Monday, July 11, 2011

Bamboos-in-law

My very first post on this blog was about transplanting a black bamboo (Phyllostachys nigra ‘Punctata’) from a half wine barrel into the ground at my parents-in-law’s property in Mount Shasta, CA. Since then, we’ve added more bamboos, and I’ve repeatedly posted updates (at Thanksgiving, at Christmas, and at Easter).

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At 14,179 feet, Mount Shasta is one of the highest mountains in California

Every time we visit, I look forward to checking out the progress the bamboos have made. Most of them were fairly small when planted so I know that patience is required, but I’m still eager to see how everything is doing.

My favorite of all the bamboos we’ve planted in what we jokingly call “Experimental Bamboo Garden North” is Phyllostachys vivax ‘Aureocaulis’. It made it through the winter with flying colors and I had high hopes for this year’s shooting season, expecting culms well in excess of 1” in diameter. You can imagine how distraught I was when my mother-in-law told me about six weeks ago that the leaves were turning yellow and the plant was looking like it was dying. After some initial puzzlement we identified the culprits: furry critters digging tunnels and eating the roots. The bamboo clump was surrounded by mole tunnels which most likely provided easy access to voles—which in turn chomped on the roots. Garden blogger Alan of It’s Not Work, It’s Gardening described this problem in a recent post.

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Phyllostachys vivax ‘Aureocaulis’
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Phyllostachys vivax ‘Aureocaulis’
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Phyllostachys vivax ‘Aureocaulis’

My in-laws felt terrible about the impending loss of this beautiful plant. I told them to be patient because bamboo is known for its resilience and will to live. After we arrived yesterday I checked the culms and much to my—and everyone else’s—surprise I found new leaves forming in many spots. They’re still small but they’re an unmistakable sign of life. With continued watering and TLC, the plant should make a full recovery provided the voles stay clear of the roots. If anybody has any tips on how to prevent this from happening again, I’d be happy to hear about your experience.

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Phyllostachys vivax ‘Aureocaulis’, new leaves forming
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Phyllostachys vivax ‘Aureocaulis’, new leaves forming
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Phyllostachys vivax ‘Aureocaulis’, new leaves forming

The black bamboo we transplanted last October produced a plethora of new shoots this spring: I counted 10, which doubles the number of culms it already had. The tallest approaches 6 feet, so hopefully we’ll top 10 feet next year.

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Phyllostachys nigra ‘Punctata’
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Phyllostachys nigra ‘Punctata’, four of the new culms

The next bamboo is a Chusquea gigantea from South America. Planted last September, it suffered an initial setback when the watering hose running to it got disconnected for a few weeks. A few culms died as a result, but most survived. This spring it produced two new culms, the thickest of which is close to ½". The branches grow in whorls around the culm, with one branch significantly longer than the others. While technically a clumping bamboo, the clump is very open, with individual culms spaced as much as a foot apart.

While the specimen in my in-laws’ yard doesn’t look like much at the moment, my hope is that it will one day resemble this.

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Chusquea gigantea
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Chusquea gigantea, new whorl of branches

Two fargesias survived their first winter even though they were planted just weeks before the first snow as 1-gallon tissue culture plants. Fargesia dracocephala ‘Rufa’ wasn’t fazed by the months of freezing temperatures while Fargesia denudata lost all its leaves but quickly grew them back in the spring. These two species should prove to be stellar performers in Mount Shasta’s zone 7 climate.

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Fargesia dracocephala ‘Rufa’
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Fargesia denudata (never mind the weeds)

Shown in the next two photos, Phyllostachys bissetii is blending in with the wildflowers. Planted last fall as a 1-gallon tissue culture plant from Boo-Shoot Gardens, it produced 4-5 new shoots this spring but they’re wispy and barely 3 feet tall. However, in another year or two it should begin to dominate this area of the backyard.

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Phyllostachys bissetii
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Phyllostachys bissetii—look for the plant tag in the middle of the photo

The next bamboo was planted just this April. It’s a Phyllostachys nigra ‘Henon’, and its first culm of the year is now 6 feet tall and still growing. It’s pretty thin, though, so it’s leaning over. This is also a plant that will require a few years to show its real beauty. A ‘Henon’ grove in this spot could be a real attention-getter as it will be visible from the street.

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Phyllostachys nigra ‘Henon’

The last photo is of the largest bamboo we’ve planted at my in-laws to date. It’s a stone bamboo (Phyllostachys angusta) that came in a 25-gallon container. As far as I can tell, it hasn’t started to shoot yet but when it does, it should produce 15+ ft. culms of 1-1½“ in diameter.

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Phyllostachys angusta

Bamboos are long-lived plants capable of extraordinary beauty, but they do require patience in the first few years. As slow as progress may seem initially, you will see results much faster than with trees and other landscaping plants that fill a similar niche in the garden.

4 comments:

  1. Someday I'll have a place to plant more bamboos too, but it won't have a view of a mountain like this! (Or maybe it will... who knows?)

    Interesting that vole damage caused the leaves to drop, but the plant is still able to grow new ones. I assume the vole attacks ended?

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  2. Hi Gerhard, good to see most of the bamboos are doing well. At first I thought the vivax was dessicated but burrowing critters have done the damage. I agree about their reputation of resilience, hopefully it will look better soon :)

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  3. I haven't had problems with voles before, but I think one thing you might be able to do is to grow some castor beans around your bamboo to hopefully kill them off.

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  4. Alan, my MIL caught some moles using Juicy Fruit chewing gum and collapsed the tunnels she could find. So far so good.

    Mark and Gaz, the dessicated leaves weren't due to a lack of watering (wet spring plus regular irrigation), but the symptoms are the same. The mole tunnels my parents-in-law found were a dead giveaway. I'm just glad the plant is still alive.

    Steve, great suggestion (and I even have a couple of castor beans left that Alan had sent me) but too many kids and pets spend time in the yard, and it would just be too dangerous.

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