Phil DudmanTo grow, or not to grow BAMBOO?

To grow or not to grow… BAMBOO? It’s a big question, because in most gardening circles, bamboo has a pretty bad rap. I’m sure many of us have seen or heard the horror stories of running bamboo, escaping gardens, under neighbour’s fences, even under concrete pathways on its merry way to causing heartache and misery. I have many times, and in the past had to deal with a number of invasive issues for clients when I worked in professional garden maintenance and construction… and it nearly killed me… but still, I love bamboo.

Harvested canes of Buddha belly bamboo

It’s such a beautiful and useful plant to have in the garden, even small gardens. I have two different varieties in my garden… they are not the crazy running types… I’m not that mad. These are clumping varieties, so they are far better behaved, although, they still require regular maintenance in a smaller garden… and I’ll get to that later. I grow two varieties… the first is ‘Buddha Belly’, named so for the unusual swellings in the stems, between the nodes or leaf joints… they look just like the big bulging belly of the laughing Buddha.

Bamboo Super-screen

The other is ‘Weaver’s Bamboo’, a tall upright clumper that produces lots of lovely long straight canes of various thicknesses, from 10mm up to 50mm, which I why I chose to plant this one so that I have plenty of material for building frames and supports in my vegie patch. Both of them look stunning in my backyard and have created the perfect screen to provide privacy and shade… in fact, when I started building my garden 5 years ago we were totally exposed, and these two beauties shot up very quickly to create an almost instant cover… much quicker than any alternative tree or shrub choices would have.

OK… now for the down side of clumping bamboos. Despite being far better behaved than their nasty running brothers, the base of the clumps continue to grow and expand and over time creeping towards fences and other structures and generally taking over surrounding spaces. So once you have your clump established to the desired size, you need to get in at least once a year… preferably in the cooler season… and remove any offending shoots. Fortunately, it’s a reasonably easy task… and when you think about it, any fast growing screen tree or shrub needs regular maintenance too. What you need for the job is a pruning saw, mattock and a sharp axe. Start by cutting the unwanted stems close to the base, then with your mattock, chip around the base to expose its roots. Once that’s done, use your axe to chop it away from the main clump. It’s a physical job… but not as hard as it sounds. To prove it, you can watch this video of me hacking away at my clump of Buddha Belly.

One bit of good advice, when you plant your clumping bamboo, position it far enough away from fence lines, buildings and other plants to allow you plenty of free space to carry out your annual maintenance.

So there you go… should you plant bamboo in a backyard? Well, it’s really up to you, but if you’re prepared to put in that regular maintenance, you’re bound to enjoy this beautiful and very useful plant.

SBS Harvest

Here’s something all gardeners and aspiring vegie growers will love. National broadcaster SBS will soon launch a new online gardening project called ‘Harvest’. It’s a weekly documentary that records the journey of an inspiring bunch of people living in one of Perth’s best known high-rise public housing precincts. The show follows the group and how their lives are enriched through gardening as they convert a wasted block of land into a beautiful meeting place and highly productive community garden. It’s a heartwarming story, and as an added bonus, there will be a week-by-week guide to setting up your own productive patch in your backyard or balcony, with lots of tips for assessing your site and soil, to building beds, composting, fertilising, problem solving and of course, harvesting your home-grown crops. It all kicks off on September 17. Simply head to https://www.facebook.com/SBSHarvest and ‘like’ the page to follow the story and keep up with the posts.

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11 thoughts on “To grow, or not to grow BAMBOO?

  1. Amanda on said:

    Hi Phil,
    Thanks for you post on bamboo. Have you had any experience growing it in pots? I wouldn’t mind a big pot of it next to my outdoor shower for the tropical feel.
    Cheers,
    Amanda

  2. Stu Burns on said:

    Hi Phil, nice article. Can you eat the shoots of the varieties you have when you cut them back?

  3. judy luten on said:

    I have Buddha Belly Bamboo in my yard. Noticed a few day ago that my plant was sending out a stock twice the size of my other stocks with leaves at the top. Not sure if it’s a bloom or just new growth. Can you tell me what it is for sure?
    Thanks
    Judy

    • Hi Judy, I have found that once the Buddha Belly variety settles in (after a few years), it starts producing thicker longer canes as you have experienced. These can be trimmed or cut back at the base if you think they are too tall

  4. ben on said:

    Hi Phil, Any idea how Budda Belly will perform in a fairly shady spot (under a large pine tree) in the lower Blue Mountains? Is yours the giant variety?

    • Hi Ben. Mine is a giant variety. The spot you describe is not ideal… but worth a try

  5. Werner Zimmer on said:

    Hi Phil,
    I am moving to Stanthorpe, QLD. As we will have frost there in Winter can
    I plant the Buddha Belly Bamboo or any other variety there?
    Thank You
    Werner

  6. Cheyenne on said:

    Hi Phil, just a question about the Buddha belly, im just wondering if you can use the bamboo say as a fence or to build a chicken coop?? do you know how long the bamboo will last for?

    • Phil Dudman on said:

      Hi Cheyenne
      It is best to dry or ‘cure’ the bamboo first http://www.guaduabamboo.com/blog/drying-bamboo-poles. Buddha Belly is attractive, but due to its unusual shape it’s not the best choice for construction. There are lots of other straighter varieties that would be easier to work with

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