Fargesia murielae, which are grown extensively in Europe, are now available here. See the chart for sources.)

Bamboo makes three strategic bursts of growth each year. On the Cape, the first occurs in April and May. As sunlight, warmth and rain increase, new shoots appear throughout the grove, roughly two shoots for each existing culm. Within a month or two, they’ve grown into full-sized culms. In June and July, after the new shoots are in full leaf, the older culms gradually drop their leaves and simultaneously replace them with a new set. Finally, in late summer and full, the grove extends its rhizomes into new territory, and stores large quantities of nutrients in the root system in anticipation of spring. Bamboo maintains its evergreen canopy of leaves year round.

Overlaying the grove’s annual cycle is the life cycle of each single culm. A culm starts life as big around as it will ever be – a new shoot emerges at full diameter, which for some tropical bamboos may be 5 in. or more. During its short, intense growth spurt, a culm can add a foot or more a day in height. In the next four or five years, the culm’s outward appearance changes little. Inside, however, hard silica is being deposited in the fibers, which helps give bamboo its extraordinary strength. Where I live, a culm dies after four or five years, its gradual demise indicated by a change in color from green to tan or gray.

In the first few years, a new planting of running bamboo spreads slowly, but then growth picks up. In addition, each year’s new culms are larger in height and diameter than the previous year’s, those in the center of a grove emerging larger than those on the perimeter. My biggest planting, which now covers 528 sq. ft., started in 1977 as four small clumps of yellow-groove spaced 10 ft. apart in a line, each clump having two or three culms, 10 ft. tall and 3/4 in. in diameter. By the fifth year, the clumps had grown together, and the largest culms were 18 ft. high and 3/4 in. in diameter. Now, after ten years, the tallest culms are more than 25 ft. high and 1 1/2 in. in diameter.

Starting and caring for bamboo

Hardy bamboos are tough plants. They’ll tolerate almost any type of soil unless it’s waterlogged. Slopes don’t bother them. They like sun, but will grow in shade, though not as big. Bamboos are reported to prefer sandy loam soil and moist air. On the Cape, our humidity averages 75%, but our soil is pure sand under 4 in. of poor topsoil. The bamboos thrive here.

I’ve started almost all my bamboos by taking large divisions from existing groves, bushel-basket-size root balls with two or three culms each. Mail-order suppliers send much smaller plants, which take much longer to mature. My mail-order clumping bamboos arrived in pots with 1-gal. root balls and one culm each, a foot or so high and thick as a knitting needle. Two summers later, they each had five culms, chest high and pencil thick.

Whether you buy mail-order or divide an existing clump, the procedure for planting is the same. I’ll describe how to divide and transplant from an existing clump. Ideally, the larger the clump of bamboo transplanted, the faster the new grove will develop. In practice, however, I’ve found bushel-basket-size root balls the easiest to handle. To divide bamboo, take the clump from the edge of an existing grove in spring before shoots appear. I use a very sharp spade to cut straight down in a ring around the clump, being sure to cut through the two or more tough, woody rhizomes connecting it to the rest of the grove. Bamboo is shallow-rooting, so after cutting around the clump you can pry it up and out like a cork from a bottle.

When transplanting, it is crucial to keep the plant from drying out. I give the roots a good soaking the day before digging. Immediately after digging, I wrap the roots and foliage in polyethylene. An added precaution is to cut off the upper two-thirds of the culm, leaving just a few branches. This greatly reduces water loss through transpiration, and the transplants almost always live. But the plant looks terrible for at least a season. For my landscaping jobs, where appearance counts, I leave the culms whole but cut off every other branch. Protect the clump from the sun so it doesn’t bake in the plastic. I try to transplant as soon as possible, but I’ve successfully kept clumps for several days by wrapping only the roots and keeping the clump in the shade and out of the wind. (The mail-order bamboo I’ve received was wrapped in plastic and had no dehydration problem.)

I make the transplanting hole a bit wider than the diameter of the root ball, but never deeper than the ball – the plant doesn’t grow down. I loosen the soil back 1 ft. around the perimeter of the hole and add compost, or sprinkle a handful each of bone meal, blood meal and cottonseed meal in the hole and around the edges. Until the roots become established, a clump of untrimmed culms can be blown over by a stiff wind, so you might want to stake it for a couple of months.

For a few days after transplanting, I dump a 5-gal. bucket of water on the clump, In the following days I watch the leaves. If they begin to curl, I give the plant another bucketful. Our normal precipitation, about 3 1/2 in. per month, is enough for plants once they’re established. In more arid areas, you may want to mulch.

Established bamboo requires only minimal care. Like lawn grass, bamboo grows faster, larger and greener if fertilized. In early spring and midsummer, I sprinkle 1/8th in. of chicken manure and composted leaves on the soil among the culms. In theory, commercial lawn fertilizer would work, too, though it lacks important trace minerals. Even with no annual fertilizer, however, bamboo generally will still thrive; it simply will remain smaller.

