Some Uses of Bamboos

Please click on the next items for details:

Hedges and screens
Specimen plants and plant associations
Ponds and streams
Growing in containers
Groundcover
Planting and care
Canes and bamboo shoots


Bamboos are extremely versatile and can be used in many different ways. The huge range of hardy bamboos now available represents a whole new palette of colours and plant forms that can be incorporated into garden design.

Only a few of the commonest uses are shown here and there is plenty of scope for experimentation, particularly as some forms are quite recent introductions to the UK.

Bamboos produce a luxuriant and exotic effect and contribute in terms of stem colour, evergreen foliage, plant form and the movement and sound of their foliage when affected by winds.

In some species, such as Fargesia murielae, the foliage is so plentiful that the culms are barely visible so if the stems also need to be a feature, it is important to select on that basis.

*** Please use the "Bamboo Stock List" to access full descriptions and photographs.      Species available in extra large sizes are highlighted in red.

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Hedges and screens.

Bamboos have considerable potential for screening. To an extent, their height or shape can be controlled by trimming, provided this is done after new canes have begun to form branches. If young shoots are trimmed or accidentally damaged before this stage they are liable to die back to ground level. 

Unlike conifer hedges, regular annual trimming is not necessary but if a dense hedge is not required, canes may be thinned out in order to improve appearance or to reduce the density of foliage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fargesia nitida


The time needed to produce an effective screen may be reduced by fastening the canes to a trellis or other form of support to ensure that they are upright and evenly spaced. This approach also allows the use of species with a naturally arching habit which might otherwise be unsuitable in shape.


A considerable number of varieties are suitable for providing an informal screen and the greater the width that can be allocated to the planting strip, the more effective screening will be.

 There is much to be said  for using a mixture of types, both for additional interest and as long- term insurance against the possibility of flowering.

 SCREENING ALONG BOUNDARY FENCES.

Bamboos are popular for disguising unattractive fencing or to improve privacy by adding some extra height. A mature height of  8/12ft ( 2.5/3.5m) is commonly chosen but this limits the choice of species.  A bed width of 60cm is considered to be the minimum but a greater width is very advantageous. Spacing is normally 1/m.

The non-running Fargesia nitida 'Jiuzhaigou' or the taller growing Fargesia robusta  are very suitable but if planted close to the fence, rhizome barrier should still be used as the clumps will gradually increase in diameter over time and may then tuck under the base of the fence unless a gravel board extends well into the soil.  Alternatively, if sufficient space is allowed, occasional spadework should be sufficient to intercept shoots which are getting too close to the base of the fence.

 Similar precautions are necessary if bamboos are to be planted near to decking or paving which has only been spot bedded.

Depending upon the orientation of the fence or wall, canes may lean away in search of more light and may need to be retained in a more upright position.

When available, Phyllostachys aurea 'Koi' has considerable potential as it has a tidy, upright habit with very little tendency to run. The yellow canes are closely spaced with plentiful pale green foliage. ( detailed notes can be accessed via the price list.)

  Pseudosasa japonica is very effective as it can be trimmed without spoiling its natural appearance. However,  it is moderately spreading and unless the planting site is "escape -proof" the use of rhizome barrier is advisable.

If rhizome barrier is installed in order to grow running bamboos, the choice of species is very much wider especially if a mature height of 5m or more is acceptable -please see below.

 

  HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT BAMBOO FOR SCREENING.

The choice of species will depend upon such things as the height needed at maturity, whether foliage or canes are to be the main feature, whether the site is in sun or shade, and the degree of vigour required.

   Non-running bamboos  are all species of Fargesia, Borinda, and Thamnocalamus.

Species of Borinda form the tallest screens but are not yet available in quantity so it may  be necessary to use a mixture of Borinda species.

Fargesia robusta ( syn. F. robusta "Campbell" )  is particularly effective. It has an upright habit and forms plenty of canes and dense foliage. Average mature height approximately 12/14ft (4/5m).

 

For low or medium heights:-

Fargesia nitida or Fargesia nitida 'Jiuzhaigou' will reach between 2.5 and 4m and have plentiful upright canes.

