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LeBeau Bamboo Nursery      Medford, Oregon 541-499-4992

Bamboo Grove Maintenance and Thinning

Posted on April 2nd, 2015 by LeBeau Bamboo Nursery in Bamboo Care and Maintenance
Like any other plant, bamboo needs regular maintenance after establishment. This mostly involves trimming away dead or unhealthy sections each summer. On most species, culms live for only seven years and begin to look unhealthy after the fifth or sixth year. The vibrant colors present in the younger culms tend to fade to yellow-greens or grays and many branches, especially those near the bottom, begin to die. Once a culm reaches this stage, it should be removed. However, removing live culms should only be done to mature, healthy plants and no more than one third should be removed each year. Going over this limit saps the plant's ability to generate new growth the following year and may cause shoots to form incorrectly or abort entirely.

Thinning a Grove

Generally, hardy clumping bamboos need very little maintenance. The canes live much longer than those of running varieties, and the dead canes often do little to affect the plant's health or appearance.

The canes of most running bamboos usually live between five and seven years, depending on the species and size of the grove. Because of the way bamboo plants grow, the old canes are usually the smallest and have been outcompeted by the new growth. Ideally, each year the oldest canes should be removed from the grove to make way for new growth. This keeps the grove open, which is important for allowing new canes to produce thick foiage.

When thinning a grove, first cut out any dead or dying canes. Be sure to cut the canes as low to the ground as possibe and parallel with the ground to avoid creating sharp tripping hazards. After removing the dead and dying canes, look for canes that get significantly less sunlight than the others. Each cane should get at least filtered light at some point during the day. However, no more than about 1/4 to 1/5 of the total living canes should be removed in a single season. Thinning too many canes will often result in reduced growth the following season.

The best time to thin a grove is during the summer after the new shoots have leafed out. At this time, the plant is the least dependent on stored energy. Additionally, the canes will store better as they have the lowest starch content.

The ideal spacing between canes depends on the species and the purpose of the grove. Canes can be spaced closer together when a visual barrier is desired. When attempting to encourage a plant to reach a greater height, greater distances between canes is often desired. For many timber bamboos, a person should be able to easily walk between the canes in the grove.

The canes of this Phyllostachys vivax grove are spaced several feet apart.

Because this plant serves as a screen, the canes are much closer together.
After removing thinning a grove, it should be mulched with compost, leaves, or woodchips.

Topping Canes

If your bamboo is a new division or root systems were damaged during planting, the plant may have to be defoliated in order to reduce the stress on the roots. Plants can also be trimmed to a uniform height or density for purposes of appearance. Thinning can be achieved by cutting branches to half length. This reduces the amount of foliage on the plant, while keeping it looking healthy. To reduce the height of a bamboo, cut the culm right above a node (where the branch is attached). For culms with a diameter of over an inch, use a saw rather than loppers. Although new leaves may be produced, the culm will not grow new branches or gain height after being cut. The plant will remain the same height until the next shooting season.

Freeze Damage

When growing bamboo species that are borderline when it comes to cold hardiness, portions of canes will often be damaged during the winter. Sometimes plants can freeze to the ground (this is common for Borinda species) during particularly harsh winters. As long as the bamboo's rhizome system remains intact, new shoots will emerge in the spring.

In late spring, after the damaged canes have sprouted new leaves, dead or heavily damaged portions should be removed.

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