Keeping bamboo from spreading

A solid barrier wall in the ground completely surrounding the grove is the simplest and surest way to contain running bamboos. It takes work to install, but far less than removing unwanted bamboo. In China, a deep ditch of water is sometimes used because bamboo won’t grow in saturated soil. Contrary to common opinion, mowing off new shoots that appear where they’re not wanted will not necessarily stop bamboo from spreading. The people at the USDA in Savannah told me that despite constant mowing around each of their plantings, rhizomes would routinely spread under the grass and eventually push up new culms in unmowed areas 20 ft. to 30 ft. away.

I make barriers from rolls of thin fiberglass sheet, normally used to cover greenhouses. I use Kalwal, which is made and sold by Solar Components Corp. (88 Pine St., Manchester, NH 03105; 800-258-3072). It can be bought in a variety of widths and lengths, and sells for $1.19 per sq. ft. plus shipping.

In my sandy soil, where the nutrients are in the top 12 in., a barrier extending about 18 in. underground is sufficient, in other conditions, barriers at least 24 in. deep are recommended. I dig a trench around the area to be filled by the grove, put the fiberglass vertically in the trench and back fill. I overlap the ends by a food and back the fill to keep the joint tight. I cut the roll down the middle with tin snips to get 24 in-wide strips, and leave 4 in. to 6 in. of barrier above ground to prevent the rhizomes from spreading in the moist surface mulch and going over the top – in ten years, no rhizomes have escaped.

I know of only three methods to get rid of bamboo that’s growing where you’ d rather it didn’t. The most laborious method is to dig up and remove every piece of the root system. This is what I’ve done; it does work, and it leaves the soil ready for something else. I haven’t tried the other two methods, which can be used if you want to kill an entire grove. One is to starve the root system by cutting a grove to the ground and cutting any new shoots that later appear. The other is chemical herbicide. I’m doubtful about both these methods; in fact, a man I know on the Cape has tried repeatedly to kill a grove with herbicide and failed each time.

Bamboo for harvesting

Bamboo has been harvested for centuries, the new shoots for eating, the mature culms for building material. We use the shoots in Chinese and vegetarian dishes, and their flavor is remarkably superior to that of canned shoots. I use the mature culms in the garden for stakes, trellises, gates and ornamental bamboo fences. Through experience and reading, I’ve learned some essential rules of thumb essential to getting large, sustainable yields of both poles and shoots.

Poles – A bamboo planting, properly managed, can supply sturdy poles annually. The most recent culms will be biggest, but they’ll be the weakest, lacking the silica that stiffens old culms. The strongest poles come from three- to five-year-old culms. I usually cut a culm in winter, about a year before it would die naturally, when its surface become splotchy and mottled. Cut the culm with a pruning saw at or below ground level. (Eventually the stub will rot down to an internode on the rhizome, which will seal itself, preventing damage to the rhizome.

I’ve harvested 60 to 70 poles each year for five years, each new crop longer and stronger than the last. The first poles were only 4 ft. to 8 ft. long and useful only as stakes. My recently harvested poles range from 10 ft. to 20 ft. long and up to 1 1/2 in. in diameter, and are suitable for making gates and fences. I can convert my steady annual supply of 900 linear feet of sturdy poles into 12 ft. of solid bamboo fence or roughly 50 ft. of open lattice fence. I use imperfect poles for garden trellises.

Yellow-groove bamboo isn’t known for its durability as are some species. After four to five years of exposure to the elements, a yellow-groove pole will begin to crack lengthwise from seasonal expansion and contraction. If the poles are used vertically, in a fence for example, this cracking isn’t much of a problem. But in a horizontal member of a trellis, cracks lead to sagging and failure.

Bamboo shoots – Harvesting bamboo shoots is very much like cutting asparagus. The first bamboo shoots emerge from the ground in the spring, and all the shoots come up over period of several weeks. They are most tender and tasty when about 6 in. high, and because they grow so fast, one day can make big difference in palatability. Yellow-groove shoots are good eating; unfortunately, many other species are too bitter. Diameter seems to be unrelated to tenderness. The 1-in.-thick shoots I harvest in my oldest grove are practically a meal in themselves. Fresh shoots are traditionally stored in a bucket of cold water, changed daily. In water, they’ll last a few days; in a refrigerator, wrapped, they’ll last about a week; blanched and frozen, they’ll keep for a year.

You can harvest shoots from a new planting, but don’t take them all or the adult plant will eventually dwindle and die. When managing a grove for harvests of both shoots and poles, I take only a quarter of the shoots each year, and I leave the largest ones to grow into poles. I cut them with a knife an inch below ground level, selecting the shoots for cutting to leave about 6 in. between remaining shoots and standing culms.

