PLANTING & CARE

Bamboo Planting Guide

Ground Preparation

* Prepare your holes for planting. Holes should be three times the width of the pot and twice as deep. This gives the roots lots of juicy, rich soil to get growing quickly.

* Mix a good quality and quantity of soil improver into the soil. Water crystals/gels or bentonite clay can also be added at this stage. Soil improver and water crystals/gels/bentonite clay will greatly assist in the water holding capacity of the soil. Be careful not to overdo it though.

* Place a small quantity of slow release bamboo food into the hole (contact us for more info on this).

* Remove the bamboo from the pot and plant into the improved soil. Do not tease the roots out, bamboo does not like root disturbance.

* Backfill the hole with the improved soil and avoid pressing down on the top of the plant itself. The top of the rootball should be sitting just below the soil surface (as it was when it was in the pot).

NOTE: For sandy soils more soil improver will be required and for soils that retain a lot of moisture e.g. clay soil, you will need to ensure adequate drainage as bamboo does not like ‘wet feet’.

Soil pH

Most bamboos grow best in well-drained, fertile soils, and they generally prefer pH neutral to slightly acid soils. pH is a measure of the acidity and alkalinity of the soil using a scale from 1 to 14; where 7 is neutral, less than 7 is acid and greater than 7 is alkaline. For best results use a pH test kit to identify your soil pH.

Acid soils with a pH of less than 6 commonly have deficiencies in:

  • Calcium
  • Magnesium
  • Phosphorus
  • Potassium
  • Molybdenum

Alkaline soils with a pH of more than 7 commonly have deficiencies in:

  • Iron
  • Manganese
  • Zinc
  • Copper
  • Boron

If your soil pH is low, add lime or dolomite to increase the pH of the soil.

If your soil pH is high, add sulphates of iron and ammonium, elemental sulphur and organic matter to lower the pH of the soil.
Gypsum (calcium sulphate) does not alter the pH of the soil but can improve aeration and reduce compaction in a clay soil. Most bamboos suffer root damage if submerged in water for several weeks. Drainage may also be improved by building the soil up before planting.

Planting in Pots or Containers

If you are planning to grow your bamboo in pots or containers, make sure to use a good quality premium potting mix. The soil you use should both drain well and retain moisture.

It would be advisable, dependent on pot size, to remove the bamboo from the pot every 3 to 4 years to avoid becoming pot-bound. Once you have removed the plant you may either re-pot it into a larger pot or divide the plant into 2 or more plants. The use of an annual drenching with a soil wetter is also beneficial to ensure that the mix does not become hydrophobic.

Fertilizers for Bamboo

Bamboo in the Ground

For large bamboos or areas I like to use foliar fertilizer during the growing season, something that is high in nitrogen and spread all over the leaves, this should be applied at least once per month during the warmer months for maximum benefit.

Also highly recommended for plants in the ground is composted animal manure. This can be dug into the ground during late autumn to allow time for nitrogen conversion.

Another type of fertilizer we recommend is a good quality ‘Slow Release’ type. This should be added to the hole upon planting and then (depending on the type) at the start of every season.

 

Bamboo in Pots and Container Beds

For bamboo contained in pots and container beds I recommend a liquid fertilizer that is high in nitrogen. Depending upon the product brand and the concentration levels, this can be applied every 2-4 weeks for best results. You can also foliar feed potted bamboo.

Watering of Bamboo

As a rule of thumb, and for best results, always keep your bamboo well-watered, particularly during the warmer months. Bamboo loves regular deep watering, at least 12 inches deep. Remember, good drainage is essential for the health of your bamboo. With ground plantings, I usually recommend a deep soaking but less frequently.

NOTE: Soil prep prior to planting (and lots of it) is essential to having a bamboo that can cope well in times of extreme heat. If you don’t do enough soil improving you will find that you need to water your plant more often than you should be.

Initially, you will need to monitor your bamboo for a while to determine how much and how often to water in your area / soil type. A general rule is, if the leaves are curling sideways this means your bamboo is water stressed and needs more water. If the leaves are drooping downward, your bamboo might be over watered or have poor drainage in the soil media. The image below shows a bamboo under stress from lack of water.

 

Dehydrated

As our conditions here in Perth are quite harsh during the summer months, and especially if you have planted your bamboo in full sun, dry, windy or hot positions, it would be advisable to spray the foliage with water several times a day for the first week if the temperature is extreme. Regular overhead watering will reduce the amount of leaf drop during the transition, help your bamboo get established quickly, and increase its growth rate and overall health.

