How to control weeds in the bamboo

A customer wrote: 

We bought a Vivax and a Blue from you last fall. Both came through the winter with no damage and have already sent up bunches of new canes this spring. They are so pretty and so much fun. Every day, we go look just to see what's new!
What do you recommend for weed control around the bases of bamboo?
I recall that you planted ground cover plants around some of your clumps. What plants work well?
But I think most of your clumps were weed-free without a ground cover. Do you use a herbicide?
Would a 0.5-1% glyphosate spray hurt them if I removed the leaves that might get spray on them first? I would have guessed that, being grasses, they'd be sensitive but I gather from reading on the web that it's actually pretty hard to kill them with glyphosate.
I've looked around on your web site but didn't find any discussion of weed control. If it's there, please just point me to it.
My response:

I'm glad to hear that your plants are doing so well.  If you have time, email me some pictures.  I'd love to see them.

For weed control we recommend a heavy mulch.  Weed by hand any obvious weeds then apply as deep a mulch as you can around the bamboo.  You can use any type of natural mulch - leaves, wood bark, etc.  To make the mulch extra impervious to weeds, you can apply a thick layer of newspaper first and then mulch on top of them.  Unlike with trees, mulches can go right up around the base of the canes without worry or harm to the plants.

We don't use any herbicides at the nursery and don't recommend using them at home.  Bamboo is just a giant grass and although herbicides won't kill the bamboo, it won't do them any good either.  If you want to use a ground cover, I've found the following plants work well:  wedelia, ruellia and wandering jew.  Any other shade-loving ground cover would work as well.

Wedelia growing as a ground cover beneath a grove of Vivax running bamboo


Indocalamus tessellatus - a dwarf running bamboo

Indocalamus tessellatus is a dwarf running bamboo that we first discovered in Seattle, WA.  Like all running bamboos, Indocalamus loves cold weather.  Is it freezing outside?  No problem.  Snow on the ground?  Bamboo happy.  Here in Florida where it doesn't snow and winter temperatures only occasionally drop into the high teens/low 20s, running bamboos do well but they don't grow as tall or as large a diameter as they will in a colder climate. 

At Beautiful Bamboo, we've planted Indocalamus tessellatus around two mulberry trees in our demonstration gardens. 

The bamboo creates a beautiful ground cover around the tree.  We keep it from spreading by simply mowing around the circle of bamboo.  Every spring new shoots appear.  In Florida that means new shoots emerge in late February and continue through early April.  By now, at the end of April, all of this year's shoots will have already popped out of the ground.  From now on they put their energy into growing taller and leafing out.

A new shoot begins to leaf out

And continues to grow bigger...

And bigger

New shoots tend to emerge along the outer edge of the existing bamboos.

Forming an attractive green ground cover around the mulberry tree.

Transporting tall plants - BYOS (Bring your own sheets)

Ilene (pictured above) and Stephen, customers from Leesburg, purchased two very tall 7-gal Graceful bamboos today but the 20' tall plants wouldn't fit inside their SUV.  Not a problem.  With a bit of creativity, an open window, several old sheets and some string, we were able to secure the plants for the ride home. 

Wrapping tender leaves in a sheet (above) protects them from wind damage

Above:  A view inside.  Note the old sheets underneath the pots to protect the vehicle's floor from dirt.  

Below:  Stephen offers a "thumbs up" as the couple leaves the nursery to head back home.  Note how the thin tops of the bamboo are wrapped up and secured across the SUV's hood.


Bamboo Q & A

A customer from the Orlando area who recently purchased and installed several Blue Timber (Bambusa chungii) clumping bamboos wrote with a few questions:

Hi Sherry,  How are you?  I hope this finds you doing well.  I am writing to ask some specific questions about our Bambusa chungii that arose after reading your wonderful blog. I find myself going back to your blog almost daily to look up something or read what you’ve written about a particular topic. 

OK.  First off, irrigation.  As you may recall, we purchased 5 Bambusa chungii from you. They are now integrated into our driveway landscape, placed about 10’ apart.  I have redone the irrigation system for this area, using a drip line with two dedicated lines for each plant (well, one has a line and a nearby spray head).  I have placed two of these micro-bubbler irrigation heads about an inch from the vertical culm of each bamboo: http://www.amazon.com/Orbit-Irrigation-67110-Micro-Bubbler-Stake/dp/B002R9O4OK.  This way when I turn on the sprinkler system, each plant gets a dedicated shower with a specific radius range of about a foot from the base of the vertical culm.  I have also added mulch around each plant.  We have a lot of oak trees here, so we have leaves galore.

OK, on your blog I read a comment from someone asking about newly planted bamboos and this person mentioned watering each bamboo for 2 hours.  Wow, that seems like a lot.  I turn on the bamboo zone for 10-12 minutes twice a day, then twice a week in addition that zone is part of our overall watering schedule (in Winter Park you can water two days a week) and the bamboo zone goes on for 25 minutes.  All the bambusa chungii now have leaves sprouting from the joints of each culm.  On all but one plant the leaves have no yellow; one of the tallest bamboos has some yellow leaves.  There are no curling leaves (indicating lack of water).  Yet, still I wonder … am I under-watering?  Do they need more than this?  Please advise.

Next, fertilizing.  As you may recall, we got both soil and Dynamite from you which were put into the planting as you direct in your planting instructions sheet.  Some bamboos have been in the ground for 3 weeks now, some about a week.  So soon (the one-month mark) I was going to add fertilizer.  My local hardware store has been having trouble getting Ironite http://www.ironite.com/.  They told me that Ironite has re-formulated the mix and it is now hard to get.  Not sure when they will have the Ironite.  So … I can use something like this:  http://www.seedland.com/mm5/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&Store_Code=Seedland&Product_Code=FERT-423403-15&Category_Code=FERT-453284.

