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There are more than 200 forms of bamboo suitable for British gardens. Bamboos are giant members of the grass family and throughout the world there are about 90 genera with a total of around 1000 species. Since their earliest origins, millions of years ago, they have adapted and spread very widely, though unfortunately the ice age eliminated them from Europe and they have not been able to adapt to extremes of cold or dryness.
Each year new shoots (culms) are produced from modified underground stems known as rhizomes. There are two types of rhizome system and this determines whether the a bamboo is clump forming or running. This division is not entirely botanical however as the cooler climate of the UK sometimes causes bamboos to remain as tidy clumps even though in warmer countries the same species would have the potential to spread.
There are very few widely accepted common names for the various bamboos so
there is little alternative to using botanical names. These are based on the
Botanical Code and take the following form:- Genus - species - variety or Cultivar.
Flowering is relatively uncommon and intervals of over100 years are known. A particular clone is likely to flower almost simultaneously throughout the world but the factors influencing this are not yet known and there is no means of predicting when flowering is going to occur.
Flowering may sometimes cause deterioration or death of the original plant but one consolation is that the seed which is then produced gives an opportunity to raise new varieties, as in the case of Fargesia murielae , which flowered during the 1990's and is now available in a number of different clones, each growing to a different height.
Fargesia nitida and its varieties flowered around the years 2002 to 2008 and they seem unlikely to recover. Fortunately a new generation has now been raised from seed and are included in our pricelist.
Pleioblastus shibuyanus 'Tsuboi' flowered in 2009 and has been withdrawn from sale until it has recovered its normal vigour.
Height and spread ( metric equivalents are shown in brackets and are mostly rounded off to the nearest whole number)
The canes of a bamboo, correctly known as culms, will not increase in height or thickness after their first season, although additional leaves and branches will be formed each summer.
For this reason, the initial height at the time of planting is less relevant than it would be for conifers or trees, and likewise, any necessary trimming of the canes for packaging purposes has virtually no effect on the height at the end of the growing season. The height reached by new culms on young plants will increase each year as the plant gains strength until it becomes fully established.
Mature height varies according to species, from groundcover of around 1ft. to clumps exceeding 30ft. (9m). It is also influenced by soil conditions and differences in the length of the growing season in various parts of the country. Heights indicated in the descriptions should be taken as a guide for northern gardens and may easily be exceeded in favourable areas.
Bamboos benefit from feeding and if possible, mulching and may not readily achieve their normal height on dry or impoverished sites.
When choosing species, account needs to be taken of whether to use a non-running clump forming type or a more spreading sort. Clump-forming species will slowly expand but can be relied upon not to colonise adjacent areas. If they are to be planted close to a boundary fence, it may be useful to install rhizome barrier along the fenceline unless a gravel board has been sunk a few inches into the ground.
Bamboos described as rampant need to be sited accordingly but most others can be prevented from spreading unduly by occasional use of a spade. The spread of tall growing sorts is readily controlled by the destruction of emerging shoots in spring. Many of them are also edible at this stage as bamboo shoots. On no account should bamboos be planted in their original pots.
Groundcover types can be invasive and in small gardens they should be grown in containers or restricted in other ways such as planting in a position surrounded by lawn so that mowing will prevent the development of unwanted shoots.
Micro-climate has a considerable effect on winter hardiness and being predominantly woodland plants, most bamboos prefer shelter from wind. The possible effect of frost relates not just to temperature but also to the duration of the cold period and to other conditions at the time such as wind. Fortunately, because of the insulating effect of the soil, the root system from which new canes will arise is unlikely to be harmed, especially if generously mulched.
During normal winters, most bamboos remain evergreen with only minor deterioration in the foliage quality, but in extreme conditions leaves may be shed, usually to be replaced in summer. A few species, such as Fargesia murielae, will shed a proportion of their leaves in autumn but with little effect on their appearance during winter. Withering of the leaf margins of Sasaella etc. is normal and gives an interesting effect resembling variegation.
As a general principal. bamboos dislike exposure to strong winds or salt spray so might not be suitable as the first line of defence for gardens close to the sea. They may need protection by artificial means or by traditional maritime hedging such as Escallonia, Holly, or Tamarix.