We strongly recommend the use of drip irrigation as this will deliver the best results using the least amount of water. Water simply drips, or flows slowly, from the dripper and is delivered directly and deep into the root mass. Your overall growth will be greater on a drip system. Additionally, and most importantly, setting up a drip line is both very easy and affordable.

Pruning

Once your bamboo is a couple of years old we recommend that you give it a good thinning out towards the end of winter. By removing the oldest canes at ground level, these will be the ones that look tired and discoloured. By doing this you will ensure that your bamboo always looks happy and healthy. Additionally, by removing the old canes you will allow more airflow into the plant which in turn will reduce the likelihood of pest and disease problems. There is nothing nice about an unmaintained bamboo that has a heap of old dead canes in the centre of the culm, this really does reduce the overall beauty of the plant.

Bamboo Pests

The most common pest found in bamboo is an insect called Mealybug (also Long Tailed Mealybug). This is a sap sucking pest that lives in the branch nodes of the bamboo and feeds of the sap of the plant. The excess sap is secreted out the back end of this pest as honeydew. As honeydew is sweet in taste the ants love it and use it as a food source. The ants then farm this pest and spread it all over the plant (including into the rootball). It is actually not bad to have a few of these in your bamboo as it encourages the beneficial insects into your garden. The problem is that when the ants move in, and in return for the honeydew, they defend the Mealybug from these beneficial insects. With masses of these pests in your bamboo they will eventually produce more honeydew than the ants can eat, this will then eventually turn into a fungal disease known as Black Sooty Mould. By removing the source of the Sooty Mould (ie. the Mealybug) the Sooty Mould will eventually dry up and fall off. The mould does not actually feed off the plant, but it does cover the surface of the leaf and blocks the plants pores and prevents light from reaching the leaf (photosynthesis).

My advice is that if you can see ants running up and down the canes of your bamboo then you should spray the bamboo with a pesticide before the problem gets out of hand. White Oil or Pest Oil is good for smaller bamboos as it works on contact by suffocating the Mealybug. On large mature bamboos this product will not work as effective due to the large amount of leaf and cane that you have to spray through in order to make contact with the pest.

On larger (more dense) bamboos I would recommend using a product known as Confidor. This is a safe chemical that can be purchased from your local hardware store. It would be more cost effective to buy a concentrate pack and mix it yourself in a 9lt pump sprayer. When mixing the Confidor, I would mix it as per the instructions for the Long Tailed Mealybug. This is harder to kill then Mealybug and will require a stronger dose to kill this pest.

Apply the Confidor all over the bamboo leaf, this will be absorbed into the plant and will end up in the sap stream of the bamboo. When these pests are feeding on the sap they will also ingest the insecticide and will eventually die. If you have a lot of this pest in your bamboo I would recommend spraying it 3 times within a two week period to ensure a good kill rate has been achieved.

Some bamboos are more prone to this pest than others and this should be taken into consideration when planning what species to include in your garden.

 

Long Tailed Mealybug (above)

Black Sooty Mold (with ants)

Running or Clumping Bamboo

The first thing you need to do before purchasing your bamboo plant is to consider all of the advantages and disadvantages of the clumping and running varieties and what type will best suit your location. For example, clumping varieties spread wider at a slower rate, but grow tall faster. Additionally clumping bamboos don’t require root barriers for containment. Runners on the other hand spread wide very quickly to form dense screens, but require root barriers to contain the spread of the plants rhizomes.

Clumping bamboos have a very short root structure, are genetically incapable of expanding more than few inches a year, and will generally form small circular clumps. The dense root system however can exert strong pressure on structures that come in contact with it, and therefore the larger clumping varieties should not be planted to close to fences, paving, retaining walls, etc. In saying that however, the clumping varieties may be shaped and prevented from putting pressure on any surrounding structures by removing new shoots at soil level when they begin to get too close to a structure. It is advisable to plant a clumping bamboo at least 300-500mm (depending on species) from a fence to allow some room for growth of the plant.

Running bamboos spread vigorously, sending out underground rhizomes which sometimes spread far from the parent plant. Runners fill in the spaces between plantings faster, making them ideal for screens and hedges. Most of the running varieties are also very cold-hardy.

Note: We would not recommend planting an invasive bamboo in your garden as it will eventually become a very expensive problem for you (and your neighbours).