Whether this is your first year tending a garden or your bamboo garden is flourishing, it’s important to remember that caring for your garden goes beyond just planting the seeds. By being tactical in pruning, you can increase the health and beauty of all the plants in your garden, whether they be flower, bamboo or vegetable!
Essentially, pruning is the act of discarding old plant materials to allow new growth. “Older” stems are not able to absorb and utilize the nutrients from the root system as well as newer growth so they wither, brown and wilt which distracts from the beauty of your garden oasis.
Specific to bamboo, pruning improves their overall health by preventing the overpopulation of canes that have reached the end of their life cycle. These canes will rarely fall off on their own and removal of the canes will help stimulate new growth. If your bamboo garden is still in the beginning stages, pruning is not yet required. Usually the grove must be established which takes 3 to 5 growing seasons. That, of course, all depends on climate zone, water, sunlight, soil and bamboo type!
If you have running bamboo, maintenance is not just about keeping your garden beautiful. Controlling the rhizomes of running bamboo keeps it from running out of control. Mark the area where you want the bamboo to remain with a string or shovel. At this point, you are focusing more on root pruning. Most bamboo plant’s rhizomes are not very far beneath the surface of the soil (less than a foot usually) so you can use a spade or small shovel to dig to them. Another maintenance method is to dig a narrow trench around the stand of bamboo and check it yearly to see if any rhizomes have tried to cross it. Stop them in their tracks with your garden shears to keep your neighbors happy!
Looking above the ground, there are several ways to prune bamboo. When determining your pruning pattern, it’s important to keep in mind the function that bamboo plants serve in your garden. Take a moment to step back and envision your garden as you would like it to appear. Mark problem culms first and take another step back to see how their removal will affect your aesthetics.
If you are using it as a bamboo screen, don’t sacrifice privacy to remove canes. If a cane still has some foliage, leave it be until the next year. For older culms, remove new shoots that have a larger diameter than the current culms. Once removed, newer growth will be smaller in diameter.
If the bamboo is lining a walkway in your garden, trim the lower limbs to remove a tripping hazard. Trimming the lower parts of the bamboo is often referred to as “limbing” bamboo or “legging up.” Once cut, the lower limbs will not grow again and if done properly, will give your walkway a very stately appearance.
If you are using dwarf bamboo as groundcover, cutting it to the ground is quite rejuvenating for the plant. When new growth appears, it will be denser and even shorter making a more attractive ground cover.
If you are more interested in achieving a topiary appearance, you can “top” your bamboo by removing the upper portion. Once the bamboo is “topped” it will stop growing vertically but will generate more foliage to compensate for the loss of height, giving the plant a lush look. Make sure to leave some viable limbs and cut about ¼ inch above the node.
Thankfully, bamboo is a low maintenance plant and usually only needs pruned, limbed or topped once a year (usually in the spring or summer) with only minor trimming required in between. You will only need garden shears and/or shovel and spade and a little sweat to keep your bamboo garden healthy and beautiful!
Make sure to invest in quality bamboo clothing to help wick away the sweat and keep you cool and comfortable while you work in or simply enjoy your garden!