Pseudosasa japonica can often be seen surviving well in maritime situations and the following bamboos would also be worth considering;-
Hibanobambusa tranquillans 'Shiroshima', Phyllostachys aureosulcata varieties, Phyllostachys bissetii, Phyllostachys humilis, Phyllostachys nuda, Pleioblastus linearis, Pleioblastus simonii, Semiarundinaria fastuosa and other species of Semiarundinaria.
Bashania fargesii has exceptional vigour and might be worth trying on that account. Chusquea culeou has often been successful as a specimen plant and sometimes Chusquea gigantea.
Brief descriptions and pictures of bamboos can be obtained by clicking on their
name in the stock list.
Most bamboos are fairly shallow rooted and enjoy a soil rich in humus, preferably with a surface mulch. Dry, shallow chalk soils would be unsuitable for most species, but Phyllostachys decora and Phyllostachys flexuosa may be successful. Generally though, pH does not appear to be very significant.
Inherently vigorous species such as Bashania fargesia are capable of making good growth even on very heavy soil.
On exceptionally heavy soils however, it may be an advantage to create a raised bed or to plant in a mound of good soil a few inches above the surrounding level in order to improve drainage for newly planted bamboos. The roots will then adapt and find their own level. Only a few species will tolerate very wet or very dry soil conditions. Occasional top dressings of general fertiliser are beneficial and watering of young plants is essential during dry conditions.
Sun or Shade?
In general, species of Indocalamus, Sasa, & Sasaella are tolerant of deep shade, Fargesia species may sometimes be better with some light shade, and Phyllostachys mostly benefit from full sun.
The greatest degree of shading results when the canopy of nearby trees actually overhangs the growing site and this may well be associated with competition for water and nutrients. The aspect of the site or the amount of shade caused by the average house can often be ignored. The main problem caused by walls near the planting site is often not so much that they cast shade, but that they may deflect natural rainfall from reaching the roots of the plants.
In cases where bamboos are exposed to too much sun, or are too dry at the roots, the leaves will temporarily curl inwards. This is an important warning sign especially when plants are growing in containers.
Bamboos are tough plants so this is only a short list:-
Insect attacks are rarely seen, but aphids will occasionally reveal themselves by the presence of "Honeydew" on the foliage, subsequently colonised by Sooty Mould. Good growing conditions are a deterrent and if necessary, proprietary sprays are effective.
Sprays suitable for garden use are of limited effectiveness and the alternative method of control may be to cut down infected plants to ground level and burn all the greenery removed. Bamboos treated this way will usually regenerate from below ground. We constantly monitor our stocks to ensure that the nursery remains free of this pest.
As yet, few bamboos have widely accepted common names so there is little alternative to the use of botanical names. We realise that this can be off-putting to begin with and for those who can't face reading through the whole list, the following may be helpful for selecting the variety with the attributes which are most important to you.
Do please try though to look at the whole range as each species has only been included because it has one or more special quality. In the full list we have tried to summarise as briefly as possible, these outstanding features, together with any possible limitations of each sort.
All-round Value for
Spectacular Landscape Effect (eg. Tallest)
**** Phyllostachys parvifolia is beleived to have the greatest height and culm diameter of all the bamboos capable of being grown in northern areas.
Brief descriptions and pictures of bamboos can be obtained by clicking on their
name in the stock list.
Recent Flowering of Bamboos
Fargesia nitida - began flowering in 2006 and was withdrawn from sale that year. Its varieties such as 'Anceps' , 'Nymphenburg',' Wakehurst', etc also came into flower in 2008 and have been permanently withdrawn from sale.
Pleioblastus shibuyanus 'Tsuboi' - flowered in 2009 and is no longer offered for sale.
Borinda KR 7346 - flowered in 2012 and new generation plants should be available in September 2019
Chusquea gigantea flowered around the UK in 2018/19 and has been withdrawn from sale. It is unlikely to be available again for a number of years.
