Bamboo will grow in most soil types, whether it be clay-based soil or sand. They have a very shallow root system (about 30cm for smaller bamboos and about 50cm for larger ones), thus the type of soil is more or less unimportant (though good top soil obviously helps). What is important rather, is 'feeding' the bamboo on-top of the soil with a good thick mulch layer and regular fertilising.
Most bamboos like reasonably well drained soil and they dont like to be growing in swampy areas or areas that get inundated with water for longer periods of time.
Most of our bamboos are sold in plastic planter bags. The best way to remove the bags is to cut the bag open and pull off. There is no need to mound up the soil around the plant so just plant it at ground level, leaving a bit of a moat around it to collect water. The exception to this is if the area where you are planting is wet or swampy, in which case its a good idea to mound up the area around where you are planting.
Sometimes, the bamboo plants that we sell can be fairly tall and may not have the strength to remain upright when exposed to the elements. If this is the case, you may put a stake in and tie the bamboo to it. This is more just for visual appearances rather than doing the plant a service. The original culms (stems) and foliage that is on the plant at time of purchase is not going to grow anymore, rather new growth in going to be from new shoots growing from the ground up. This is why it doesnt really matter how the existing culms look.
Following the planting of bamboo, it is crucial that they be well watered for the first month or two, by this we mean a good deep soaking every couple of days. Once they are established (after a couple of months), watering requirements become less stringent. Bamboo plants (once established) are very hardy and will not die if left unwatered, though having said this, they do like a regular watering and will definately give more rewarding results if watered on a regular basis.
Bamboo thrives if watered with grey water (household wastewater) or growing ontop of infiltratation beds or areas utilising pump-out soaker systems. Bamboo has the capacity to soak up large amounts of wastewater thus making it ideal in 'cleansing' wastewater treatment areas.
As mentioned above, bamboo loves a good mulch layer. By mulching the soil around the bamboo, you're doing 3 things:
- Reducing moisture loss
- Providing organic matter to the plant (which decomposes and 'feeds' the bamboo).
- Preventing grass / weeds from growing up around the plant.
The best types of mulch is basically anything organic that can decompose to enrich the soil and thus providing the bamboo with nutrients. Raking up leaves around the plants is a good start. Some other options are sugar cane mulch, hay or straw. Even green grass clippings will do the trick.
Dont worry about keeping the mulch away from the stems of the bamboo (as is the case with trees) - this does not effect bamboo. New shoots emerging from the ground will find their way through the mulch layer.
Bamboo loves nitrogen - all grasses do, and afterall, bamboo is a type of grass.
At Bamboo Land, the only fertiliser we use is Incitec Pivot CK88 (Crop King 88). It is a great all-rounder for all the bamboos, gingers and heliconias that we grow, aswell as palms, lawns and other tropical plants.
It is a granular fertiliser which means that it is spread on top of the soil and then watered in. Half a handfull around each newly planted bamboo is enough - spread at a radius of about a foot from the plant (this encourages roots to grow outwards).
For mature clumps of bamboo, you may apply 5 to 10 hand fulls of CK88 around each clump (1 to 2 meter radius from the clump).
The times to add fertiliser is directly after planting and during the main growth season. The main growth occurs between November to April, thus fertilising around September or October gets them off to a good start for the year, and then you can ferilise again every one or two months up to about April.
There are other high-nitrogen fertilisers that will work just as good as CK88 - please ask your local farm supplier or nursery for recommendations.
Organic fertilisers like Blood-and-Bone, Dynamic Lifter, seaweed fertiliser or manures are all ok to use but will still benefit from additional nitrogen.
Bamboo, like most plants, does need a bit of TLC for it to look its best. A few years after planting a bamboo, the original (and younger) culms (stems) within the clump will start dying, possibly giving the clump an untidy appearance. It is at this stage that that its time to get crafty with the old pruning saw and secateurs. A quick half-hour will leave your bamboo looking refreshed and looking the way it was intended. It is up to the gardner as to how much should be cut out of the clump. In some situations, it may be desired that the clump be as bushy as possible (for screening purposes) in which case you would cut out very little. In other situations, it may be a more sparse look that is sought after, in which case a lot can be cut out leaving only one years shoots remaining.
The smaller bushier bamboos take quite well to cutting the tops of the bamboo to restrict their height. They usually have enough foliage to cover-up the cutoff stems, thus not spoiling the appearance of the plant. However, larger bamboos tend to look a little odd and distorted if the tops are cut off.
Branches can also be cut off according to effect desired. If your bamboo has branches low to the ground and you wish to have the culms more visible, then by all means prune off as much as you want.
A bamboo really can be 'shaped' to suit the garden or purpose for which it was planted.
A three year old G. Luteostriata before 'cleanup'
The same G. Luteostriata half an hour later