Bamboo in the landscape

My wife, Hilde, and I design and install landscapes professionally, and in our designs we often include bamboo for outstanding landscape qualities – it’s perennial and evergreen, and it can be contained to grow into either a circular grove or a long, narrow screen. It lends authenticity to Japanese gardens, and is most beautiful when used in coordination with a water feature such as a reflecting pond. One of our plantings is on a sandy 45° slope above a pond, where it helps control erosion and sets off the pond nicely. We also use bamboo as an understory plant beneath larger trees, though in the shade the plants grow more slowly. Bamboo’s form and texture, its pleasant constant motion and faint rustling are qualities quite unlike those of any other landscaping plant. And the introduction of more varieties of hardy, clumping species will increase its usefulness in the landscape.

One practical caution, however, is that wet snowfall can bend and completely flatten the culms to the ground. Usually the damage to the culms is temporary, but if you plant bamboo near a path, resign yourself to shaking the snow off periodically.

You may want to cut the dead culms out of an ornamental planting. This won’t affect the grove’s health one way or the other. Untended, dead poles will fall over and rot away in three to four years. You can also thin living poles to create a more open appearance in a clump. I thin crowded culms in late summer by removing the smallest and/or the oldest ones.

The soul of bamboo

Many Chinese poets who have lived with bamboo intimately have attributed to it near-human qualities – in my reading of bamboo lore, I keep coming across references to sages whose greatest pleasure was to stand in the bamboo garden and listen to the sound of snow and wind in the bamboo. I know that my life has been changed in many subtle ways by learning about the habits and cultivation of bamboo.

Often now, on a snowy or breezy night, I find myself going out into the bamboo grove, and listening. Sure enough, you can hear it, every time. In light breezes, there is a soft rustling. And in snowfall, there is the gentlest of tinkling as ten thousand tiny ice crystals bounce down from leaf to leaf.

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Government

To address other invasives, the legislation requires DEM to create a list of invasive plant species, regulate their sale, and enforce compliance. DEM, however, is opposed to the legislation because the state agency says it already regulates plant pests and can assess fines up $500 for transporting invasive aquatic plants.

DEM noted that it doesn’t allow federally designated noxious weeds to enter the state.

The Rhode Island Farm Bureau fears the bill will persecute farmers for invasive species that they didn’t plant. Bureau president Henry B. Wright III noted that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) gave multiflora rose to farmers in the 1950s as a control for erosion.

“The plant is now considered to be an invasive species by the USDA as it forms dense thickets that invade pastures and crowd out native species,” Wright wrote in a letter to the Senate Committee on the Environment and Agriculture.

Wright suggested that the state instead offer money to farmers and property owners for the removal of invasive plants.

In 2001, the Rhode Island Natural History Survey created a priority list of invasive plants through the Rhode Island Invasive Species Council.

“But our thinking on invasives has changed quite a bit,” said David Gregg, executive director of Rhode Island Natural History Survey. “There’s been a lot of change in the landscape and nursery industry in that time. And I think we need a new initiative.”

In 2003, Connecticut created a state list of invasives with enforceable rules. Massachusetts created a list of invasive plants in 2004.

Through the Natural History Survey, Rhode Island has been reducing invasives. Between 2010 and 2012, the state spent $300,000 of federal money to train professionals to remove invasive plants from state land and other natural habitat. Gregg noted that during that time the same invasive plants were being planted near these properties.

“In the Survey’s opinion, it would be helpful to have an up-to-date list of noxious invasive plants supported by a public process and consensus,” Gregg said at an April 11 Senate committee hearing.

The bill is supported by the Rhode Island Land Trust Council.

The bill was held until a future hearing.

How to Plant and Grow Bamboo

Why Grow Bamboo?

Good Eating

Fresh bamboo shoots are a specialty perennial crop. Delicious and nutritious, they’re low in fat and high in water and fiber. Locally grown shoots (a rarity in this country) are scooped up by upscale Asian or vegetarian restaurants and at farmers’ markets.

Sun Yen Paul, a friend from mainland China, recalls how her grandmother created tasty dishes by stir-frying fresh shoots with pork fat or savory chicken, allowing the bamboo to absorb the flavor of the meat. For a lighter cuisine, Paul suggests stir-frying shoots with other fresh vegetables such as mushrooms, onions, garlic and carrots, in a dark, full-bodied sesame oil. Season with soy sauce and ginger and serve over steaming rice.

Some bamboo varieties produce shoots that have an acrid taste when raw, especially if the sun has hit them. Cooking often solves the problem. For more resistant varieties, try parboiling peeled and sliced shoots for a few minutes before adding them to your favorite recipes. The boiling time will vary, depending on the degree of acridity and size of your shoot slices.

