Friday, June 22, 2012

Bamboo Plant Screen in Colorado (so far)

Last year, when we decided to try to screen our deck with plants, we thought long and hard about what plants to use. Tall, native grasses were a recurring theme; but I was never quite comfortable with either the seasonal timing or the level of privacy it would offer. Fritz put his foot down on evergreens, or needle trees, as he calls them, because "they belong in the forest." A lot of shrubs we considered were too slow growing or too short to be desirable. We had built a large 4 foot wide, 24" deep planter in an L shape around our deck: this would allow the plants to grow higher than if we planted them directly into the ground. Our goal was to create a 8-10' tall greenery screen that would screen the deck year-round.
June 2012: Level of screening.
It seemed like a big jump to put in bamboo. It's not a native plant. It likes water and Colorado is gets little rain. It likes humidity and Colorado is low humidity. A lot of bamboo varieties grow in the understory and we planned to plant it in full sun. Also, there are a lot of bamboo horror stories out there. I felt relatively certain we were opening ourselves up to a big I-TOLD-YOU-SO further down the road. Nonetheless, we did it. We are (merely) in our second season, but I don't regret it a bit. In fact, I'm loving it. I've read online that this attitude is typical bamboo newbie naiveté. I'm going with it.

We spent some time researching all the different kinds of bamboo before we bought. There are many, many different varieties. We researched what varieties other people in Colorado had tried. Finally, we bought most of our bamboo from an online dealer, Lewis Bamboo: Rubro and Spectabilis varieties, to be exact. From the local nursery we also picked up Yellow Grove and Bissetii. All of these bamboos are running, not clumping; and choosing these running bamboos was intentional: we wanted to fill the planter as densely as possible. And we hoped - no, we hope (still) - it will not be able to escape the 24" deep planter. Lewis Bamboo's website has a lot of information about bamboo that ultimately made us feel like we would be able to control its spread, in the event that it does escape. (Nonetheless, I would strongly urge anyone planning on planting bamboo to research barrier methods and plan your strategy before planting.) In our situation, the bamboo is also planted on a corner, so if it does manage to escape the planter, it will be forced to escape across the street AND across the right of way before it invades the neighbors. Oh, yes, and there's the fact that bamboo is NOT a native species for good reason. It's survival here in Colorado is dependent on a variable over which we have A LOT of control: water.

A water tube feeds the bamboo daily in the summer.
In the winter, we water it with the hose when the temperature gets into the 80s.
Bamboo stays mostly green year round. Above ground, it only grows for about 2 months out of the year. The rest of the year, it's busy growing underground. It looses all its leaves just before new shoots pop up in the spring, and during this period it looks horrible.

Fortunately, the days of bamboo brown-ery were short lived (1 or 2 months, tops) and now the bamboo has grown back greener and thicker than before. The information I've read claims it takes bamboo about 3 years before it's established. That would mean we are still 2 years away from established. Established would be defined as new stalks (culms) emerging at their full diameter (about an 1") and growing to their full height (about 10', we think). Currently, the culms are a quarter- to half-an-inch in diameter and about 6'-7' tall. The already-emerged-culms will not grow any taller or thicker for their entire life. They will simply loose their leaves and grow new leaves each spring. The bamboo we bought from the nursery was pretty root-bound. It looked good when we put it in, because it had bigger culms, was taller, and there was more of it. But it wasn't as good a 'grower' as the bamboo we ordered online. The online bamboo grew everywhere. The nursery bamboo mostly grew in the same spot.

Shortly after planting bamboo in June 2011
This year the bamboo is much more evenly dispersed.
There are also a lot of plant pots to distract your eye, no? I'm sneaky like that.
Over the years, I have often heard architects love bamboo for its aesthetic, and I always assumed that meant the strong vertical lines. At least, that is what photos like these would lead you to believe. And I do love those strong vertical lines of giant bamboos. However, for me, the unexpected pleasure in all this smaller bamboo is the way it moves in the wind. It's gorgeous and it makes a lovely, relaxing rustling sound. The bending and swaying is difficult to photograph, but that doesn't stop me from trying. Sheesh. I'm afraid to confess to how many hours I've spent trying to photograph it.

There are 12" tall blueberry bushes in the pots. They hardly move in the wind.
The bamboo behind it is bending like crazy.

Another unexpected pleasure is the beauty of the leaves, not just the culms. Some of the leaves on the Spectabilis have these amazing stripes that I've never seen on any kind of plant before.

Occasionally, the yellow Spectabilis culms have a green stripe in them as well.

Really fun. The Spectabilis wins for beauty out of all the bamboo types we planted.

Next update next year! (Since I seem to be a wee bit obsessed.)
Also, the deck, the planter.
The third season here.

4th Growing Season (not so good, no post exists)
5th Growing Season


Katie said...

Thriving bamboo in Colorado...I still can't get over it. :) Your deck is looking so summery. Love!

Pregnantly Plump said...

They're very pretty. I didn't realize there were so many different varieties.

co hippychik said...

How is your bamboo doing this year? I live in Castle Rock, CO and am planning on buying bamboo for a privacy fence from lewis bamboo.

co hippychik said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ann Wyse said...

Co Hippychik - it's doing well! This year's post (2013) can be found by clicking on the link "Next update next year!"

Michael Kuhn said...

I am thinking about trying some bamboo too, and I live in Golden. Which local nursery did you find that carried bamboo?

Michael Kuhn said...

I am thinking about trying some bamboo too, and I live in Golden. Which local nursery did you find that carried bamboo?

Ann Wyse said...

Michael - I bought ours at City Floral. I've also seen it at Paulino's.

Jorge Quiros said...

Hi i live in Fort Collins and I'm thinking of growing some bamboo also. i was wondering if you ever had any issues with it escaping the planter and if you had any other suggestions from the ones on your blog. Thanks.

Ann Wyse said...

Hi Jorge,

It has been in the planter for 5 growing seasons and still has not escaped.

I think there are two things which impact the bamboo greatly here in Colorado:

1) Hail/Late Spring Snowstorms. The new shoots (culms) are very easily damaged by the cold. I haven't managed to do this yet, but if you could figure out how to protect the bamboo in late spring from hail and snow, that would be good.

2) Temperatures below 0 degrees Fahrenheit. In a mild winter (like this one, 2015-2016), the bamboo doesn't die at all. Below 0, it will live, but it will require dead portions to be removed in the early summer. I'm not sure how to solve the problem of very low temperatures. One commenter suggested covering the bamboo in the winter. I haven't tried it yet.