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Bamboo Grove Maintenance
A visual aid for thinning, harvesting timber, digging shoots or live plants, and the hidden benefits of a bamboo grove.

photo © Noah Bell, Bamboo Garden
P. edulis 'Moso'
     Although many of our customers use bamboo to make tall, dense screens, the benefits of growing a full grove, or bamboo forest, should be considered. A flourishing bamboo grove has an amazing effect on the surrounding landscape. It creates a forest with clouds of lush, evergreen foliage that rustle in the breeze. The canopy is supported by robust, woody culms that have a multitude of uses. A bamboo forest where one can peacefully stroll among towering culms is both good for our environment and good for our health. A grove does not require as much space as one might expect to be effective in creating a small sanctuary within the city. A planting area of about 50 to 60 feet  in circumference (distance around the perimeter), or 10' x 20', is sufficient if properly maintained.

A healthy grove needs an occasional thinning
       
Remove any dead, scarred, or weak culms by cutting them at ground level with a horizontal cut. If targeting bamboo for timber or craft, make sure to cut canes that are at least three years old, so the the wood has achieved the proper density. 5-6 year old canes are ideal. Thinning prevents bamboo from becoming too congested. Allowing more light into the center of the grove often promotes larger overall growth, and is helpful for controlling pests such as aphids or mites.
Bamboo can be pruned into whatever shape is desired. For example, one can cut a path into a hollow area in the middle of a grove, creating a peaceful sanctuary. Avoid pruning when the bamboo is producing new shoots (spring through early summer). Do not remove more than a third of the grove or screen per year. The ideal time for pruning is after the new culms have matured in late summer. Some of the best species for producing groves include: Phyllostachys vivax, P. dulcis, P. nigra ‘Henon’, and P. edulis “Moso”.
    
Bamboo can be topped to maintain a certain height or create a dense and defined canopy. Make cuts just above a node, so as not to leave a stub that will die back and look unsightly. The branches remaining below the cut will produce more foliage to make up for what they lost, thus creating a very dense cover. Colorful bamboo, such as Phyllostachys nigra and P. vivax ‘Aureocaulis’ can be enhanced by removing smaller culms and by cutting off lower branches, a technique called legging up. This draws attention to the beautiful, robust culms at the base of the plant.   

To harvest edible bamboo shoots in the spring, dig beneath the shoot and clip it off of the rhizome. Look for large diameter shoots that have grown 1 to 6 inches above the mulch level. Peel the culm sheaths away and cut the tender shoot into small pieces. Steam or sauté the shoots for a delicious meal. Fresh bamboo shoots are much tastier and better for you than the canned and imported shoots that are often used in restaurants. It's like any vegetable: better when fresh out of the ground. Savvy shoot farmers plant species that have staggered shooting times, so that they can have harvestable shoots from Feb. through July.


New shoot attached to rhizome                                       photos © Noah Bell, Bamboo Garden
Edible new shoots attached to a rhizome, sliced, and ready to cook.
Species that are best for eating include Phyllostachys edulis Moso, P. atrovaginata, P. dulcis, and P. vivax


Shoot timing table for selected bamboo, known for good quality shoots:
Phyllostachys edulis Moso early   March / April
Phyllostachys preacox early March / April
P. atrovaginata mid May
P. dulcis mid May
P. vivax mid May
P. bambusoides late June


Controlling bamboo: how to locate and rhizomes to control spread

Selective harvest of bamboo canes. Photo essay:
Click on each photo for larger image


 About 30% of the canes in the Moso grove (above) have been marked to be harvested in July

Canes are being cut and removed from the grove.
 

The cut canes are cut with a reciprocating saw, branch and leaf pruned, and removed from the grove.

Our Phyllostachys vivax has a 3.75" diameter cane with a broken top from heavy snow last winter.  It was selected to be harvested. Even though P. vivax are not strong, the width of the canes are impressive
The canes are brought to the upper barn and carefully placed into the storage rack.

All in a days work for the crew.

Root cut pieces are sought after by flute makers.




