Thursday, July 12, 2012

Clumping bamboo at Home Depot, but…

I had business near California State University Sacramento this morning—a part of town I rarely get to visit—and I stopped at the Home Depot on Folsom Blvd to pick up some drip irrigation supplies. I don’t think I’ve ever been to that particular Home Depot before but they had a fenced-off plant area in the parking lot—always a good sign.

Another pleasant surprise was this special display rack featuring bamboos from Booshoot, a company in Washington State that has pioneered tissue culture techniques for large-scale bamboo propagation:

120712_booshot_at_home_depot
 

I’ve seen bamboo at Home Depot before, but it’s usually golden bamboo (Phyllostachys aurea), a runner only recommended for larger properties and/or for home owners willing to install rhizome barrier or do regular rhizome pruning. Therefore, seeing an entire rack of non-invasive clumping bamboo is fantastic. At $14.98 for a 1-gallon plant, it’s not the steal of the century, but it’s not usury either.

I took a closer look at what varieties they had and found three: Borinda boliana (now Yushania boliana), Fargesia denudata, and Fargesia dracocephala 'Rufa'. All three are beautiful plants and all of them will provide an evergreen screen of varying height: Yushania boliana can grow to 30 ft., Fargesia denudata to 12 ft. and Fargesia dracocephala 'Rufa' to 8 ft.

All three are mountain bamboos from the foothills of the Himalayas and other high-altitude areas of China. As such, they are fairly cold hardy (‘Rufa’ is actually hard to zone 5) and laugh at the wimpy winters we have. But—and this is a big but—they have a difficult time handling the summer heat in the Central Valley. I have a Yushania boliana and a Fargesia dracocephala 'Rufa' in our backyard, and although they only receive a bit of sun in the morning, they don’t look that great in the summer. In contrast, the ‘Rufa’ at my in-laws in Mount Shasta looks perfect.

The photo above isn’t the best (it was taken with my phone) but it’s easy to tell that there are many yellow leaves, which makes for a sickly look overall. The bamboos were baking in the 95°F mid-day heat when I was there, and I wanted to wheel the entire rack into the shade to give them some relief.

While I applaud Home Depot for bringing us clumping bamboo, I question their choices. Mountain bamboos are perfect for the coast, the Pacific Northwest and other areas with relatively cool summers. But they’re not perfect for us. Instead, Home Depot should have chosen tropical clumpers that thrive in our heat: Bambusa multiplex, Bambusa multiplex ‘Alphonse Karr’, or Bambusa oldhamii. All three are available from Booshoot.

This proves once again that while the big box stores do try to offer ever more choices, it’s still best to seek out a specialty nursery, especially when it comes to bamboo. The best in the Sacramento area—and arguably one of the best in Northern California—is Mad Man Bamboo in Rocklin, east of Sacramento. Sean Bigley has extensive knowledge of what grows best in our area—not only in the valley but also in the foothills—and his prices are great, too. I bought several 1-gallon Booshoot plants for my in-laws last year and they were $12 each compared to Home Depot’s $14.98. And Sean’s advice is, as the MasterCard commercial says, priceless.

4 comments:

  1. Sadly, I fear that by selecting bamboos that do so poorly in the Central Valley, they won't sell and then they'll go back to their old habits.

    That being said, my B. oldhamii (which got to big even for a huge 24" pot and is now planted in the ground) originally came from Home Depot. So at least they seem to get it right every once in a while!

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    1. Awesome that you found Bambusa oldhamii at Home Depot. It's a variety every Home Depot and Lowes between here and the Bay Area to the west and L.A. to the south should be selling since it does so well. Ours has been in the ground for only 2.5 years and it's huge.

      I have no insight into the garden center operations at Home Depot or other big box stores, but it's clear that a little more horticultural/botanical expertise would greatly improve their selection. Last winter (!) they were selling plumeria in the outside area at the Home Depot in Woodland. It looked worse and worse everytime I went (I made a point of "visiting" it) until it finally disappeared, probably because it croaked.

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  2. Those bamboos doesn't indeed tolerate high summer temperatures. Even here, on rare occasions it gets sunny and warm the leaves are prone to leaf curling. And those bamboos are not tightly clumping either, so although technically non runners they do colonise wide areas eventually.

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  3. Home Depot plants are only good buys when they're fresh off the truck, or at the end of the season when on clearance. They're usually in really bad condition at other times, at least at the HD nearest to me. I'd be shocked to see any bamboo there though, just shocked.

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