Phyllostachys bambusoides 'Castillonis' - some clones flowered in 2018 and are again flowering this year.
**A description and photographs can be found by clicking on each name in the "Bamboo Stock List"
Flowering is an inevitable part of the life cycle of bamboos and is generally synchronised for all plants of a particular clone. The interval between flowering is probably specific to each species and is often a very long period. However as the length of the flowering cycle of most bamboos is not exactly known, there is no way that it can be predicted in advance, so nurseries cannot be held responsible.
The flowers of bamboos appear in early spring and closely resemble those of grasses. Usually the normal foliage gradually disappears, leaving only brown remnants of the flowers, inside which seeds can sometimes be found during the summer. There is no effective remedial treatment and some species may exhaust their reserves by flowering for several years and then die as a result.
Because bamboos are propagated by division, each plant of the same clone is genetically the same age and their internal clock governing the flowering date will be set to the same year regardless of whether it has been growing in a garden for fifty years or has recently been purchased as a small plant. For this reason, it may be advisable to use more than one species when planting a screen.
Fargesia nitida and its various selected forms have been widely grown in the UK for over a century but many plants unfortunately flowered around the years 2002 to 2008. On our own nursery, Fargesia nitida began flowering in 2006 and was withdrawn from sale that year. Its varieties such as 'Anceps' , 'Nymphenburg',' Wakehurst', etc also came into flower in 2008 and have been permanently withdrawn from sale.
What to do if your plant has flowered
One solution is to replace it with a similar species. In the case of Fargesia nitida, Fargesia murielae or its varieties made a good choice as having flowered around 1990/2000, it is not expected to flower again for at least fifty years. Fargesia rufa and Fargesia drachocephala were also good alternatives.
Nurseries such as our own have raised a new generation of Fargesia nitida from seed and you can do the same with the seed from your own bamboos if they flower. It of course takes several years to produce sizeable specimens suitable for planting. One of the earliest seedlings of Fargesia nitida has been multiplied on a large scale by means of micropropagation but our own trials of bamboos produced by this method have so far not been at all encouraging compared to the performance of those produced by conventional division. We are now able to offer plants of Fargesia nitida raised from seed between 2003 & 2008 and these are included in the stocklist.
If space permits, an alternative is to allow your bamboo to finish flowering and then leave it in situ for as long as possible to see if it will eventually regenerate from below ground. There is more chance of this ocurring in the case of running bamboos than the clump forming types.This will also provide an opportunity to collect seed, usually ready by mid summer or autumn. Fresh seed sown in a warm greenhouse or on a window sill with a thin covering of compost normally germinates in about three weeks but seedlings may then then need some form of protection for a couple of seasons before planting outside.
The Giant Timber Bamboo
This term is generally taken to refer to Phyllostachys bambusoides , a native of China but long cultivated in Japan. It is believed to have been introduced into the west by the French Admiral Du Quilio around 1866 and by 1890 it was established in the United States. It is sometimes referred to as "Mazel's Bamboo"
Phyllostachys edulis ("Moso") and Phyllostachys nigra 'Henonis' ( "Makko-chiku") are also utilised for timber when grown under optimum conditions in their country of origin.
The massive height and diameter of these species seen in their native habitats has inspired many people to grow their nearest equivalents in their gardens.
It is important to bear in mind however that bamboos are not capable of the secondary thickening which allows our native trees to steadily expand their diameter over many years. Bamboo culms will remain the height and diameter achieved in their first year. Over a period of years, plants become better established and throw up taller and thicker culms each year until maturity is reached but unfortunately the British summer is much too cool and too short for even the most vigorous bamboos to reach the great height and diameter possible in warmer climates.
The following species however are capable of impressive height and diameter in most gardens. Photographs and details can be found by clicking on the name in the Bamboo Stock List.
Phyllostachys dulcis, Phyllostachys iridescens, Phyllostachys nigra 'Henonis', Phyllostachys parvifolia, Phyllostachys praecox, Phyllostachys viridiglaucescens, Phyllostachys vivax (and forms).
Whitelea Nursery, Tansley, Matlock, Derbyshire. Telephone: 01629 5501