Growing Ornamental Bamboo

Growing Ornamental Bamboo

Part of Ep. 1502 Healthy Weeds

Ornamental bamboo. It’s new. It’s hot. And some of the varieties are very tall.

Premiere date: Jun 06, 2007

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley:

I’m at Mayflower Greenhouse in the Green Bay area to talk about one of the new kids on the block ornamental bamboo.  With me is Glen Spevacek.  Glen, you’re a marketing consultant for the Green Industry and a marketing consultant here at Mayflower Greenhouse.  And you’re one of the original co-founders of the Green Bay Botanic Gardens. 

Glen:
That’s correct. 

Shelley:
Wow!  Anything else? 

Glen:
No. 

Shelley:
You have actually been growing a lot of these bamboo cultivars so you can really tell me what’s exciting about them. 

Glen:
You bet.  It’s one of my passions. 

Shelley:
Bamboo is?  Okay, why? 

Glen:
For a number of reasons.  Let’s go back in history a little bit.  Ornamental grasses have been a big thing. 

Shelley:
And I still love them.  They’re beautiful. 

Glen:
But things—there’s trends in gardening and people get fatigued with certain plant groups and want something new and exciting. 

Shelley:
So are you saying grasses are kind of passe? 

Glen:
They’re still popular and they’re still great. 

Shelley:
And I like them. 

Glen:
But we’re moving on to a new grass and that’s bamboo. 

Shelley:
So bamboo is a grass. 

Glen:
Yes, it is. 

Shelley:
But I get terrified when I think of bamboo.  I’ve seen pictures of it punching right through the asphalt. 

Glen:
Well, those are true pictures.  It has that strength.  Here we see a new shoot on this.  It’s a type of timber bamboo, which is not hardy in Wisconsin. 

Shelley:
Okay, so we don’t have to worry about it.  It’s also not going to run through our neighborhood. 

Glen:
No, because it’s going to die.  Bamboo is unique in the way it grows.  It shoots up its entire height in one 30-day period, actually. 

Shelley:
Wow, so this is the growth already in the last 30 days. 

Glen:
So, it’s a unique plant in terms of how it grows.  But again, it is invasive where it’s hardy. 

Shelley:
So why are we excited about bamboo? 

Glen:
Because there’s—like the ornamental grasses people would say, “Do we really want that in my flower bed?”

Shelley:
Some were very invasive. 

Glen:
People were really reluctant to get ornamental grasses.  The same thing now with bamboo.  The bamboo that most people are familiar with is invasive.  So now this new bamboo that’s coming out.  They’re clump formers. 

Shelley:
So they’re behavers!  They’re going to behave in my back yard. 

Glen:
They never will get as big as the timber bamboos. 

Shelley:
We’re not going to get 40 feet. 

Glen:
The hardy ones that will grow here in northeastern Wisconsin will probably peak at about nine feet. 

Shelley:
Nine feet is still good.  That’s great for a grass. 

Glen:
The other nice thing is that it’s evergreen. 

Shelley:
Okay, so some color when we don’t have any. 

Glen:
Plus, one more thing.  That is the fact that it loves shade. 

Shelley:
Shade? 

Glen:
Grass is usually where there are no trees and sun. 

Shelley:
Right, name an ornamental grass that likes dense shade. 

Glen:
There’s not many. 

Shelley:
These like it.  Wonderful! 

Glen:
If they’re going to make it, they need to have shade. 

Shelley:
So, a tall grassy thing for my shade garden, finally. 

Glen:
Evergreen.  You’ve got all kinds of nifty things that make the bamboos very desirable. 

Shelley:
Anything I have to do to take care of it? 

Glen:
These are rated Zone Five, which means 20 below zero.  There is a possibility though with the way Wisconsin winters are that this evergreen foliage will burn off and that the clums will freeze back to the ground. 

Shelley:
Okay, first of all, what’s a clum? 

Glen:
A clum is what you call a shoot in bamboo-dom.  Each new shoot is a clum.  And those can be damaged by winters in Wisconsin Zone Five, 20 below zero.  The roots are totally hardy.  The top may not survive.  One thing you have to do, I found in order to keep them vigorous and evergreen is every fall, I tip them, lay them over sideways. 

Shelley:
Aren’t you going to break the stems? 

Glen:
No, they’re totally pliable.  It’s unbelievable. 

Shelley:
Look at that!

Glen:
You can just lay them over like this. 

Shelley:
On the ground. 

Glen:
I take an old sheet, whatever it might be. 

Shelley:
Lovely in the back yard!

Glen:
White sheets are better because it matches the snow.  But anyhow, cover it up with that sheet and then weight it down with some bricks. 

Shelley:
I’m doing this after the first frost? 

Glen:
Or anytime in the month of November.  Then just lay it down like that. 

Shelley:
Doesn’t that mean that in the spring I’m going to have a ground cover? 

Glen:
No, just let it go. 

Shelley:
Ooh! Okay. 

Glen:
It just comes back beautifully every spring. 

Shelley:
I can do that even with nine-foot tall?  Just get a nine-foot sheet! 

Glen:
Then you have to go king size!

Shelley:
Okay, there you go.  Now, this has some brown on it.  Is that okay? 

Glen:
Even in the areas where it’s totally hardy, you get that.  That’s unavoidable winter damage.  But every year, bamboo loses it’s old leaves and puts on new leaves. 

Shelley:
Okay, so it’s not a problem. 

Glen:
It’ll replace it.  For a little while in the spring, it’ll look tacky.  But by June, it’s all fully green again. 

Shelley:
Let’s talk about some of the cultivars.  This one has golden stems, so kind of a green.  I really like it. 

Glen:
There are many cultivars in the hardy bamboo.  Most of them are either divided up by clum color whether it’s golden in the case of these over here. 

Shelley:
Let’s look at this one.  I like this one, too.  Look at the contrast. 

Glen:
Or they’ll be selected for the size of their leaf or the delicacy of their leaf.  Or in the case of this one over here. 

Shelley:
This one that’s fountaining? 

Glen:
It’s called fountain grass.  It arches over in a wonderful fountain shape. 

Shelley:
Wow, that’s beautiful.  Is there anything we should worry about in growing these or buying these? 

Glen:
In buying them we learned one lesson here at Mayflower.  We ordered these in last year.  And if you look very closely, there’s seed heads.  One of the strange things about bamboo is that it blooms only once every 100 years. 

Shelley:
Oh, neat!

Glen:
And then it dies. 

Shelley:
Oh, not neat! 

Glen:
So, this plant is going to die now because it bloomed. 

Shelley:
Because it’s done. 

Glen:
You have to be very careful that you buy from a reputable supplier who’s selling new generation seedlings. 

Shelley:
So this must have come from a parent.  It was divided off a parent that’s 100 years old. 

Glen:
Back in 1907, it was brought to America from China. 

Shelley:
As part of the passion with Chinese things. 

Glen:
And then it was divided into many, many generations.  So there’s genetic material in here from that 1907 plant.  And all it’s siblings will die in this time period. 

Shelley:
Kind of neat to have, but not good for next spring. 

Glen:
That’s really the one thing you have to be careful about.  Stick with new-generation seedlings.  They’re coming up with some new species every once and a while.  This one has just come out of the high mountains of China.  They found it at 3,000 meters, which is about 9,000 feet.  So it’s hardy. 

Shelley:

Hardiness is improving all the time, then.  Glen, thank you.  I can’t wait to try this in a shady spot in my back yard. 

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