Why I’m starting this blog

Bamboo is an incredible plant.  It has so many uses that it would be simpler to list the things that one can’t do with bamboo rather than what can be done with it.  Without wanting to provoke the ire of the many fans of hemp and other great plants, I personally believe that there is no plant that can compare to bamboo’s amazing utility and versatility, both in its myriad of uses and its ability to grow across a wide range of conditions.

I believe that bamboo deserves our respect.  It bothers me when I witness or hear stories of its misuse through inappropriate planting.  It annoys me when I hear it said that bamboo is a weed: after all, what is a weed other than a plant that is growing where someone doesn’t want it to grow?  More often than not if a bamboo is growing where it is not wanted it is because a person lacking in bamboo knowledge has unwittingly planted it there.  With a modicum of prior thought combined with the application of some knowledge and experience of bamboo growth habits, the frequency of occurrence of this situation can be greatly reduced.

I have started this blog because I am in awe of bamboo and have great respect for it.  (In fact, I will go one step further and say that I love bamboo!)  I would really like to see it more widely utilised but, at the very least, I would like to see bamboo planted more appropriately.  If this could be achieved then perhaps down the track a few years there would be far fewer people claiming that bamboo is ‘just a weed’ based on their own thoroughly preventable, bad bamboo experience.  I intend to write about aspects of bamboo in such a way as to shed some light on the seemingly darker areas of its culture, particularly in relation to the sandy soils and Mediterranean climate of Perth and the Swan Coastal Plain.

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4 thoughts on “Why I’m starting this blog

  1. G’day Peter, came across the article in the Northern Valley News recently whilst scoffing morning tea @ Bindoon bakery.
    Very interesting, so decided to folow up and check out your blog. I too am a fan of bamboo, also Vietnam Vet, spent much time trying to push my way thru the stuff.
    I purchased some clumping years ago to use as a sun/wind break alongised my home, and until recently, to grew fine.
    However, over the last year or so, have observed an issue developing.
    The site runs alongside our dividing fence, (constructed of Fibercement) with concrete retaining walls alongside at about 12″ distant from the fence, the height of said retaining wall is about 1.2 meters. This area was filled with soil,(sand) and soil improver prior to planting, bore reticulation runs alongside and waters the bamboo for 15 minutes every second day. It gets fertilised twice a year with a general purpose slow release fertiliser.
    One area where the soil is LESS then 12 inches from the fence,(neccessary because the gas main is adjacent, thus requiring a slight curve in the retaining wall to miss same) the bamboo exhibited signs of stress. Despite my ptifull attempts to solve what the issue was, it all died in that area. I even went to the effort of pulling out all the effected bamboo, removing all soil, mixing new soil with soil improver and manure, refilling area and reinstaling said bamboo.
    It died anyway.
    Unfortunately, wherever i went, (nurseries) the information I recieved was next to useless, and I discovered very few people really had an understanding of bamboo. I then purchased a book titled Bamboo Rediscovered, written and illustrated by Victor Cusak, which I felt was an excellent back ground for anyone interested in growing bamboo.
    From this publication I discovered it was neccessary to prune my bamboo of dead wood, which I reckon is a bitch of a job, but was never able to work out how to propogate the stuff.
    Any help or advice you may wish to offer in this regard, would be most gratefully accepted.
    I also wonder whether you sell bamboo plants direct to the public ?
    Thanks for any help you may be able to offer me.
    Regards,
    Eddy Schmid

  2. Hello Eddie, and firstly let me thank you for your service to our country in Vietnam. Interestingly, there is possibly no other country where bamboo is held in such high regard, and I believe the Vietnamese word for bamboo means ‘brother’. I am hoping to get myself over to Vietnam some time soon so may have to consult with you for some tips. I am pleased to say, however, that I have already enjoyed morning tea at the Bindoon Bakery.

    Regarding your bamboo, it would be useful to know which species of clumping bamboo it is that you have planted, especially since there are upwards of 700 species of clumpers. Regardless, a garden bed with a width of 30cm is particularly narrow for a clumping bamboo to establish itself in. I suspect that the individual clumps initially managed satisfactorily, expanding a few cms each year until such time that some of them have used up all available root space. Bamboo plants are quite shallow rooted so, regardless of the depth of soil in a particular location, the usable root space is effectively only the surface area multiplied by a depth of 40cms or so. It sounds like some of your bamboo have less space for their roots and rhizomes than would a bamboo grown in a reasonable sized pot, so it is a case of them outgrowing their garden bed: hence their stressed state.

    Another aspect to consider is the height of the garden bed. If your soil is sandy and your garden bed raised then the soil will dry out very quickly. Watering every second day in these circumstances would be insufficient for your bamboo to thrive. In a more spacious garden bed, with larger rooted areas, the plants would probably get by because they would have a reasonable buffer between adequate and inadequate soil moisture levels. Growing in such a confined space means that all available moisture would be taken up very quickly by the bamboo: two days is a long time to wait in our summer heat for their next watering! Also, a bamboo’s water requirement increases significantly as it grows yet I suspect your bamboo have not had their water allowance increased from when they were first planted.

    Victor Cusack’s book is a good one, although a bit dated now. His follow up book ‘Bamboo World’, which is also the name of the northern NSW specialist nursery that he established in the late 90s, is widely considered to be a classic work in its coverage of clumping bamboo. (Just as a matter of interest, I undertook Defence Resettlement Training at Bamboo World in 2001 prior to exiting the regular Army.) Whilst it is beneficial to clear dead canes out of a clump, thus increasing light levels and promoting a better of flow of air, not clearing dead growth is unlikely to cause the death of a bamboo.