Grove maintenance: selective summer harvest of canes; you could call it  "Bamboo Forestry".
The branch trimmings and smaller canes are chipped into a coarse mulch and recycled back into the grove. (thanks to Dain of Bamboo Valley for using his 9" Bandit chipper) The grove is then fertilized and top dressed with a 3-5" deep layer of compost, mulch, and horse manure mix. This will encourage strong rhizome growth over the summer and fall which will hopefully translate into robust and plentiful new shoots next spring!

photo © Noah Bell, Bamboo Garden
Before

photo © Noah Bell, Bamboo Garden
After

photo © Noah Bell, Bamboo Garden

photo © Noah Bell, Bamboo Garden
Gold finches like to perch in our Moso grove.
Removing a five year old, small grove of Black Bamboo
When it comes time to transplant or remove bamboo, there are tools and methods to employ for success.  (to purchase tools, go here: Tools)

Photo © Noah Bell, Bamboo Garden
Rhizomes have been removed from around the edge of a Black Bamboo using the King of Spades. The outer edge of the clump has been under cut at a 45° angle so that divisions of the grove can by pried out of the ground more effectively.

Photo © Noah Bell, Bamboo Garden
The Bamboo Slammer blade is positioned in the middle of the clump. The piston is pulled up and down, working from one side to the other, essentially cut the small grove in half. (click on photo to see larger image)


Photo © Noah Bell, Bamboo Garden
After the cut is made with the Slammer, the two sections are undercut and pried apart using the King of Spades, and finally pulled out of the ground. If using the Slammer to pry, make sure the handle is fully inserted into the metal tube.  Sometimes people try to pull the handle out to gain additional leverage while prying. This can result in a slight distortion of the tube if you pry hard enough, which basically ruins the tool.  Tying the canes up into sections makes it easier to outline the cutting task and provides a little more working space. Most groves should be thinned prior to digging. This particular bamboo was divided into four sections which were driven to a different site and transplanted. Digging is usually easiest in the spring or fall when the soil is soft from rain water.

Photo © Noah Bell, Bamboo Garden

Removing a bamboo from a small, overgrown barriers.

We see this fairly often in very small barrier enclosures. This bamboo has long overgrown it's containment system. The edge of the barrier is cut away and any escaped rhizomes are removed. In general we recommend using larger barrier enclosures, or better yet, an open sided barrier to allow for bi-annual rhizome pruning.   The bamboo was split in half using a bamboo slammer.

The two halves were pried apart and transplanted in a different area of the yard. Free to flourish in it's new home, the bamboo has grown into a nice miniature grove and is maintained by root pruning twice per year.  Phyllostachys aurea and its color variations make great small scale bamboo groves or privacy screens.   Photos © Noah Bell, Bamboo Garden


Photo © Noah Bell, Bamboo Garden
Double King of Spades pry action, pops this bamboo division out of the ground. It's a very satisfying sound to finally hear the roots give up their hold.
New! 100% Organic fertilizer for bamboo 
Nutri-Rich 4-3-2
$16.00 per 50lb bag  ($.32 per lb)
    We are excited to offer this fertilizer as it is fully organic and available at a reasonable price. Nutri-Rich 4-3-2 is derived from chicken manure and has a well balanced nutritional content of 4-3-2 (4-nitrogen  3-phosphorus 2-potassium, the basic elements necessary for plant health). Mix with local soil around bamboo growing area, as directed on the package under the "trees and shrubs" category. This fertilizer is mild and will not burn young plants, but will give your bamboo an extra boost of energy to maintain optimal health. We recommend this for use around your home, instead of synthetic lawn fertilizer. It is safe to use in your vegetable garden and around pets and kids.
We are not the only ones to benefit from bamboo groves!

photo © Noah Bell, Bamboo Garden
Spotted Towhee feasting on bamboo seeds on a cold winter morning. 

photo © Noah Bell, Bamboo Garden
Pacific treefrog, able to climb a smooth bamboo cane

photo © Noah Bell, Bamboo Garden

photo © Noah Bell, Bamboo Garden
Lacewings are helpful because they prey on aphids.


photo © Noah Bell, Bamboo Garden
Robins like to nest in bamboo branches.
 
Timber Bamboo  (Phyllostachys)   
30 to 70 ft. tall
Mid-sized Bamboo (Phyllostachys)
15 to 30 ft tall
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6 to 25 ft. tall
Cold-sensitive Clumping Bamboo
 6 to 50 ft. tall
Other Running Bamboo               
6 to 25 ft. tall
Small Running Bamboo                
1 to 8 ft. tall
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