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One of the most useful plants on earth, bamboo can be eaten by humans and animals, used as a sustainable timber product for production of beautiful durable flooring and furniture, planted in gardens for use as screening or focal point and, given the proper skill set, flown around and bounced on during pitched battle against an evil witch ninja who is trying to kill you.
In many of these scenarios, Phyllostachys is the specific bamboo in use. Phyllostachys has many wonderful qualities, but its downside is that it cannot be happy staying in one place. It must wander. For this reason, city gardeners must take care to contain the space where a Phyllostachys is planted.
Growing in bamboo containers is a good idea, providing that the container is easy to remove when bamboo roots fill the soil space and the plant needs to have its roots pruned or divided. Phyllostachys planted in the ground should have a barrier of heavy black plastic planted in a trench completely surrounding the planting area.
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Family: Poaceae – Grass Family
Origin: Native to China – now around 75 species of Phyllostachys grow in temperate climates around the world.
Roots: All Phyllostachys have a spreading root system with rhizomes (underground stems) running outward from the parent plant.
Roots growing from rhizomes take in nutrients and culms (above-ground stems) rise up along the rhizome’s pathway. This enables bamboos to inhabit a large area. In Chinese forests this is a good thing, providing food for humans and wildlife, and timber as a renewable resource.
In city gardens this can easily cause plants to travel to areas they were not intended to go, causing problems for both plant owners and their neighbors.
For this reason we strongly recommend planting running bamboos in containers or with 60ml plastic bamboo liner.
Stems & leaves: Culms grow very fast to their full height in one growth period of about 5-8 weeks, emerging from the ground at their full width.
Most bamboo have plain green culms, but Phyllostachys is blessed with culms of several additional colors including yellow or black.
Some varieties grow in a zigzag pattern instead of straight up. Culms are usually hollow except at the nodes, the horizontal stripes on stems where leaf-forming stems emerge.
Phyllostachys are easily identified by a deep groove called a sulcus that stretches between nodes and is sometimes a different color than the culm.
Leaves stay on through winter and are replaced gradually through the growing season with old leaves falling and providing mulch at the base of the plant.
Size: Growing conditions, the age and size of the grove and genetics decide the ultimate size of an individual culm. Air pollution, compacted soil and freezing temperatures during winter all work to keep Phyllostachys smaller in Portland than it would grow in its native habitat.
A grove will produce full-size culms after 10-15 years and usually the smaller culms are older. If you limit the size of the root system as we have recommended, it will also limit the plant’s ability to grow to its full potential.
There are at least 75 species of Phyllostachys and 200 or so cultivated varieties, so there is a great size range available.
Culms can be more slender than ½ inch or fatter than 12 inches in their native habitat and some species are listed to grow 70-100 feet tall. The largest we’ve seen in the Portland area is 35-40 feet tall with 6-7 inch culms - not to say that larger plants do not exist.
Water: If bamboos are planted in the ground, water them regularly during the period after planting to establish a strong root system, and back off once they are established, just giving a few deep drinks in summer.
Plants grown in containers will need regular water.
Fertilizer: The most important time to apply fertilizer is in early spring when new shoots are forming. Use fertilizer that has a full range of nutrients including phosphorus and potassium with a relatively higher amount of nitrogen. Many lawn foods are suitable, as is manure.
Bamboos can develop leaf-burn when too much salt-based fertilizer is used, so stagger applications of salt-based fertilizer with other forms of food.
Plants grown in containers rely mostly on humans for nutrients, so providing fertilizing is important.
Light & hardiness: Phyllostachys prefers to grow in full sun, at least 6 hours a day. Hardiness varies with species – all are hardy in the Portland area.
Diseases: Aphids and mites are the most common problems encountered in the Northwest, with sooty mildew following if infestations are allowed to get a foothold.
Aphids and mites are sucking insects that can cause damage to leaves. Sooty mildew, a black mold, feeds on the secretions of sucking insects. Several insecticides are available to combat bug problems.