Borinda scabrida  is slow to start but forms  a dense, slightly arching  screen of around 12ft (4.5m)

Phyllostachys aurea 'Koi'- Highly ornamental and usually remains as a dense upright clump so is ideal for short lengths of screening. Mature height averages about 4m. (details can be found via our online availability list)

 Running bamboos will naturally give the quickest screening effect and are a good choice in situations where their spreading habit is not a problem. If the planting site is surrounded by lawn, any unwanted shoots will be controlled by mowing. Brick walls etc. will also form an effective barrier to the spread of underground rhizomes. Specially made Rhizome Barrier (also sold as Bamboo Control Barrier) can also be installed and is a semi-rigid black plastic, sold in widths of 45cm / 75cm x 2/3mm.

 Species which are only moderately spreading can readily be controlled by means of a spade as long as extra space is left around the plants for this purpose.

A large number of Phyllostachys species are useful for screening. All are capable of running but in cooler districts some species such as Phyllostachys angusta, Phyllostachys nigra and Phyllostachys aurea 'Koi' quite often remain as clumps, making them suitable for screening purposes.

Some of the most popular are :-

Phyllostachys angusta   

Very hardy bamboo reaching about 13ft.(4m). Forms a tidy clump with little tendency to spread. Average spread approximately 750/100cm in ten years,     Dense, upright habit, arching slightly with age.

Plentiful dark green culms, becoming greyish with age. Maximum diameter 3cm. Light green foliage contrasting well with the dark green of species such as Phyllostachys bissetii.

A tough, well-behaved  plant  exceptionally useful for screening or  as a specimen .

 

 
Phyllostachys aureosulcata & its varieties are probably the single most effective choice due to their vigour, hardiness, and highly decorative canes. They are fairly upright, only moderately spreading, and will reach a height of about 13 to 16ft. (5m) 

Phyllostachys vivax 'Aureocaulis' is of similar appearance and hardiness. It will form an excellent tall screen with brightly coloured canes of large diameter. The fresh green foliage is also highly attractive. Height 16ft or more (6/8m). (See picture right) Quite slow to propagate and consequently availability is limited.

Phyllostachys bissetii  has green canes and is very hardy and prolific, but account needs to be taken of its spreading nature. Height  14ft. or more (5m).

Phyllostachys rubromarginata  is taller and spreads more slowly or not at all under the cooler conditions of the north. Average height at maturity 22ft. (7m)

Phyllostachys mannii & Phyllostachys decora reach around 5 or 6m . Highly attractive and excellent for screening. They are either clump forming or only moderately running.

 Semiarundinaria fastuosa 'Viridis' provides a vigorous very tall screen but needs control.

All other species of Semiarundinaria are also very effective especially for smaller gardens as they are often not quite so tall.  All will benefit from rhizome barrier or other means of control.

 


Phyllostachys aureosulcata 'Aureocaulis' in a mixed screen

For a more formal hedge,  which can be trimmed if necessary, Pseudosasa japonica is the most obvious choice, being hardy, and upright with dense, fully evergreen foliage and medium height. 

Its rate of spread is normally quite slow. Rhizome barrier will provide long term control  but  its spread can also be controlled by periodic spade work. Suitable for sun or light shade. Height approximately 8 to 12ft. (4m ) Spread 1-3m in 10 years depending upon soil type.

       
       Pseudosasa japonica

                                                             Phyllostachys aureosulcata 'Aureocaulis'



Semiarundinaria fastuosa
is ideal where a tall, narrow hedge is required but is not always so readily available. Its spread is easily controlled
 

Non-Running Bamboos

Fargesia nitida and most other Fargesia species are totally non-running and are sometimes preferred on that account but they may need to be more closely spaced.  (see picture right)

Fargesia robusta is probably the fastest growing and is capable of reaching 4 to 5m.

Borinda species are also non-running and are generally much taller than Fargesia spp, reaching 5 to 7m or sometimes more.

Phyllostachys aurea 'Koi'- limited availability but ideal when only short lengths are to be planted. ( for detailed notes please acces via the price list.)

