How to prune clumping bamboo


I’ve known many people who are afraid to plant any kind of bamboo, even a clumping type, for fear it will take over their yard — and with good reason. Here in Austin, many a back yard is clogged with running bamboo, which is often planted for privacy along a fence but quickly metastasizes, spreading across the lawn and into the neighbors’ yards as well.

Clumping bamboos, however, don’t “run,” making them garden-safe.* Even so, they grow vigorously enough to require regular pruning in order to look their best. Take ‘Alphonse Karr’ bamboo, for example (pictured here). I usually prune it twice a year, in late spring and early fall, to keep it from looking like a shaggy green beast and to give it shapely definition. Here it is in beast mode (above) — lots of leaves amid a thicket of culms (the canes) that are arching over the gutters and blocking a window.


And here it is after an admittedly exuberant pruning. I removed about a quarter of the culms entirely, all the way to the ground (never cut them off halfway, which causes ugly side growth), and limbed up others, revealing the green-and-yellow stripes on the exposed canes.


I start by trimming off the side branches that grow along the culms, starting at ground level and pruning up to just above my head. How high up you prune should depend on the height of the bamboo. You do still want to have plenty of leaves up top to keep the plant healthy.


Using a pair of sharp bypass pruners, clip off the stems close to the culm, holding onto them with your free hand to keep from making a mess below. Just toss them in a bin for composting later. And be careful not to nick your free hand with the pruners!


I use a long-handled pruner for getting into the culms and pruning out weak ones or those leaning over the gutter. I also thin out culms that spread beyond the original planting.


And that’s it. It’s a pretty Zen activity, really. Here’s another look at the overgrown beast, before pruning. Nothing wrong with this, of course, if you need a green screen that won’t run, but it’s too much for a small space like this one.


And here it is after an hour of pruning. Leggy, airy, and out of the gutter!

Here are a few more bamboo-pruning resources:

I first learned about limbing up bamboo on the Austin blog Growing Optimism, which also features a nifty bamboo-and-zip-tie fence to hold leaning canes away from paths: Growing bamboo in a narrow space – pros, cons, and a solution for support

For expert advice, watch Cass Turnbull of Plant Amnesty explain how to prune bamboo: How to Prune Bamboo – Instructional Video w/ Plant Amnesty

Also, watch Austin’s own Merrideth Jiles share his extensive knowledge of bamboo, including pruning tips, on Central Texas Gardener: Bamboo Basics | Merredith Jiles |Central Texas Gardener

And finally, here’s a helpful list of clumping bamboos for Austin from The Great Outdoors nursery. By the way, although TGO’s guide says bamboo needs to be watered twice a week during Austin’s summers, I have not found this to be true in my garden. Once a week works fine for my established bamboos ‘Alphonse Karr’, ‘Tiny Fern’, and, to a lesser extent, Mexican weeping bamboo.

*Note: Clumpers do gradually expand but not aggressively. Please, do your research to learn which is which before buying. I can’t think of any reason to plant a runner, frankly.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Mark your calendar for the Inside Austin Gardens Tour on May 6, sponsored by Travis County Master Gardeners. This fun garden tour occurs every 18 months and features a mix of homegrown gardens “for gardeners, by gardeners,” as their tagline says.

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts — performances in private homes, which support musicians and give a small audience an up-close and personal musical experience — I’m hosting a series of garden talks by design speakers out of my home. Talks are limited-attendance events and generally sell out within just a few days, so join the Garden Spark email list for early notifications. Simply click this link and ask to be added.

Tropical cottage style in Diane and Tom Peace’s garden


Diane and Tom Peace of Lockhart, 30 miles south of Austin, live and garden in two very different regions: south-central Texas from winter through early spring, and Denver, Colorado, from late spring through fall. Tom, a grower and nurseryman, owns Texas Mountain Flora in Lockhart, operates a design business in Denver, and is author of the book Sunbelt Gardening. I’d seen his and Diane’s Lockhart garden on Central Texas Gardener, and so I jumped at the chance to visit after a mutual friend introduced us.


Although I’d seen it on CTG, I was still surprised, as I wandered the garden’s narrow limestone paths, by how tropical it feels with wine-red bromeliads (in containers), ferns, palms, and other bold-leaved plants, which mingle in cottage-garden exuberance with cool-season annuals, lush groundcovers, and flowering perennials.


Jungle fever! It looks a bit like Florida to me.