    Sometimes the best choice of bamboo for a particular situation could well be a species of running bamboo, simply because it can adapt to very narrow or odd shaped garden beds. Of course, certain criteria should be met before planting these potentially invasive bamboo species but in a narrow, contained garden bed such as your appears to be a running bamboo has no equal.

    I supply bamboo to lansdcapers, developers, regional nurseries and directly to the public. Before getting bamboo from any source, however, it is vital to seek specialist advice to determine if the particular bamboo is appropriate to plant in your own situation. For now, I would like some additional information about your bamboo in order for me to identify it and give you more specific advice with a view to resurrecting your bamboo screen.

    Regards,
    Peter

    • G’day Peter, WOW, what can I say to such a eloquent responce ?Certainly sounds like you know your stuff.
      Unfortunately, have forgotten the name of my bamboo over the years, if I had known the importance of remembering it, I can assure you, I would have done so.
      However, as is implied in Victor Cusack’s book, there appears to be much confusion on this issue, which was verified when I attempted to purchase my second order of bamboo.
      Taking with me the tab of my original purchase, the suppliers gave me bamboo which once grown a bit, (18 months) didn’t look anything like the originals. The leaves were much finer and more delicate, growing to only approx 2 feet in height, requiring it to be pulled out.
      It would appear to me, the only positive way to ID my bamboo would be to take sample and let you have a look to I.D. it.
      Besides, I’d love to see your operation.
      I was successful though in purchasing a verigated variety, which once matured is identical to the original except for it’s verigation.
      YEP, I have over the last couple of years neglected my bamboo and failed to remove the old dead wood, which now seems to be taking over the centre of the clumps.
      The very first clump I planted which is not restrained by any retaining wall, has spread quiet a bit contains much dead wood in it’s centre, and is going to be drasticaly cut back tomorrow, when I expect a little cooler weather.
      Regards the dying bamboo, and the watering issue, it’s quiet confusing, as part of the bamboo along the fenceline is going gang busters, and I’m constantly cutting off the new shoots and trimming to keep it’s shape. It gets the same amount of water as the one where it’s struggling. The varigated type, which is a further 4 meters along the fenceline, also gets the same amount of water, and it’s doing fine as well. It’s only the centre where the problem is. The depth of sand there is approx 2 1/2 feet, same all along the fenceline.
      All the bamboo is slowly raisng it’self above ground level, and the only thing that covers the root structure is the mulch from the bamboo plants themselves. Get the impression it’s not happy and would like to up stakes and move to a better location . LOL.
      I regularly fertilise with lawn fertiliser and the soil never appears to be dry.Did have concerns originaly of the fenceline acting as wick drawing away moisture, but that fear was needless.
      I have found the dropped leaves are an excellent source of mulch for my garden, however my neighbour does not share that view, nor does my wife. LOL.
      Thanks for your helpful advice, rest assured it will be diligently put to use.

  3. Eddie, from what you have said my guess is that the species you are growing is Oriental Hedge Bamboo (Bambusa multiplex), which is also known as Japanese Miniature Bamboo and a host of other common names. It is a common bamboo in and around Perth and, although it can grow to 8m or more tall in favourable conditions, it typically grows to just 2-4m in sandy soil. This species has many naturally occurring varieties, including Alphonse Karr Bamboo (Bambusa multiplex ‘Alphonse Karr’) which has occasional variegations on its foliage and green-striped pale yellow canes. Other varieties include Fernleaf and Riviereorum, both of which have small leaves and, in my experience, grow much more slowly than the plain Oriental Hedge Bamboo. It could be one of these that you pulled out when it was 2′ (60cm) tall.

    Whilst bamboo plants aren’t fussy with regard to the source of their nutrients, ie organic or inorganic fertiliser, bamboo will derive more benefit from organic fertilisers such as manures, composts and blood’n’bone. The additional benefit comes in the form of the moisture and nutrient retaining organic matter which becomes incorporated into the soil when these fertilisers are used.

    Patchiness of bamboo plants in your garden may be attributable to the non-wetting characteristics of your soil. I suggest that you apply Wetta soil, or an equivalent, to your garden bed at the recommended rates. Another possible reason for the inconsistent or patchy growth in your garden bed is that it may contain builders’ rubble or waste which is holding the bamboo back.

    Bamboo leaves are an excellent dry mulch that is high in silica and, as you have found, established bamboo clumps tend to be self mulching to an extent. With their tendency to ‘climb’ out of the ground in some situations, I recommend that you apply a decent layer – 80mm or so – of coarse mulch around your bamboo. This will greatly assist in the conservation of moisture in the bamboo’s root zone and generally in keeping the roots cool on a scorching day.

    Cutting out the centre of a bamboo clump after cutting out some culms (canes) at the side for access is referred to as ‘keyholing’ since it is a keyhole pattern that is created in the clump. Old, overgrown or cluttered clumps often greatly benefit from this practice and later exhibit renewed vigour. I suggest that you apply a tonic such as Seasol to your bamboo after keyholing the dead cane clumps tomorrow. I hope it goes well.

    I may well be able to positively identify your bamboo from a photograph so feel free to send one to me at peter@westernbamboo.com.au

    Regards,
    Peter

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