Reshaping a disheveled bamboo

It goes without saying that I’m fond of the plants we have in our garden. After all, why grow something you don’t like? The same applies to our bamboos. We have about 30 different bamboo species in our garden. About half—the clumping bamboos--are in the ground, the others—running bamboos—are firmly contained in pots. While I like virtually all of them, I do have my favorites. One of them is chocolate bamboo (Borinda fungosa), a shade-loving clumping bamboo from the mountains of southwestern China. When exposed to the sun, its culms turn a lovely reddish brown, hence its common name.

I planted a chocolate bamboo in our Asian-inspired woodland garden in the fall of 2009. Read this post to see photos of what this area looked like at the time. In the following two years, what had started out as a spindly-looking plant grew into a beautiful specimen that has become the focal point of this corner of the backyard. I loved how everything looked this spring:

May 14, 2011

Over the course of the summer and fall, Borinda fungosa put out a lot of new growth. The thinner culms were weighed down by the leaves and started to droop heavily. By late fall, the granite lantern was all but invisible:

December 15, 2011. From this angle, you couldn’t see the lantern at all.

Doing something about this had been on my list of chores for a while, and last Sunday I finally got out the pruners. I cut down a few of the oldest (and thinnest) culms to open up the clump from the inside, and I removed the top 1/3 of the culms draping over the lantern. With a significant amount of weight gone, the culms returned to a more upright position, and the lantern became visible again. This is the result:

December 18, 2011 after pruning. The lantern is visible again!

Check out the next two photos. The left one was taken in May, the right one last weekend, after pruning. Balance has been restored.

Left: May 14, 2011
Right: December 18, 2011

One thing I’ve learned from growing bamboos—and the same holds true for many other types of plants: Don’t hesitate to trim growth you don’t like. Just because a plant grows a certain way doesn’t mean you have to live with it. Often all that’s required are small nips and tucks to get the look you want. You are in control. Exercise that right.

Sounds reasonable, you may say, but I’m often surprised by how hesitant people are to prune, trim or cut back a plant. It’s as if they are afraid of it. But I understand. I was like that, too, not all that long ago.


  1. I totally agree, it find it odd sometimes how so many gardeners hesitate to trim their bamboos as needed.

    Borinda fungosa is still on my wanted list :)

  2. I've always wondered what keeps people from cutting back a plant that's grown in an awkward way or is blocking another plants light. Of course there's the time thing...(as in I'll get to that later)...but often I think it is the fear factor at work. BTW I would love to meet up with you when you visit Portland!

  3. Mark, Borinda fungosa is listed as hardy to 20°F (-4°C) in the ABS Species Source List. Other sources give 10°F. It should be OK where you live. The culms and leaves are just beautiful.

    Loree, I agree, time is an issue, but trimming up this bamboo took 15 minutes, including removal of the trimmings. I've met people who are afraid of deadheading flowers! :-) I'd love to see your garden on my next Portland trip--would love to write a post about it!

  4. Great job on the pruning! Looks much, much better now. It is amazing how plants can get out of hand! Hey hope your family has a great holiday up at Mt. Shasta. I hope you get some snow and have a white Christmas!


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