Saturday, August 20, 2011

Bamboo stock tank update

I love to write about my gardening successes, but I think it’s equally important—although much less fun—to write about things that haven’t gone so well.

Since very little grows under the four mature bay trees in our backyard, we decided last December to install two 2x2x4 ft. galvanized steel stock tanks and plant bamboos in them. Click here and here to read about this project.

The goal was to have a lush screen that would hide the fence and our neighbor’s house just beyond it. Now, nine months later, I must admit that this goal has not been reached. I know that we will get there, but it will be a while. In hindsight, I made two critical mistakes: I picked the wrong bamboos, and I underestimated how long it would take to reach the desired look.

This is what the stock tank on the right-hand side looked like last week:

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Stock tank with Pseudosasa japonica ‘Tsutsumiana’ and Sasa megalophylla ‘Densa’ (and assorted potted bamboos that are parked there because it is a convenient spot to put them on drip irrigation)

Mind you, the bamboo on the left had already been replaced because my original choice, Yushania maculata, died suddenly and mysteriously in early summer. The replacement is a green-onion bamboo (Pseudosasa japonica ‘Tsutsumiana’) I had been nursing. While it is a good bamboo for this spot, it’s small and would take a few years to provide that wow factor.

The bamboo on the right, Sasa megalophylla ‘Densa’, has languished even though it did produce new culms. I’m convinced now that sasas simply don’t like our summer heat—not a surprise considering they hail from northern latitudes in Japan and they’re among the hardiest of all bamboos. My Sasa veitchii has fared even worse (see the last photo below); all its leaves turned brown even though it had received regular water.

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Sasa megalophylla ‘Densa’

After living with this unsatisfying situation for many months, I finally decided to make a radical change. This was precipitated by the fact that I had to move a large potted Phyllostachys aurea ‘Koi’ to make room for the arborists who recently trimmed our bay trees.

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Phyllostachys aurea ‘Koi’ in its old home under the Chinese pistache

The Koi had completely filled this pot (18 in. tall and wide) and needed to be moved to a larger container. I was going to tackle that project last weekend when the proverbial light bulb went on in my head. Why not put the Koi in the stock tank?

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Phyllostachys aurea ‘Koi’ in front of the kitchen window after it had to be moved to make room for the arborists to throw bay tree branches over the fence

And that’s exactly what I ended up doing. Initially, the Koi didn’t want to come out of the red pot, but after I loosened one recalcitrant rhizome with my hori-hori knife, the root-and-rhizome mass slid out quite willingly. I meant to take a photo of it but forgot; the rhizomes looked great, promising nice new growth next spring.

I had already removed the two bamboos from the stock tank and dug a large hole in the center. Plopping the Koi into the stock tank took no time at all, and within a matter of minutes the stock tank had been transformed. Finally it looked like what I had envisioned. I’m very happy with the result, and I think the small, yellowish leaves of the Koi create an atmosphere of elegant airiness in a spot that had been the epitome of dullness.

                                                                                                                                                         
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Phyllostachys aurea ‘Koi’ in the stock tank

The green-onion bamboo went into the red pot—and the same space—the Koi had previously occupied. There it can take its time to live up to its true potential.

The Sasa megalophylla ‘Densa’ is near the compost tumbler next to the side of the house until I decide what to ultimately do with it.

As for the 2nd stock tank, it’s not ready for primetime either, as you can see in the photo below.

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2nd stock tank with moribund Sasa veitchii on the right, Semiarundinaria yashadake 'Kimmei’ in the middle, and Indocalamus tessellatus on the left. A small potted division of Phyllostachys aureosulcata 'Spectabilis' is parked in there too because it was easy to put in on drip irrigation, with the overflow running right into the stock tank.

However, I’m happy with the bamboos that are currently in it: Indocalamus tessellatus and Semiarundinaria yashadake 'Kimmei’. They’re still a few years away from giving me what I want, but I will be patient.

The Pleioblastus gramineus I had originally planted in the 2nd stock tank almost died (also because of high summer heat, I believe) and got moved to another pot where it’s currently trying to figure out whether it wants to live or not. In a sense, this was a valuable learning experience for me: Bamboos from extremely cold zones simply aren’t compatible with our climate, and no amount of wishful thinking will change that.

6 comments:

  1. The Sasas I have (Brad too) don't have problems with our summers, and that's mid-90's and up -- especially this summer. Of course it's more humid too, and that may be the difference.

    Sasa veitchii may not like being in pots very much. I think I remember Brad telling me that as he gave me a few small potted veitchiis that he was going to throw away because they were languishing in the pots. I got them in the ground and a couple of years later they're doing great, so his pot theory may be true.

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  2. Alan, you've hit the nail on the head. I also think it's the lack of humidity that makes it hard for some bamboos (and other plants) to thrive here. I may plant the sasas at my in-laws. Their humidity is low, too, but at least it doesn't get as hot.

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  3. How large was the red pot the koi was in originally in terms of gallons??

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  4. How large was the red pot the koi was in originally in terms of gallons??

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  5. Question...We have 12 large bamboo (some chocolate, golden etc) that are in 15gal containers (crammed) that we brought with us from another property. I've been trying to find a way to create hedge with them without planting them in the ground. I like the idea of using 4ft or 6ft stock tanks but I would actually like to bury the stock tanks leaving about a 4 in lip above ground and planting 2 bamboo plants per tank...our bamboo are about 10 ft high. I was wondering if the rizomes would be able to jump the 4in lip and take root in the ground. also wondering how long the galvanized tanks would last buried in the ground. I would appreciate any advice. I had thought of planting them in cement planters but they are much more expensive an immoveable than the stock tanks. Hope someone is still following this thread. Thank you, Carla Perez singsforsupper@gmail.com

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    1. I honestly don't know how long galvanized steel would last buried in the ground. I'm fairly sure that it will fail eventually, unbeknownst to you, and rhizomes will escape. For this reason, I would strongly advise you NOT to bury them in the ground. In addition, the 4" lip wouldn't be enough to prevent rhizomes from escaping. The advantage of above-ground stock tanks placed on pavers or similar material is that you can easily inspect them to make sure they're intact.

      Cement planters, by the way, are not a great option because cement WILL crack sooner rather than later, allowing the rhizomes to get out.

      The only reasonably safe method of containing running bamboos in the ground is a rhizome barrier like this one: http://madmanbamboo.com/Site/Rhizome_Barrier.html. Sean at Mad Man Bamboo is a great guy and give you further advice.

      I hope this helps.

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