When selecting varieties for hedging, allowance needs to be made for the fact that the cold tolerance of bamboos is reduced when planted in a position exposed to strong winds. 

 


Phyllostachys aurea 'Holochrysa' 


Phyllostachys nigra 'Boryana'


Bashania fargesia as screen

SPACING of about one plant per metre should be adequate for hedging, but plants can be 
spaced as closely as you wish in order to give a more rapid result. 

A wider spacing can be used for informal screens, especially if there is more than just a single row. 

If planting takes place during spring, it is worth remembering that new canes  develop only from ground level and will normally reach a greater height than the existing canes from the previous season. 

The older canes will not increase in height or thickness as a tree would do, so it will make very little difference if they are shortened to facilitate delivery.

Regular feeding and watering will naturally improve the speed at which a dense and effective screen can be established and the heights indicated may not be readily achieved on dry or impoverished sites.. Thinning of older canes in spring is desirable but not essential.

Fargesia murielae as a hedge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Phyllostachys aureosulcata 'Aureocaulis'

                   

Semiarundinaria 'Kimmei'                                                       Container grown bamboos for screening

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Specimen plants and plant association

 

Bamboos will provide a vertical component to gravel gardens and grassed or paved areas. In the same way they will soften the appearance of a yard or bare wall. An exciting grove of vertical stems can also be achieved by planting in a group or by thinning the canes of one of the more spreading sorts.

For a restful appearance, the area around the base of taller bamboos can be planted with mossy foliage such as Helixine or with ferns, ivies or Cotoneaster dammeri used as groundcover. Flowering plants with grass-like foliage such as Schizostylis or Liiope also work well.

For contrast, Ophiopogon ("Black Grass") can be used and the large leaves of Hosta or Bergenia are effective. Mound shaped evergreens such as Box, Evergreen Azaleas, Sarcococca,  Skimmia and Camellia will also be in keeping.

There is no reason why climbers cannot be grown in association with established bamboos. This may be used to enhance the density or tropical appearance of foliage cover or to provide an attractive combination with the flowers of Clematis, Tropaeolum, etc.

 

 

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Ponds and streams

Bamboos display very well against water but positioning should take account of the possibility of  damage to pond liners by the pointed underground rhizomes of the taller species. 

Though moisture loving, few bamboos will tolerate soil which is permanently waterlogged.
( Please see
Phyllostachys heteroclada however)

 

 

Growing in containers

Many forms of bamboo can be highly decorative and effective in containers as long as normal attention is given to regular watering and feeding.  Automatic watering systems are a great advantage and if there is

already an outside tap, this is relatively inexpensive.  "Access Irrigation" of Crick, Rugby are specialists.

As with any evergreens, bamboos are vulnerable to winter damage by desiccation if the roots become frozen while the foliage is exposed to wind, so precautions need to be taken during very frosty weather. This may mean plunging or wrapping the container, or moving it to a more sheltered place .

On a patio, there is a great advantage in taking up a single paver to create a planting site unless the use of a container is actually preferred for decorative purposes. Beds created from sleepers are an alternative and provide more stability against wind, together with the opportunity for a larger soil volume. A minimum soil volume of 50L per plant is desirable. Holes suitable for drainage are essential in any form of container and the water requirements of any plants grown without access to the soil should not be underestimated.

Half-barrels are ideal containers for bamboos, especially as, in future years, the plant can easily be removed for thinning or planting in the garden. The large plastic containers used on nurseries can also be useful and their appearance can be very effectively disguised by a roll of thin cane fencing.  The compost in metal containers is liable to heat up in summer and cool down in winter more quickly.

If proprietary composts are to be used for containers, it is preferable to create a mix which includes about ten percent loam and some coarse sand or "John Innes grit" (2/4mm). A high content of composted green waste is undesirable as it is liable to slump over a period of time.

When assessing the need for watering,  the appearance of the compost is a good guide or otherwise, rub the surface to see if  it feels dry.  For this reason, mulching the surface may not be desirable.When newly planted,  bamboos cannot utilise the whole volume of the surrounding soil and are dependent upon the original rootball  so it is important to water directly into the centre of the plant. Assuming free draining compost and that there are holes in the base of the toughs or pots,  it is not likely that you will over-water.

