Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Planting a new bamboo…using a backhoe

During a recent visit to Tradewinds Bamboo Nursery in Gold Beach, Oregon (on the web at www.bamboodirect.com) I bought a Chusquea culeou ‘Roja,’ a special form of this South American clumping bamboo that Tradewinds owner Gib Cooper found in batch of more than 1,000 seedlings. Similar to Chusquea culeou ‘Caña Prieta,’ new culms are dark red when exposed to the sun, slowly fading to greenish yellow.

Chusqueas are unique to the New World. Native to Central and South America, this genus includes over 100 species (experts agree that there might be quite a few additional species out there that haven’t been properly classified yet) whose habitat ranges from the tropical lowlands to the mountain slopes of the Andes. Consequently, some chusquea species barely tolerate temperatures in the high thirties (1-3°C) while others are hardy to 0°F (-18°C).

Like many mountain bamboos from the Himalayas, chusqueas aren’t able to handle high nighttime temperatures coupled with warm soils and high humidity. Gardeners in areas where summer temperatures stay above 70°F (20°C) at night, such as is the case in many parts of the Midwestern, Southern and Southeastern United States, won’t have much luck growing chusqueas.

While summer nights here in Davis are generally cool enough, our daytime highs, which often approach or even exceed 100°F (38°C), are taxing on chusqueas. They do survive, but typically don’t develop their full potential.

For this reason, I decided to plant my Chusquea culeou ‘Roja’ on my parents-in-laws’ property in Mount Shasta, in the mountains of far Northern California. Even though summer highs might reach the 90°F mark (32°C), this doesn’t happen all that often, and summer nights are always pleasantly cool. I planted a Chusquea gigantea in their backyard last fall, and after an initial setback (irrigation failure) it made it through the winter with flying colors and has put up beautiful new culms this year.

When I plant a new bamboo in our garden—or anything else for that matter—I dread digging holes because of our clay soil. That problem doesn’t exist at my in-laws. Their soil is loose and friable (never mind the occasional rock) and a dream to garden in. In addition, they have a rather impressive looking backhoe that makes digging holes a breeze. While admittedly it would have been easy enough to use a plain old shovel to dig a hole for this 3-gallon plant, standing by and watching the backhoe do all the work was even easier. The Chusquea culeou ‘Roja’ was planted in no time flat and is now settling into its new home. I have high hopes for plenty of thick and colorful culms next year!

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Chusquea culeou ‘Roja’ in 3-gallon container
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Chusquea culeou ‘Roja’ culms
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Mature culm (left), new culm (right)
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My father-in-law getting ready to dig the hole
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Making sure the hole is well watered before planting the bamboo
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Check out the developing shoot (green square)
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Chusquea culeou ‘Roja’ in its new home
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Different view

2 comments:

  1. So an hour in the car, 2 minutes of work, then another hour in the car? ;-)

    That's an interesting culm for sure. Am looking forward to seeing photos from the next few years.

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  2. We planted this bamboo when we were up my in-laws a few weeks ago. It just took me a while to get this post written. BTW, filling the hole took longer than digging it with the backhoe :-).

    I hope I get a chance to see the chusquea forests of Chile and Argentina someday. I almost went to Chile a few years back and now regret not doing it.

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