Versatile Bamboo Poles

Bamboo poles are strong, lightweight and endlessly useful around the farm or homestead. I have sold them for purposes ranging from training sheepdogs to building fences, even for counting seals in Alaska (wildlife biologists used the poles to hold off the mother seals so they could check the pups).

Farm-grown, cured poles can compete with cheap imports if they are selected for a niche market. Find a repeat buyer such as a tepee or yurt manufacturer. Grow varieties whose cured poles retain their color, be it black bamboo (Phyllostachys nigra) or bory bamboo (P. nigra Bory). Cut poles long or raise them for superior quality. Produce highly prized square timber poles by placing square forms tightly around young bamboo shoots. The shoots will grow through the forms and take their shape. Square bamboo poles are so valuable and rare you can name your price for them.

Bamboo as Nursery Plants

The surest bamboo business is a nursery. Bamboo nurseries sell largely to suburban and urban dwellers who want privacy from neighbors or passers-by. Bamboo makes an excellent hedge because it’s narrow, beautiful, evergreen and, if bought in small place-in-your-vehicle pots, grows to desired height within three years — then stops.

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Dealing in bamboo starter plants has its advantages. Every shoot that comes up and leafs out can be potted and sold — and for significantly more than it would fetch as a vegetable. Consequently, bamboo nursery owners can often make a decent living on remarkably little land. Stan Andreason operates Beauty and the Bamboo out of his Seattle, Washington, home, located on a single city lot. For years until he got his greenhouses up, Gib Cooper ran his mail-order Tradewinds Bamboo Nursery with his entire stock occupying an eight-foot paved area alongside his house in Gold Beach, Oregon. Gib’s bamboos are grown and shipped to hundreds of locations in one-gallon pots.

The American Bamboo Society currently lists on its website no less than 91 bamboo nurseries and product suppliers nationwide.

Bamboo Sun Buckets, Windbreaks and Erosion Control

Plant bamboo to create microclimates on the farm. Fence off a grove of bamboo in the middle of a pasture. Animals will move to the shady side of the grove in summer and to the sunny side in winter.

Create a bamboo sun bucket. Plant a grove of timber bamboo to the north of a field and midsize bamboos on the east and west sides. The bamboo will block the north wind and reflect the sun, so that the field warms sooner in spring and retains more heat in summer.

Plant bamboo to prevent erosion and conserve land. Renowned for its extensive rhizome and root system, bamboo is planted in Japan on levees, on mountainsides and along the coast. In floods, the rhizomes and roots hold the soil, while the standing culms slow the rush of water.

Bamboo for Wastewater Mitigation

Like other grasses, bamboo is a glutton for water and nitrogen. When we dig bamboo in the Northwest the soil is always dry underneath, even during our rainy winter season. The bamboo taps the soil with its massive root system and its huge number of thirsty evergreen leaves. If a farm generates extra wastewater from dairy operations or aquaculture, for example, bamboo can turn that wastewater into biomass. Bamboo will also happily receive gray water from your house.

That said, bamboo will also — like other grasses — adapt to the conditions in which it finds itself. My 35-year-old grove of henon bamboo (Phyllostachys nigra henon) receives only rainwater, which in Seattle generally means three inches per summer. My plants grow to 31 feet, producing two-inch diameter poles and the equivalent of 2 1/2 tons of bamboo shoots per acre.

While productivity is no doubt improved by increased water during the growing season (the Chinese claim to get 10 tons of shoots an acre in managed groves), bamboo can survive on whatever water is available.

Runoff and Water Quality

The endangered Northwest salmon depends on clean (i.e., nutrient-poor), very cold water. Conventional farming adds soil nutrients to waterways via runoff from pastures and plowed fields. The soil clouds and poisons clean water. It also heats up waterways by forcing the clearing of trees from the banks of ditches and small streams.

Bamboo can help farms reduce soil load to waterways and increase shade. Planted in the swales of pastures, bamboo will catch soil nutrients in runoff and prevent them from entering nearby streams. Planted along ditches and creeks, it will shade the waters and reduce heat buildup.

This is not to suggest that native forests be cut down to plant bamboo, only that bamboo might be used along waterways to replace annual and perennial crops, such as raspberries and grazed pasture.

Carbon Sequestration

As if its many beneficial characteristics weren’t enough, bamboo can also reduce CO2 buildup in the atmosphere. Because bamboo is evergreen, it photosynthesizes and turns carbon dioxide into sugars year-round. A natural bamboo forest grows new leaves and culms every year, realizing a greater annual increase in biomass than a tree forest. And a managed bamboo forest, in which 20% of standing culms are harvested each year to encourage new growth, outproduces a natural one.

Bamboo as Wildlife Habitat

Deer bed down in bamboo, birds hang out in it and beavers build dams with it.

