I have always liked bamboo. I am not sure why. I like the way it looks and feels. I have always wanted to grow bamboo but I thought it was too invasive and would be too hard to control and take over the yard. Fortunately, it turns out that is not necessarily true.
Bamboo is really an amazing and versatile plant. It is actually a grass and one of the fastest growing plants on the planet. Young bamboo shoots are very good to eat. Mature bamboo is light, strong, and flexible making it an excellent construction resource. Bamboo is also the fastest growing, sustainable biomass available making it a viable energy resource.
Bamboo comes in 2 main varieties: running and clumping. Running bamboo IS invasive and can take over your yard or even neighborhood if not managed correctly. Running bamboo will send its roots (called rhizomes) out several feet in all directions before sending a new shoot up. Clumping bamboo pretty much clumps. New growth stays close to home with shoots coming up just inches or so away from existing canes (called culms). Since I don’t live on a ranch and I don’t want to work hard at managing bamboo growth, I decided to grow clumping bamboo.
I wanted a large, fast growing bamboo that could keep afternoon sun off my house. After doing a little more research I learned that Giant Timber Bamboo is one of the more common clumping bamboos in the US and is cold tolerant down to 20 degrees F. Giant Timber Bamboo (also known as bambusa oldhamii) grows up to 60 feet high and produces 4-5 inch dark green culms or canes. I located a local nursery that sold bamboo and purchased a 15 gallon pot of Giant Timber Bamboo for about $70. I didn’t do anything special when I planted this other than dig a hole and water it. So far this bamboo has been growing like a week. It has been a blast watching this bamboo grow. The new bamboo shoots coming out of the ground seem to grow a couple of inches a day. I really can’t wait to get up in the morning and see the new growth.
With the success of the oldhamii, I went looking for another bamboo to plant. I took notice of a couple of black clumping bamboos. One is called Black Timor Bamboo (bambusa lako) and the other is called Tropical Black Bamboo (gigantochloa atroviolacea). Both are very similar, but the lako produces a glossy culm or cane that gives it (in my opinion) a slight aesthetic edge over the Tropical Black (see picture below).
Both are very nice bamboos, but I liked the lako just a little better. These bamboos are not quite as hardy as the oldhamii as they are only cold tolerant down to about 28 degrees F. If they do get cold damage it is generally the culms/canes that die but the roots don’t so you will usually get new shoots the following spring. Both of these black bamboos will grow to about 40-50 feet high and produce 3 inch culms. Our local nursery carried both varieties of bamboo but of the specimens they had available, the Tropical Black one seem in much better condition. So even though I really wanted the lako, I purchased the Tropical Black Bamboo. This bamboo, like the lako, is a bit more expensive than the oldhamii. A 15 gallon pot was $125. I will go back for the lako in the spring.
I planted the Tropical Black near the oldhamii and in similar fashion. Dug a hole and watered. So far, the Tropical Black has been growing almost as fast as the oldhamii. The culms come out of the ground green and then over the course of about a year they turn dark purple to black. They are very attractive and I get a lot of comments on the black bamboo. Another clumping bamboo I am going to plant is called Hawaiian Striped (also called bambusa vulgaris vittata). This bamboo is yellow with thin green stripes that almost look like they have been painted on.
So as we push through the winter and into spring I recommend that you give bamboo a serious look for your garden or yard. I know I will be.