Green Grass of Home
Bamboo can be a thing of beauty or a scourge. It pays to do some research before you plant.
“Some ornamental bamboos with striped or swollen canes also make nice specimens for focal points in a garden,” says Eric Schmidt, who has been the bamboo “go-to” guy at Harry P. Leu Gardens in Orlando for 21 years.
Schmidt, who oversees the Bamboo Collection and other tropicals, says bamboo has two main types of growth: clumping and running. “Central Florida’s subtropical climate is ideally suited for growing more than 50 different varieties of clumping bamboo, which can range in height from a few feet to nearly 100 feet tall. The easiest to grow here are bamboo that belong to the genus Bambusa,” he says. “Many of these are cold-hardy and all of them are clumping—meaning they don’t run and take over.” In Central Florida, the best large timber bamboo is Bambusa oldhamii, which grows 50 to 60 feet tall and is hardy to 20 degrees.
A member of the grass family, bamboo has thicker stems, or culms, that grow from underground rhizomes—its root system. Bamboo has growth periods during the summer when the new shoots emerge and grow fast, reaching their ultimate height in a few weeks. “This occurs one to three times during a season, depending on the variety,” Schmidt says.
Most homeowners opt for clumping bamboo because it can be easily controlled and managed. Running bamboo can be a problem. “It forms clumps initially, but once established, it sends out underground rhizomes,” he says. “New shoots can emerge as much as 20 to 30 feet from the original clump, becoming a nuisance and invading your neighbor’s yard.” Fortunately, most of the bamboo sold in local nurseries is of the clumping variety.
One of the best bamboos for forming a screen, Schmidt says, is Bambusa textilis, or Weaver’s Bamboo, which is very dense and tight-growing. The typical species can grow to 40 feet tall, but there are some shorter cultivated varieties. Gracilis grows to only 20 feet tall with similar leaves and a graceful look. It’s one of the bestsellers at Beautiful Bamboo in Groveland, west of Orlando. “It’s a fast grower—good for screening in tight places,’’ says manager Jennifer Baehne. “Most of our customers buy it because they want something that looks pretty and gives privacy.”
Just-planted bamboo can sometimes develop new canes, but usually it begins growing the following year after planting. “Most bamboo love full sun, but some will grow in shade as long as it is bright shade,” says Schmidt. “The deeper the shade, the more sparse and open it will grow.”In Central Florida, bamboo can be planted year-round, but the best time is in late spring and summer. “Our warm rainy season allows the bamboo to establish faster,” Schmidt says. “It loves water when it is first planted, so the daily rain in summer is beneficial.” Once a clump is established, regular irrigation will suffice.
If you’re thinking about planting a stand of bamboo, but you’re not sure which variety is right for your landscape, visit Leu Gardens, where you can check out and walk among the 35 species and cultivars—some of which have been growing for more than 30 years. And when you’re ready to buy, make an appointment to visit Beautiful Bamboo in Groveland, which has 1-gallon pots of common varieties starting at $25 up to more than $600 for a 30-gallon container of the more exotic types. leugardens.org, beautifulbamboo.com