If you plant bamboo mainly to provide wildlife habitat and to enhance water quality, choose the native American bamboo, Arundinaria gigantea, which under ideal conditions grows to 20 feet tall and an inch in diameter, but more often measures in at eight to 16 feet. While too small for commercial poles, A. gigantea is fine for garden stakes, fence pickets and fishing poles, and the wood is hard and durable.

If you are planting primarily for shoots and poles, choose the larger Asian bamboos. They’ll attract wildlife just the same and are far more commercially viable.

Where Can I Grow Bamboo?

Bamboo can be grown as a farm crop wherever it is not killed to the ground in winter. In the U.S., that means the Southern and Pacific states. Where routinely frozen back, evergreen bamboos become low-growing herbaceous grasses and can be grown as garden plants but not farm crops. Bamboo is grown as an ornamental garden plant from Massachusetts to Florida, from British Columbia to San Diego and in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.

Bamboos can be divided into two groups: hardy and tropical. Hardy bamboos are best suited for USDA zones 8 (10 degrees Fahrenheit to 20 degrees Fahrenheit minimum winter temperatures) and 9 (20 degrees Fahrenheit to 30 degrees Fahrenheit minimum temperatures).

To farm hardy bamboos, you need warm summers and moderate winters. Culms must be at least three years old and preferably four or five years old to be harvested as poles. A bamboo that is frozen to the ground frequently will never mature its culms to harvestable age, nor will it produce shoots large enough to sell.

Hardy bamboos are “runners,” meaning their rhizomes spread along the surface of the ground in summer. Planted on a small scale, runners can be contained by burying a plastic barrier, 40 millimeters thick and 30 inches deep, all around the stand. For the larger-scale farmer, runners are best contained through strategic site planning (see illustration ). You might also try (as one farmer I know did) to turn the problem into a plus by harvesting, potting and selling the rhizomes.

Tropical bamboos are best suited for zones 9 and 10 (30 degrees Fahrenheit to 40 degrees Fahrenheit minimum temperatures). They are clumpers, having short, thick rhizomes at the base of each culm, and so do not present the containment challenges of runners.

Tropical bamboos vary in their tolerance for freezing weather. Some endure a few days below freezing with little damage; some are killed. In general tropical bamboos, which produce strong poles and fine shoots, can be grown as a farm crop in Florida, in Southern California and along the Gulf Coast.

Which Bamboo Should I Plant?

To select your bamboos, determine which will grow in your planting zone; then narrow your list to those best suited to your purpose – be it to produce the best tasting shoots or the longest, strongest poles.

Every April the American Bamboo Society (ABS) publishes a list of bamboos available in the U.S., along with their suppliers. The ABS Species Source List for 2000 names 373 kinds of bamboo, describing each in terms of its uses, maximum height and diameter, and sun, shade and temperature requirements. (Included is a short list of extremely cold-hardy bamboos that will survive, if not thrive, to -20 degrees Fahrenheit!)

My own handbook, Hardy Bamboos for Shoots and Poles, lists and describes 30 varieties of the genus Phyllostachys suitable for USDA zones 7, 8 and 9. Each variety is assessed, not only for its uses, size and climate needs, but also for the quality of its shoots and poles. Bamboo nurseries or growers in your area are also invaluable resources; no one will know better what varieties will flourish where you live.

No matter the bamboos you choose, keep in mind two basic planting principles:

1. Plant several varieties, not just one, to ensure that when one grove flowers — and consequently stops sending up new shoots — other groves will continue to produce. Flowering in bamboos is rare but unpredictable and can last several years.

2. A small, well-watered and thinned grove is more productive and easier to harvest than is a large, unthinned, uncared-for grove.

Getting Bamboo

With more than 90 bamboo nurseries operating nationwide, it’s easy to purchase bamboo starter plants in small quantities. For farm-scale quantities, you’ll have to contract with one or more nurseries well in advance of your desired planting date.

For establishing a farm grove, a small healthy potted bamboo is superior to a large bamboo freshly dug from the ground. The small potted bamboo will send up larger shoots the next growing season. The large, transplanted bamboo will send up small shoots the next growing season — assuming you have the time to stake it and water it constantly for the first few weeks after planting.

While it’s true that if you call around, put ads in the paper and get in on the bamboo network you can often find bamboo free for the digging, remember that everything has its price:

•Digging bamboo can be backbreaking work.

•The variety may not be the best for your purposes.

•Recently dug bamboo requires much more care and takes about a year longer to begin growing than do nursery plants.

•The cost of labor, tools and trucking may be more than the cost of nursery plants.

Planting Bamboo

Once you’ve acquired your bamboo, you’ll need to get it in the ground.

1. Place the root ball at the same level it was when dug from the ground or pot. Do not add soil on top of the root ball. Bamboo rhizomes and roots are extremely sensitive to changes in their position relative to the surface of the ground. Planting deep is the main cause for lack of growth of transplanted bamboo in the Pacific Northwest. Usually people plant deep to prevent the bamboo from blowing over. If there is any chance of this, stake the plant but do not bury the root ball.