 Thinking ahead to possible holidays, an automatic watering system is almost essential to preserve container  plants in your absence.

 A wide range of  bamboos can be grown in pots, etc. but those which would be the most tolerant of being kept in containers would include those listed below. Any which seem to be actually  unsuitable are mentioned in their online descriptions. Pseudosasa japonica and Hibanobambusa 'Shiroshima' have the advantage of a bushy habit which means they can be trimmed to the desired height or width without affecting their natural appearance.

If there is no likelyhood of the bamboos being transplanted into the garden at a later date, there is no advantage in restricting the choice of species to clump forming types. Running bamboos will have the advantage of filling troughs or containers more quickly and with fewer plants needed.

For medium height - Pseudosasa japonica, Semiarundinaria kagamiana, S. makinoi, S. 'Kimmei', Hibanobambusa 'Shiroshima'Yushania maculata & other Yushania species, Fargesia rufa & otherFargesia species, and possibly Bashania species.

Taller growing - Fargesia robusta varieties, Phyllostachys aureosulcata varieties, Ph. bissetii,  Ph humilis.

Low growing types - Indocalamus tessellatus & others, Pleioblastus auricomus, Sasa spp.

 

 

 

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Groundcover

 The tough, vigorously spreading nature of Indocalamus, Sasa and Sasaella species can be used to good effect for stabilising steep banks or to provide a decorative carpet in woodland or other shady areas. In addition, once established, they will normally suppress weed growth very effectively. Their appearance can be maintained by occasional hard trimming in spring.

 The same sorts are also capable of filling a container with dense, luxuriant foliage within a single season.

Planting and care

Before planting, it may be desirable to incorporate organic matter such as peat, leaf mould or well rotted compost into the soil. Similar material can be used as a surface mulch but not for re-filling the planting hole. After removing the pot, position the plant with about one inch of soil covering the original root-ball and firm the soil around it.

A light topdressing of general fertiliser can be applied thinly over the soil surface in spring and again during summer, avoiding contact with the foliage. Water after planting and also regularly during spring and summer while the plants are taking root. The foliage cannot wilt, but if the leaves are seen to be curling inwards, this is a sign that watering is urgently needed. 

Until the plants are fully established, they are vulnerable to damage by keen frosts, strong wind or high temperatures and temporary protection by means of fleece or other permeable material may be desirable if these conditions occur.

The appearance of well established plants may benefit from thinning a proportion of the canes so that the best stems can be more effectively displayed - this is especially the case when a grove is required rather than clumps. Thinning the canes is also a means of reducing the amount of shade cast by bamboos used for screening. Removal of some lower branches will further enhance visibility of the stems and may also result in thicker canes being produced in future years. Some of the more vigorous species can be a useful source of garden canes.

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Canes and bamboo shoots

 If you are fortunate enough to have more culms than needed within a clump or grove, the older or thinner ones can be harvested for use as garden canes, preferably in early summer after new culms have finished expanding. This will ensure that most of the food reserves stored in the old culms are passed to the younger portion of the plant. 

Any tall growing bamboo can provide canes for garden or craft uses but there are differences between species in terms of colour and wall thickness of the canes. Bashania fargesii  is particularly useful if space is available for its vigorously spreading habit.

In the event of  substantial quantities of canes being available, there are a multitude of craft uses for them, many of which are described by Carol Strangler in "The Art and Craft of Bamboo"   (published in 2001 by Lark Books).

The emerging shoots of most bamboos are edible after boiling but the texture and flavour varies very much between species. Bamboo shoots quickly become bitter as they mature and are best harvested within about a week after emergence. The tougher outer portions of the shoot can be discarded after cooking.  In China Phyllostachys dulcis and Phyllostachys praecox are particularly valued for  bamboo shoots.

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e-mail:     sales@uk-bamboos.co.uk  

Whitelea Nursery, Tansley, Matlock, Derbyshire.                Telephone:    01629 55010                                                                                                                                                         page revised      24//6/2024