Should I use both, assuming that Ironite becomes available soon?  Can I start fertilizing after the 4-week mark?

Thanks again for all your good information.  It’s fun to check in with Beautiful Bamboo by listening to other people’s questions and thoughts.  Thanks too for your excellent comments on Metalifestream

My response:
Hi Barry - I'm glad you are finding my blog helpful.  Have you used the "Search this Blog" feature yet?  If not, you might find that useful when seeking out information on specific topics.  Concerning your questions, let's start with irrigation.  From your description of the plants' new leaves, it sounds like you are giving them adequate water.  Bamboos like water and it is difficult to give them too much but the amount you are doing seems perfectly fine for plants in a shady, well-mulched location like you've given them.  Especially during this year's rather moist springtime.

Concerning the fertilizer, you already applied sufficient fertilizer to last 6 months when you planted the bamboo and used Dynamite, a 6-mo. time release fertilizer that we sell at the nursery.  The fertilizer you linked to would be a good choice for the future but not necessary for immediate use.  If you use the one you linked to in the future, you can apply it every month since it is not a time release formula but be sure to follow the application directions since regular non-time release formulas do have the potential to "burn" plants if applied incorrectly.  What you can always do however, is apply organic material around the existing bamboos.  Just like with water, bamboos thrive when given an abundance of organic material such as compost, manure, grass clippings, leaves, etc.  So right now, don't apply additional chemical fertilizers but do pile on the organic matter.

Ironite is usually available at Lowes, although I haven't checked recently.  Newly planted bamboos usually don't require Ironite applications.  Some browning of the leaves is normal, especially following transplanting, and as long as new leaves are forming, don't worry about others leaves that fall off.  Focus instead on all the new growth that's just beginning to happen now and will continue to happen through November.


Bamboo: The fastest growing plant on earth!

Ralph is standing next to a young shoot of Vivax running bamboo.  The picture was taken on March 29th when the new shoot was less than a week old.  Pay special attention to the smaller yellow-colored cane in the foreground (next to Ralph's left foot) and the white-colored bending cane behind the new shoot.  Both of those canes will help you locate the "baby" Ralph was holding in the next picture, below, which was taken on April 8th.  In that photo you can see how much the "baby" shoot grew in just 10 days.  Not only that, but during those 10 days, another new shoot popped out of the ground right where Ralph was standing.  Actually, many more new shoots popped out of the ground during the early days of April and all rapidly grew far taller than Ralph, who is 5' 10".

People often ask, "Does bamboo really grow as fast as I've heard it does?"  The answer is "Yes!"  Bamboo is truly the fastest growing plant on earth.  During the spring, running bamboos like Vivax send out their new shoots and in the summer all the clumping bamboos do the same.  It doesn't matter what variety or type of bamboo you are talking about, all bamboo grow from the tiniest new shoot into tall beautiful canes in less than 2 months.  It's an amazing and exciting process to watch.


Cedar waxwings perch on bamboo

I was helping customers in the nursery yesterday afternoon when a sudden noise caught my attention.  I turned toward the loud thud to see what it was and noticed about 200 cedar waxwings perched on the bare canes on top of a stand of cold-damaged Angel Mist bamboo.  The noise came from the birds' wings as they rose in unison from a nearby mulberry tree to perch on the bamboo.  Cedar waxwings are social birds that travel in flocks from one feeding source to another.  They annually visit our property where we have many fruit trees covered with yummy berries.  The birds like to perch on nearby branches - in this case on the bamboo canes - in between their berry-devouring feasts.  We don't get many berries because of the birds but it is hard to stay angry at such beautiful looking creatures.

Above:  Waxwings enjoy a mulberry feast
Below:  A flock of waxwings perch on the bare branches of a cold-damaged Angel Mist in between feeding frenzies


Green tree frog (hyla cinerea) and bamboo

When I went out to the nursery this afternoon, I noticed a tiny green tree frog, Hyla cinerea, hiding between two upright poles in the gazebo.  I love little green tree frogs.  They're the frogs that make that big noise at nighttime.  Click here to hear a recording of the tree frog song.  Wildlife love bamboo.  Every time I'm out in the nursery I see some bird or frog, a lizard, rabbit, armadillo or other small animal.  When people ask if wildlife are attracted to bamboo I always answer, "Yes!" 


Yet another wedding arbor made out of Beautiful Bamboo poles

This wedding arbor was built by Shea Hopely Flowers in Jacksonville, FL for use at beach weddings.  The bamboo poles were our Domestically Grown Designer Quality poles in 3" x 8' lengths cut down to a height of 7' 5".  Shorter length poles cost less to ship but still provide adequate height for the wedding couple to stand under. 


A beachside wedding arbor made from bamboo

A customer from Orlando sent photos of the wedding arbor he built from poles purchased at Beautiful Bamboo.

"The Arbor turned out great," he wrote. "I attached some pictures like you requested."

 The arbor on the beach before added adornments

And after...with sheer white fabric blowing in the breeze - a simple design is transformed into an elegant statement 


A beautiful bamboo chest

A customer from Bradenton, FL sent us these photos of a project he created using poles purchased from Beautiful Bamboo:

Hi Sherry, 

I was glad to find a local source of domestic bamboo. As promised, here are some pictures of the small chest built using Home Grown bamboo purchased in February.

The bamboo was caramelized with a high-temp heat gun and treated with paste wax. The rest of the project is a combination of birch plywood and solid aspen.

Thank you again,

Bradenton, FL