2. Make a dam around the planting hole, well beyond the root ball, to hold water. If the plant is on a slope, make a dam below but not above the plant. You want to catch rainwater, not divert it. Water deeply and thoroughly by filling the catchment several times after backfilling the hole. This settles the soil around the root ball. Add more soil if needed. Try to saturate the surrounding soil so that it keeps the root ball moist until the bamboo can spread its roots into the new soil.

3. Beyond the root ball and its catchment area, make a doughnut of deep mulch measuring a few to many feet wide. Deep mulch controls weeds and encourages the bamboo to spread. Rhizomes and feeder roots will spread eagerly into the moist soil below the mulch and especially up into the mulch itself.

4. Mulch the top of the root ball very lightly. Too much mulch rots rhizomes and allows rodents to nest. Do not let mulch touch culms, as rodents will hide in it and eat culms and new shoots. Conversely, too little mulch bares the soil and allows overheating and the germination of weed seeds. Instead of mulch, some tree planters use a circle of brown paper with a cutout for the trunk. The paper shades the ground to prevent weed seeds from germinating. A paper mulch can easily be adapted to new bamboo plantings. Cover the outside edge of the paper with mulch to hold it in place. Make the above recommended doughnut of thick mulch outside the paper.

5. Allow coyotes, the great eaters of mice, access to your bamboo groves! Provide habitat for owls and hawks.

6. Optional: Set a windbreak/sun shield to the south and west of your bamboo. Use burlap or shade cloth fastened to stakes or bamboo poles. The culms and leaves of young, newly planted bamboo turn yellow in full sun, even in gray Northwest winters. Bamboo is a forest plant; tempering its immediate environment with protection from sun and drying wind may allow young bamboo to grow faster.

To Plant a Bamboo Grove

To establish a farm grove, some people plant bamboo as close together as five or ten feet. Others plant it 20 to 25 feet apart and farm the alleys in between for a few years while waiting for the bamboo to close rank. Either way, the grove requires considerable mulching, watering, thinning and weeding, at least for the first two years. Water your bamboo an inch a day during the growing season and you will be astonished at the shoots it sends up the following spring. Remember, few er plants with outstanding care will far outproduce more plants with less care. This is particularly true in the Pacific Northwest, with its arid summers and aggressive feral weeds such as blackberries, field bindweed and reed canary grass.

A planting of bamboo takes seven to ten or more years to mature. A mature timber bamboo sends its shoots upwards 50 or so feet in two months. Hardy running bamboos then shoot their rhizomes sideways all summer, until the soil cools down in October; their rhizomes will extend 20 feet in a single growing season.

Ultimately, a productive farm grove will be a forest that allows the farmer to walk in its shade. The canes will be evenly spaced, averaging three to eight feet apart. Spacing depends on the height of the average cane, since each cane grows branches in proportion to its height and those branches need light to maintain their leaves. Tall canes with long branches need more space between them than do short canes with short branches.

Harvesting Bamboo Shoots

Bamboo produces shoots when the soil warms up in spring. Casual harvesting is easy. Take a kitchen knife and cut at ground level any fat shoot that extends about six inches above the soil. If the shoot is tough, leave it there to rot. If it’s tender, put it in your bucket for later cooking. Don’t take all of the new shoots from any single plant; allow enough shoots to mature into culms to replace the poles that you will be harvesting.

Commercial harvesting is more complicated. Your goal as a commercial grower is to produce in quantity the largest shoots and poles possible. A grove with large canes spaced far apart produces more and bigger shoots than a grove with small canes spaced close together. It also produces a greater gross weight in poles, even though the number of poles is fewer.

To ensure a productive commercial grove, mark the biggest and best shoots and allow them to grow into poles. Limit your takings to small and midsize shoots. Only harvest the biggest shoots if they will crowd each other as they grow. Once your grove matures, and assuming it’s well-man aged, there will be excess large shoots to harvest and sell. Harvest every second or third clay while the grove is shooting.

I use a sharpened, narrow D-handled spade to cut the shoot below ground, where it attaches to the rhizome. By cutting below ground I get a heavier shoot (shoots are sold by the pound). Also, shoots stay fresh longer if the base is intact. Keep cut shoots out of the sun, as exposure turns them bitter. Wash them as soon as possible and keep them cold while hurrying them to market. I pack my shoots in clipped ice in waxed asparagus boxes.

Harvesting Bamboo Poles

In spring bamboo shoots come out of the ground the diameter they will be when mature. Since canes are proportional, large diameter shoots will be taller than small diameter shoots. Two months after shoots have emerged from the ground, they are fully extended and their leaves are opening. For the next three to four years the canes will mature and become harder, but they will not increase in size. The cane lignifies during this maturing phase, going from watery to woody.

