Bamboo in Europe
Bamboo in the garden! Many do not yet realise that there is a great selection of bamboos available for the garden. In recent years, bamboo has gained considerable attention. And deservedly so .. this fast-growing plant can decorate the garden in so many ways.
Bamboo is one of the fastest growers in the plant-kingdom: within 2 months a young shoot reaches its eventual height and width! Some sorts reach a height of around 9 metres (27 feet) and a width of around 7cm (2,5″).
Across the whole world there are around a thousand different species, of which a good 100 are hardy in the Netherlands and equivalent climates. Since I started planting out my ever-growing collection of bamboo in the spring of 1990 as a hobby, knowledge of this plant has increased enormously. Bamboo turned out to be a fascinating plant; my hobby got out of control and eventually became a nursery! The information on this site and in my catalogue has been derived from practical experience of bamboos under Dutch circumstances. Our climate differs considerably from that of China and Japan, where most of the bamboos used in the Netherlands originate from. By comparison, our winters have little snow. This means that the plants grown here are sensitive to harsh winter weather, particularly when young! Winter sun can also be damaging. Dutch summers are often dryer than those experienced in China and Japan. The far-eastern mountains can easily get twice as much rain as here! This means that we have to take special care of watering. Our summers are usually quite dry, so we must irrigate more to avoid stunted growth. (The summers of ’98 and ’04 were wet enough, but too cool). Bamboo uses a particularly large amount of water in windy places. The air humidity here is on average lower than in places where bamboo grows naturally.
BAMBOO INFORMATION LOCALLY APPLICABLE
In many foreign publications information is available which is not always applicable to Holland. For example, a popular and beautiful bamboo such as Phyllostachys aurea is hardy and stays green in winter and reaches heights of 9m (27 feet) in the south of France. Apparently, there is also an impressive example in a garden in Maastricht (south Holland). Most publications cite -18 to -20C as the minimum temperature that this plant will tolerate; however, practical experience here in Steenwijkerwold shows us that leaf damage occurs every winter. The cause of this appears to be not only frost but also strong wind. In May the plants recover completely (except in 1996). There are accounts of this bamboo surviving 150km north of Bergen, Norway, where it behaves like a deciduous shrub. Even though the temperature close to the Norwegian coast does not dip below this plant’s minimum, it would appear that the plant will not develop naturally there.
Shoots appearing from the end of august are often not hardened enough for the first cold periods in Holland. It’s best to remove them early, particularly if they show a tendence to grow horizontally, since this is evidence of diminished growing power. Fargesia and Chimonobambusa are exceptions to this rule.
In the garden of nursery “Rosteto”, Prague, this Phyllostachys sp. Shanghai 3 proves hardy even under continental climatic conditions!
(picture from Honza Kocourek)
Bamboo can grow at a staggering rate. For example, plant a Phyllostachys of about 1m (3 feet) high (from a 3 liter – or better 5L pot) in a warm, moist place in rich and well drained ground. Do this preferably in march or april but later is possible. By the end of the summer this plant will have formed new shoots between 150-200cm high (4,5 – 6 feet) and enormous rhizomes (root growths) of up to 1 meter (3 feet) long! After the second season the plant will already be 200-250cm in size (6 – 7,5 feet) and will be 50 – 100cm wide (1,5 – 3 feet). The third growing season will deliver shoots between 200 and 300cm long (7,5 – 9 feet), the fourth season up to 4 meter long (12 feet). And these shoots may appear up to 2m (6 feet) away from the original plant. Only after 5 growing seasons at the earliest will the plant produce mature shoots.
It’s as yet difficult to say what the maximum attainable height in Holland will be. The climate is warming and we certainly expect to see new growth records. By removing the thinnest culms every winter, by removing the smallest shoots in the spring and by fertilising well you can help your plant to maturity. Low bamboos achieve maximum height within a few years. Fargesia also achieves maximum height quickly but only grows around 10cm per year (4 inches) in width.
A widely held misconception is that bamboo will suddenly flower en masse, whereby whole groves can be wiped-out. This arose from the dramatic circumstances whereby Panda bears died apparently as a result of excessive flowering of wild bamboo woods, resulting in localised depletion of their food resources. However, the real cause of this disaster has been established mainly to be the erosion of their home-ground by incursion by humans.
We have seen simultaneous and excessive flowering of Pseudosasa in Western Europe, but all these plants recovered fully afterwards. Because all these plants were grown from the same single mother-plant, they all had identical inherited characteristics; this caused them all to bloom at once from the same clone. Fargesia murielae has been intensively propagated, probably from a single mother-plant. All child-plants subsequently flowered simultaneously, which led to the death of these plants. A new generation has been propagated from seed, which will probably last around a hundred years. But .. the new plants are unfortunately less healthy than the mother-plant. Fargesia murielae ‘New Century’ would appear to be a good selection, as is ‘Boryana’. The next plant to face mass-blooming is Fargesia nitida.
Plants are still being propagated from the original Fargesia murielae. This has been made possible by returning the plant to its juvenile form in a laboratory and then multiplying it on a large scale. However, when they reach maturity these plants will still flower and so such practices should be considered disgraceful. Flowering is not an uncommon phenomenon; in our nursery you can nearly always find one bamboo or another in bloom. Usually the plants recover well. Incidental flowering of, for example, a side-branch in a large grove) occasionally occurs but this causes no damage. Nothing is known about the biological clock which seems to regulate this flowering cycle – the phenomenon is as yet simply not understood. We do know that the following Fargesia’s are ‘safe’ from flowering: Fargesia nitida ‘Jiuzhaigou’, Fargesia denudata, the new generation of Fargesia murielae and Fargesia nitida, and Fargesia dracocephala.
Hardiness can be positively influenced by good fertilisation, but in general, over-fertilisation seems to weaken the plants.
