Stocking the stock tanks in our back yard

I always look forward to Saturdays because I get to sleep in and work in the garden as much as I want to. On the agenda today: Planting the bamboos I picked up from Bamboo Sourcery in the stock tanks we set up in our back yard a few weeks ago.

There were two major factors that influenced my selection of bamboos for these stock tanks. In each tank I wanted a taller bamboo with small leaves and a shorter one with large leaves; the taller one would ideally be no higher than 10-15 ft. because of the bay trees overhead. In addition, the bamboos would have to be shade-tolerant because the bay trees block most of the sun.

Considering there are many hundreds of varieties of bamboo you’d think that I’d have at least 50 to choose from. However, with the limitations we had to contend with, there were far fewer candidates than I had expected.

I opted for running bamboos instead of clumping because I want the tanks to be filled with culms in just 2-3 years. Clumping bamboos would have remained in discrete clumps and I would have had to plant more than just two plants per tank.

This is what I finally selected:

For the stock tank on the left, (1) Indocalamus tessellatus, a relatively short bamboo (4 ft. on average) with huge leaves (up to 24” long), and (2) Pleioblastus gramineus, a 10-12 ft. runner that produces lots of canes in close proximity and eventually forms a tight hedge. Pleioblastus gramineus has thin, graceful leaves that give it the look of a “grass tree” and are a beautiful juxtaposition next to the oversized leaves of the Indocalamus tessellatus.

For the stock tank on the right, (1) Sasa megalophylla ‘Densa’, a running bamboo very similar to Indocalamus tessellatus with leaves that are a tad smaller, and (2) Yushania maculata, a 10-12 ft. species with distinctive blue-green culms and glossy narrow leaves. In his recently published book Practical Bamboos, UK bamboo expert Paul Whittaker calls Yushania maculata one of his favorite bamboos. I must admit I based my selection in no small part on Whittaker’s recommendation. Yushania maculata is a relatively recent introduction from China and still quite rare so I was not able to look at a mature specimen.

When you buy bamboos, the plants you get from the nursery are often sparse with just a few wispy culms, or else a bit on the scruffy side. I’ve learned not to worry about that because what you really pay for is the underground stuff—rhizomes and roots—that will soon produce much better looking above-ground growth. My plants from Bamboo Sourcery were no exception, especially the Sasa megalophylla ‘Densa’ and Yushania maculata for the right stock tank. Next year, once they have produced new culms, I will prune out the unsightly old growth and we’ll then have the finished look that right now only exists in my mind.

The Pleioblastus gramineus  was stuck in its nursery container so I gave it a good whacking all the way around and it finally came out
Very nice looking rhizomes and roots on Pleioblastus gramineus 
  This is the left stock tank with Indocalamus tessellatus on the left and Pleioblastus gramineus on the right
  Alternate view of this stock tank, with the large-leafed Indocalamus tessellatus in the foreground

When I removed the Sasa megalophylla for the right-hand stock tank from its nursery container, I saw that the root ball was alive with thousands upon thousands of tiny ants. I wasn’t too keen on introducing an ant colony in our pristine stock tank so I plopped the sasa in a bucket and filled it with water. Within minutes ants had run up the culms and congregated on the leaves. I hosed off the leaves several times and eventually was able to get rid of most of the ants before I planted the sasa in the stock tank.

Sasa megalophylla leaf  with escaping ants
Right-hand stock tank with Yushania maculata on the left (three bare culms) and Sasa megalophylla ‘Densa’ on the right

The Yushania maculata has two new shoots that haven’t even leaved out yet, and one mature culm that is about 10 ft. tall (see above). Curiously enough, there are no branches further down on this tall culm. I wonder if they’ve been removed at the nursery? Many of the photos I’ve seen of this species do show branching further down on the culm.

  Mature culm on Yushania maculata reaching well into the branches of the bay tree above it

I’m pleased with my selection of bamboos for these two 2x2x6 ft. stock tanks. Now I have to be patient while the plants settle into their new home and grow the underground structure needed to produce new culms with lush leaves. But then, we all know that the sweet thrill of anticipation is a big part of what we love about gardening!

AUGUST 2011 UPDATE: Click here to read about changes to the stock tanks.


  1. Nice! Do the bamboos go dormant during your winters, or do they keep growing? I know that many plants keep growing roots until the ground temp gets below 40ºF -- does yours ever get below that?

  2. Gerhard, these are great selections and I really love the stock tanks. I think it lends a nice modern touch to the garden. Looks great! Sean

  3. Alan, 40°F seems to be magic number for bamboos as well, at least that's what I read recently. Our night-time lows have been in the mid-40s so some root growth might still be happening. In general, plants put in the ground in the fall or early winter (i.e. now) have a head start over anything planted in the spring. That's what the local master gardeners says, and our own experience bears it out.

  4. Sean, thanks for the nice words! Initially I wasn't sure how the stock tanks would fit in, considering they're made of shiny metal, but they do look awesome under our bay trees. I'm all for mixing things up--old and new, natural and man-made, stone and wood. Too much perfection makes me uneasy :-).

  5. Your tub looks good Gerhard, I might borrow that idea!

    I've recently seen two specimens here of Yushania maculata that are currently flowering, looks like total flowering too. I'm not sure if it's a relatively new thing or this bamboo has been flowering worldwide for a period of time already. Well I hope they produce viable seeds at least.

    My Yushania anceps had partial flowring four years ago, it looked scruffy for awhile but has since recovered.

    Are you planning on visiting the UK soon? Paul Whittaker is an interesting man, met him and have been to his nursery several times too.

  6. Mark and Gaz, wow, that would be bad luck if my Yushania maculata started to flower now. What do you think of this species in general? I've never need a mature specimen so I went completely by Whittaker's recommendation.

    I saw a mature clump (if you can call it that) of Yushania anceps 'Pitt White' at Bamboo Sourcery last week. WOW. It's a stunning variety, that's for sure!

    No concrete plans for a trip to the UK yet but we'd love to go back within the next few years. We spent 10 days in Cornwall in 2004 and it was one of our favorite family vacations.

  7. I wouldn't worry just yet, more likely yours will be fine. I suspect the flowering will be sporadic, stretched over a long period of time so most specimens will still be okay.

    Glad to hear you've been Cornwall, it's our favourite holiday destination and we go there for a week every year. We even went twice this year! It's where most of the Subtropical gardens in the UK are due to the milder weather, and is a major influence on our gardening style :)


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