Harvest poles when canes are three to five years old. Cut close to the ground with a folding pruning saw, Sawzall or chain saw, depending on the number and size of culms to be cut. Choose poles with an eye toward improving the grove. Each remaining cane should be better than those harvested around it and should have room for all its branches to receive light while the floor of the grove remains in shade. There should be an even distribution of canes from each year group.

I harvest my poles in summer after harvesting my shoots. By removing the crowded poles, I create room for new shoots to reach the canopy and open their branches to sunlight. Another option is to harvest poles in late winter before shooting begins, thereby stimulating plants to produce more shoots to fill the gaps created by thinning.

When poles are two inches or larger in diameter, the lowest branches will be 12 or more feet above the ground. The poles cut from below the branches are smooth, round and generally the most profitable.

What to do with the bulky, branched tops of the poles? You can shred them and mulch the grove. Garold Nelson of Coquille, Oregon, cuts a few poles a day year-round to feed to his eager Beefmaster cattle. You can also cut poles at one work session in winter, pile the leafy tops and pull from the stash daily as the livestock need feeding (cut leaves stay fresh in winter). Or you can put the whole pole through a silage machine and feed the bamboo as green chop.

The salable lower part of the pole should be stored in a ventilated, covered shed. Support the poles carefully so they do not develop bends. Crooked poles can be straightened by heating the bent portion and torquing it on posts set in the ground. Green poles are a unique local product. Research the basket makers or craftspeople who might buy them. The poles will dry to a tan color in about six months and can be sold directly to the public or to retailers.

Bamboo is an amazingly versatile plant. My friends call it the miracle plant. I look forward to the day when I can walk into a grocery store to buy fresh bamboo shoots, into a lumberyard to buy bamboo plywood, and into an office supply store to buy bamboo paper – all of it homegrown. Let’s plant bamboo, the grass that grows wood faster than trees!

Bamboo Sources

The American Bamboo Society website (www.bamboo.org/abs/) includes the Species Source List and contact information for 12 regional chapters. (To order a print version of the list, send $1 to George Shor, Source List Editor, La Jolla, CA or to Mike Bartholomew, Membership Office, Albany, NY.) Membership in the American Bamboo Society costs $35 per year.

Daphne Lewis’ books, Bamboo on the Farm ($78) and Hardy Bamboos for Shoots & Poles ($14) can be purchased by emailing bambuguru @ earthlink.net. Her third bamboo book, Farming Bamboo, will be published later this year by Galendula Horticultural Books (e-mail calendula @ localaccess.com). Daphne’s website, www.dogscooter.com, has information on farming bamboo, as well as on her second great passion: training dogs to pull scooters.

Read more Garden & Yard stories, plus updated bulletin boards, MOTHER’S BOOKSHELF listings and building plans. www.motherearthnews.com

Growth Stages: From Planting to Mature Bamboo Grove

A) Spread mulch outside root ball.
B) After first season, place deep mulch well outside drip line.
C) Shaded area is the growth from the first season, while the white area marks the new canes from the second growing season.
D) In year three, remove all or most canes from first season.
E) Rhizomes have spread and matured so new canes arise well outside the original root ball. Thin so that the bamboo shades its culms and the ground while its leaves and branches receive sunlight.
F) A mature grove. Continue to thin for best leaf and branch sunlight.

Growing Bamboo in Indiana

Although commonly associated with Asia, bamboo is a tall woody grass that is native to many parts of the world. Bamboo can be as short as 12 to 18 inches or as tall as 40 to 60 feet. Selecting a bamboo suitable to Indiana’s climate zones is critical if you are growing bamboo outdoors. Although you can grow indoor bamboos in Indiana in the same way as anywhere else, you must be careful to select bamboos suited to your local climate zone. Because it is warmer, southern Indiana will support more varieties than northern or central Indiana.

Select your location. In the wild, bamboo generally grow under the protective canopy of a forest. Select a location that receives good, indirect light and that is somewhat protected from wind, especially cold winter winds.

Dig out the entire area where you will plant bamboo if you are creating a small planting to 36 inches deep. If planting a large area, dig a 36-inch deep trench around the area to be planted. Many bamboos are invasive and will require a bamboo barrier. If you are planting a “clumping” bamboo or bamboo that you are sure will not be invasive, you don’t need to worry about the barrier and can prepare the top 12 to 18 inches of soil as for any other planting. If you are unsure, however, install the barrier.

Line the sides of your hole or trench with 60 mil polyethylene. Seal the joints with duct tape, and allow the barrier to extend 3 to 4 inches above ground level.

Backfill the hole with soil until it is about 4 inches below the level of the surrounding ground.

Place your bamboo rhizomes eyes up on the newly backfilled ground, and cover them with the remaining soil.

