Monday, September 23, 2013

Front yard bamboo maintenance

While clumping bamboos generally don’t require a great deal of maintenance, they do begin to look disheveled after a while. Many people like the overgrown look, but I prefer something a bit more manicured.

Take a look at the giant clumping timber bamboo (Bambusa oldhamii) in front of our house. Planted in February 2010, it has gone from a spindly 5-gallon plant to a 35 ft. behemoth. Bambusa oldhamii forms a tight clump with dense foliage as you can see in this photo taken in May 2013:


Its branches reach almost to the ground, often obscuring the beautiful culms. Creating a more open look isn’t difficult. All you need to do is remove the branches to a height of 5-6 ft. Called “legging up,” this is exactly what we did this past weekend.

While fairly short, the branches on Bambusa oldhamii form a dense bundle where they emerge from the nodes on the culm.



Snipping off this woody bundle of branches usually leaves an unsightly lump since it’s difficult to make a cut right up against the culm. But I’ve found the perfect tool for the job: an oscillating multifunction tool.



The blade cuts through the branch bundle like butter and allows you get up close to the culm (I realize I should have wiped the saw dust off before taking this photo):


In addition to legging up, I also removed a dozen of the oldest (thinnest) culms that were congesting the center of the clump. Here is the final result:


It’s exactly the look my wife and I wanted: open, airy and elegant.

130923_Bambusa-oldhami_01 130923_Bambusa-oldhami_06


The second project took bamboo maintenance to the extreme: The time had come to remove our emerald bamboo (Bambusa textilis ‘Mutabilis’). It was simply too large for the space, starting to encroach on the sidewalk and requiring frequent trimming. I should never have planted it there.




The first step was to cut down the culms. This was fairly easy using a handheld pruning saw similar to this one. I prefer a small saw so I can get into tighter spaces.

Here’s what it looked like after I’d cut down half of the culms:


While Bambusa textilis has a reputation for having very straight culms, our specimen had a tendency to grow every which way, as you can see in the next two photos:



The new culms had beautiful yellow stripes:


This is what it looked like after the culms had been cut down:



Every time I undertake a project like this one, I’m grateful for the weekly yard waste pickup service provided by the City of Davis. I have no idea what gardeners in other communities would do with three piles like these!


Then I used an electric reciprocating saw (“sawzall”) to cut the culms all the way down to the ground. Initially I was hoping I’d be able to remove what’s in the soil using the saw and a heavy pry bar, but the wood is so dense that I didn’t make much progress. Fortunately, the stump of our recently removed cherry plum tree hasn’t been ground out yet, so I will simply ask our tree service to grind out this bamboo as well. According to what I read online, this is a quick and easy way to remove a clumping bamboo.


Here’s what this spot looks like now, with the Bambusa textilis ‘Mutabilis’ gone:



As soon as my ‘Desert Museum’ palo verdes arrive, one will go about five feet to the left of the lamp post. Behind the lamp post, where the Bambusa textilis ‘Mutabilis’ had been, I will plant a Russelia equisetiformis aka firecracker plant. It’s evergreen to 25°F, which may be pushing it a bit in our climate but I’m willing to give it a try. With its very small leaves and overall look it would be a good match for the palo verde.


  1. Those are the craziest, squiggliest culms I've ever seen!

    Were you a little sad to see this one go? Live and learn, right?

    1. More than a little sad!!

      Yes, those cute little puppies and kittens sometimes grow up to gigantic.

  2. Great work there Gerhard, you made it look so easy! And thanks for the handy tip, I've also found it tricky to get that smooth look on the culms when you trim off branches and we might give the oscillating saw a try.

    1. This was the first time I used the oscillating saw. The results are great. While the fresh cuts are quite obvious, they will darken over time and (hopefully) blend in perfectly.

  3. Very good work! That first clump looks so pretty now.