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A World of Bamboo

Bamboo In the Home or Terrace

Bamboo is an excellent subject for container planting. Many species adapt easily to life in a vessel, combining well with other plants. If grown indoors, bamboo is a tough houseplant tolerant of the dry conditions of a winter home. Aside from regular watering, they require little maintenance and upkeep.

By choosing an appropriate species, bamboo can be grown in a low light situation or full sun. Many dwarf varieties prefer shade and will tolerate a low light environment. Indocalamus tesselatus, with its large dark green leaves, would do well in this situation. Sasa palmata is also a good choice for low light.

A variegated leaf bamboo would contribute unusual color and texture in a cluster of indoor plants. The dwarf whitestripe bamboo, Pleioblastus fortunei, will handle low to medium light. Sasaella masamuneana albostriata, which has larger leaves and bolder variegation, is also a handsome choice. Variegated Simon’s bamboo, Pleioblastus simonii variegatus, is a striking plant that can grow upwards of five feet in a container. It has both wide and narrow leaves on the same plant, many of which are accented with fine white lines.

Where there is ample space and light, a Phyllostachys species would also adapt well indoors. Most of the timber bamboos can grow up to ten feet or more in a container. They can be kept smaller by confining their roots to a fourteen inches or smaller pot. A taller bamboo will provide a textured background for flowering plants or look attractive on its own. The Temple bamboo, Semiarundinaria fastuosa, is another good choice for a taller specimen. The canes on this species turn shades of red, providing a pleasing contrast with the dark green leaves. It is important to provide these taller species with ample light. In low light, new shoots will be under developed and unable to support themselves.

There are many bamboos that are not winter hardy in Arkansas but would do well indoors. Most of these are taller varieties and require bright light or a sunny window. The many cultivars of Bambusa multiplex make handsome indoor plants. Bambusa multiplex ‘Alphonse Karr’ has striped culms that arch at the tips, giving it a graceful appearance. These are large-scale plants that require a bit of space when mature. Confining the roots in a smaller pot will keep it in scale with the average room.

Another good choice would be the marbled bamboo, Chimonobambusa marmorea. The variegated form is also handsome. These two have tightly clustered smaller leaves and should grow to four to five feet in a container. The square bamboo, Chimonobambusa quadrangularis, has an upright habit and can grow between six to eight feet in a container. Chimonobambusa species are active growers in the fall and winter and will grow best in bright light.

Containerized bamboo plants should not be left outside over winter. The root system, which would be protected in the ground, will not tolerate being frozen. If space in the house is limited, any size plant can be brought into a frost-free area over winter. Most taller bamboo need a period of dormancy and can tolerate temperatures just above freezing. While dormant (35° - 45° F) all hardy bamboos can be stored in a low light area. As temperatures warm in the spring, however, these higher light plants must have adequate sun to sustain new spring growth.

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Bamboo in the Landscape

Bamboo can serve many uses in the landscape. Different sizes and growth habits make this a versatile family and useful in many sites. The form and texture of a mature planting is unusual in the modern landscape and provides a welcome contrast to existing plantings. A wide choice of leaf shapes and sizes can create a delicate look or have a tropical appearance. Variegated leaves can add to the bold effect.

The range of heights of bamboo is also an asset to the landscape. Taller species can form dense hedges or open groves, creating a boundary or enclosed area. Shorter varieties make handsome hedges or borders. Dwarf bamboo can be used as groundcovers and can tolerate dry, shady conditions.

All hardy bamboo can tolerate deep freezes, outlasting annuals and tender perennials in the fall garden. Many species are evergreen, providing interest for both the gardener and wildlife. A dusting of snow in mid-winter yields a delicate scene that is unmatched in the plant world.

The length and severity of winter affect both the height and rate of growth of bamboo. Simply put, the milder the winter, the more robust a plant will grow. Because of this, the same plant grown in the Ozarks and in Southern Arkansas would differ in how fast it spreads and how tall it will grow.

This makes it difficult to predict the exact height of a bamboo in a particular zone. The American Bamboo Society has collected data for years, now published yearly as a Source List. The listed height of a species often reflects its performance in ideal conditions.

Various northern growers are also compiling data: how tall bamboo will grow in less than ideal conditions. In the Ozarks and further north, the mature height will usually not be as tall as in the south. To further complicate the situation, a new planting can take years to achieve mature height. Only by closely observing bamboo year after year will growers be able to obtain and publish useful information that is specific to the species and the climate in which it is grown.

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