Add 2 to 4 inches of mulch on top of your planting, and water your planting thoroughly. Keep the soil moist and mulched for the healthiest bamboo.

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Now accepting orders for U.S. native species Arundinaria gigantea ‘Macon’. Digging to begin in March, 2020.
Reserve your order today.

Below – some of our true 5 gallon cold hardy Phyllostachys bamboo plants for $65. They can be as tall as 10′ to 16′ and are landscape size for instant gratification.

We specifically grow bamboo species that are cold hardy to USDA zone 5 and south. Our bamboo garden, Megumi no Sono, is located in northern Indiana approximately 60 miles south of the Michigan state line. We grow and test the cold hardiness of several species of bamboo in the midwest.
The species that do well after several years of testing are then offered for sale to other home gardeners, landscapers, zoological institutes, city parks and others.
• We specialize in larger field dug divisions.
• Live plants are available for pickup at our nursery location only.
• All orders are field dug by request and are ready for pickup one to two months after being dug, weather and crop production permitting. We do not carry a potted inventory.
Presale consultation on species choice per your application, planting site and more is offered.
Please note that at this time we do not carry an inventory. Your order is dug upon request. Each plant is then stabilized for at least one month before being made available for pickup.

Bamboo is a renewable and sustainable resource with almost limitless uses. We offer bamboo graphics that promote these attributes in our Japanese Gardens RedBubble store.

“A man can sit in a bamboo house under a bamboo roof, on a bamboo chair at a bamboo table, with a bamboo hat on his head and bamboo sandals on his feet. He can at the same time hold in one hand a bamboo bowl, in the other hand bamboo chopsticks and eat bamboo sprouts. When through with his meal, which has been cooked over a bamboo fire, the table may be washed with a bamboo cloth, and he can fan himself with a bamboo fan, take a siesta on a bamboo bed, lying on a bamboo mat with his head resting on a bamboo pillow. His child might be lying in a bamboo cradle, playing with a bamboo toy. On rising he would smoke a bamboo pipe and taking a bamboo pen, write on bamboo paper, or carry his articles in bamboo baskets suspended from a bamboo pole, with a bamboo umbrella over his head. He might then take a walk over a bamboo suspension bridge, drink water from a bamboo ladle, and scrape himself with a bamboo scraper.”
– Dr. William Edgar Geil, 1865-1925

Main Content

Invasive Plant Species

Of the more than 2,000 species of vascular plants in Indiana, roughly 25 percent are non-native to Indiana. Most don’t create problems in natural areas, but many do, competing with and crowding out more desirable native species.

Highlights of Invasive Indiana Plants

The Report IN is a regional effort to develop and provide an early detection and rapid response (EDRR) resource for invasive species.

The goal of this regional resource is to assist both experts and citizen scientists in the detection and identification of invasive species in support of the successful management of invasive species.

Examples of non-native plants include:

  • Purple loosestrife
  • Japanese honeysuckle
  • Autumn olive
  • Glossy buckthorn
  • Garlic mustard

Bush Honeysuckle

Autumn Olive

Garlic Mustard

A list of invasive exotic plants, found in Indiana natural areas.

The Indiana Invasives Species Council is another source of information on invasive species in Indiana.

Use EDDMaps to report invasive plants in Indiana.

Organizations Focused on Controlling Invasive/Non-Native Species

Those organizations that focus a great deal of time, money and effort controlling undesirable non-native and invasive species in natural areas include:

  • Division of Nature Preserves
  • Division of Fish and Wildlife
  • The Nature Conservancy
  • Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society (INPAWS)
  • Land trusts

Although many of these detrimental plants are sold in nurseries and planted by people who are generally unaware of the problems they create, there are plenty of native plants that could be used instead for landscaping.

Alternatives to Invasive Plant Species

To learn more about alternative native species that can be used in landscaping, as well as, non-native and invasive species, check out the Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society website.

I am rather new to bamboo. Have been growing for about 8 years. Started in very northwest KS(zone 6, 40 miles from CO and 40 miles from NE). I researched about one year then took the leap. Started with P. bissetii, following year P. aureosulcata ‘Alata’, then Grey Henon and Indocalamus tessellatus. Also gave a friend of mine a couple P’s. atrovaginata and I think heteroclada. To my knowledge both of his are still growing, though he does not care for them very well. My bissetii was growing to 15′ at 5 years, a few of the earlier years there was defoliation due to cold. This improved as it matured, though always did have some. Alata seemed very close to bissetii, though seemed to be more of an aggressive grower. Grey Henon and I tessellatus defoliated every year, but came back. We moved close to Wichita, KS about 2 years ago. I brought Alata, Henon, and tessellatus with me. All three are doing well even though I transplanted in late spring(had to really baby them the first year because it got hot out). Planted a small P bory last spring. Stayed green until end of Jan., now it is Feb. Want to get P nigra and some Fargesia this year.

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