In general, do not use cheap enriched garden soil sold of the type ‘3 for a fiver’! The composition of such soil isn’t really top notch, and I’ve had poor experiences with it, such as loss of leaves in winter and weak, aphid-sensitive shoots. In the ground (not in pot) I use well-rotted horse manure or organic mix voor lawns. I find that you shoud use this sparingly, except when treating really poor soil. Chemical manure has not given good results; you get vulnerable weaklings of plants which easily get frost damage in winter. However, I have had positive results on dry sandy ground with organic manure of the composition 10+4+6 or 5+3+2, so about twice as much nitrogen as phosphor and potassium, mixed with lava powder. On sandy ground you should apply rock powder liberally, as it greatly improves the ground’s fertility and ability to retain moisture. Lava powder is very rich in silicon, amongst other substances, in a form suitable for easy consumption by plants. Bamboe is rich in silicon, which gives it it’s rigidity, and so therefore needs a lot. Acidic soil really appreciates a gift of chalk in the spring. Because bamboo is often used for it’s greenness in winter, I have devoted extra attention to this. In our assortment database you can read about the hardiness of each plant. Bear in mind your local conditions; here we have a fairly windswept location. In a garden situated in town, in the woods or further from the coast the plants tend to be greener and grow taller.
Always maintain a mulch layer of straw, leaves or shavings at the base of your bamboo!
APPLICATION OF BAMBOO IN THE GARDEN
Gardens with an excess of static conifers can have a little life breathed into them by judicious planting of some airy, waving bamboo. And a bamboo hedge in the background provides a marvellous enclosed feeling. Bamboo can also be used as maintenance-free ground cover, and as a solitary plant.
Whatever you choose, be aware that bamboos tend to ‘wander’, some more than others.
However, Fargesias (formerly called Sinarundinaria) and some less well known types such as Yushania, Borinda and Chusquea do not wander. The fastest runners are the Sasa’s. Left unchecked, these thugs will quickly outgrow other plants – see also Bamboo and root control
Phyllostachys also spreads quite rapidly, with the exception of Phyllostachys angusta, which is more or less static.
To enjoy these roaming plants, you should put a barrier down for the roots to retain the plant within a specific area. This should be 50cm (20″) deep and can be made of artificial root barrier, concrete tiles or an old plastic tub of which the base has been removed.
BAMBOO AS A SOLITARY PLANT
Bamboo gets on fine on its own. In exposed places it can suffer some damage during a bad winter, but nearly always it recovers well. Fargesia murielae is well known as a solitary, but nowadays the choice is greater: try Phyllostachys aureosulcata ‘Spectabilis’, which is currently taking over from the less-hardy Phyllostachys aurea, and Phyllostachys nigra en Phyllostachys vivax ‘Aureocaulis’. In the south and west of Holland a plant such as Semiarundinaria fastuosa or Pleioblastus hindsii can be used to fantastic effect.
Bamboo should be used more in the urban environment; it relieves the tight lines of modern housing. A Sasa palmata placed at the edge of a pond is a fantastic example of the use of solitary planting.
BAMBOO AS GROUND COVER
The fastest spreading bamboo is Sasa. Frequently Sasa or Pleioblastus is used as a maintenance-free lawn; it spreads quickly and gives complete groud-cover. Many of these bamboos benefit from being cut to ground level in winter. They regrow in fresh, vigorous colours.
Many variegated plants are available in the dwarf bamboos. Pleioblastus auricoma in particular produces wonderful almost flourescent yellow-green leaves (but not everybody likes these!). In this genus also really large leaved plants exist such as Sasa tessellata, which even grows in deep shadow.
Some taller bamboos also provide good ground cover. It will take a few years (depending on the plant size) to cover any given area. But once covered, the ground needs little or no further maintenance.
BETWEEN SHRUBS AND TREES
Bamboo comes into its own when combined with different leaf shapes. Personally, I don’t like combinations of privet, beach or willow. When combining, make sure that sun-loving bamboos get enough light, otherwise they will fade away. In particular, Phyllostachys requires sufficient light. Be aware that bamboo will spread without containment!
Bamboo’s favourite type of soil is a light loam which is well drained and is well fertilised, perferably with well-rotted manure or compost. But it is also at home in the woods.
Mix too heavy or light soil with liberal amounts of peat and compost. Heavy clay should be mixed with rough sand and well-rotted manure, and can also be lightened with woodshavings. Bamboo is also grateful for minerals such as lava powder.
Growth can really be enhanced by watering in dry periods. A bucket of water in dry winter periods is also really appreciated but don’t do this if it’s freezing! Two extremes are deadly for bamboo::
– drowning through poor drainage.
A really beautiful bamboo garden will only succeed if the water provision is adequate..
A BEAUTIFUL GROVE OF BAMBOO
On fertile, well watered ground a single bamboo can eventually develop into a full grove! We don’t have much experience of this in Holland. Little groves are planted here and there, mainly with imported, large plants. However, due to the high costs of doing this, it is usually not an option to do this at home, and you have to multiply the plants yourself. This can be done by using a piece of rhizome with healthy buds, removed from the mother plant in March and planted out. Use a piece with at least three nodes – don’t be stingy! The following plants are good colonists: Bashania fargesii, Semiarundinaria (fastuosa) viridis, Phyllostachys kwangsiensis, Phyllostachys atrovaginata, Phyllostachys rubromarginata, Phyllostachys nuda (for a rather open grove), Phyllostachys aureosulcata, Phyllostachys bissetii, Phyllostachys nigra ‘Boryana’ , ‘Henonis’ and Phyllostachys vivax.
Do not remove the layer of leaves which fall at the base of the plants; bamboo likes to ‘recycle’ and the layer prevents undue drying of the ground.