As their collection of shiny disco balls dangling from a tree makes clear, Tom and Diane are having fun with their garden, playfully experimenting with what can grow in our mild winters while still surviving summer’s heat and humidity.


Patio living is pretty great during the cooler months, when they’re in Texas.


Evergreen structural plants like nolina, palm, bamboo, and yucca keep the garden interesting even when frost has killed back the perennials. Potted tropicals on the patio and in garden beds make warm-season accents. (They have a greenhouse off the back of the house to protect these plants in winter.)


Several unique sculptural pieces accent the garden too, like this glass-block tower bringing light to a shady corner.


A gigantic rebar trellis erupts from the middle of a path…


…supporting a delicate, bell-flowered clematis.


So sweet


Looking at the rebar trellis from the other side


Their garden showcases an interesting juxtaposition of plants, like this aloe keeping company with violas and a little white daisy.


On one side the garden, a grass path cuts through a border of purple violas, oxalis, and other annuals, with wine-bottle edging or hose guards. At the end of the path, a colorful bent-metal post, folded like origami, beckons you forward.


Another view


Nearly black bromeliads and a squid agave grow along a gravel path…


…under the shade of an arching palm frond.


Palms and bamboo (a runner planted by a neighbor, Diane said, which they continually have to whack back) create a green screen along the fence line.


Echoing the rounded “head” and skinny trunk of a tall palm behind it, a Yucca rostrata was in spectacular bloom.


A spray of creamy white flowers rises above the strappy leaves.


Strappy foliage echoes


Diane couldn’t stay during the visit because of a family obligation, so I wasn’t able to ask about plant IDs. But I’m so glad for the chance to explore her and Tom’s unique garden and hope to see their Denver garden one day too — which she says is bigger and even more enjoyable for them because of the lower humidity and lack of mosquitoes, the banes of summer gardening in Central Texas. But for winter through spring gardening, well, Texas has Denver beat!


Thanks for the lovely garden visit, Diane!

P.S. My friend Diana joined me on this garden visit, so you might at some point find more pics on her blog, Sharing Nature’s Garden.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Mark your calendar for the Inside Austin Gardens Tour on May 6, sponsored by Travis County Master Gardeners. This fun garden tour occurs every 18 months and features a mix of homegrown gardens “for gardeners, by gardeners,” as their tagline says.

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts — performances in private homes, which support musicians and give a small audience an up-close and personal musical experience — I’m hosting a series of garden talks by design speakers out of my home. Talks are limited-attendance events and generally sell out within just a few days, so join the Garden Spark email list for early notifications. Simply click this link and ask to be added.

Let’s take a walk around the garden


Live oak leaf and pollen season is finally over, and the patios are clean again, hallelujah! This calls for a spring garden stroll, so let’s go.


I’ve been playing with a squid theme on one wall of the upper patio. A couple of tentacle pots from Tentacle Arts contain squid-like Tillandsia xerographica, accompanied by a few metal squids and a ceramic succulent that looks like an anemone. I recently moved a table over here to display some potted plants.


In Moby’s old spot, a new whale’s tongue agave (A. ovatifolia) is getting established. Grow, agave, grow! Behind it, the succulent wall has had a spring refresh and is looking good again.


A barbed-wire star gives a Texas twist to one of my new pie-pan succulent planters. A faded star outline on the fence shows where I used to have a different piece of garden art. Apparently I have a fondness for stars as well as squids.


I’ve also refreshed or tidied up the winter-weary pots on the porch steps.


Walking around back by the pool, you can see the soap aloes (A. maculata) in bloom.


I adore these showy, candelabra-like flowers, and so do the bees and hummingbirds.


The pond garden, with winter-bleached bamboo muhly (Muhlenberia dumosa) starting to green up again behind a curved line of ‘Color Guard’ yuccas. ‘Winter Gem’ boxwood balls anchor the “doorways.”


Opposite the yuccas, a curved line of blue-green heartleaf skullcap (Scutellaria ovata) plays off the shed colors.


In a few more weeks, it’ll start blooming.


We gave the deck a refresh this spring, which included redoing the stairs. Once narrow, rickety, and squeezed onto the left side of the deck, we had them extended from the outer edge and widened to a generous 8 feet for better access to the garden. To make room for the new stairs, I had to dig up and move a few plants, but I like the simpler look. We also replaced the deck rail’s old, jail-like, vertical balusters with galvanized welded wire and the old lattice skirting with horizontal boards. Let’s walk up…


…and view the pond from the deck. The Louisiana iris is still blooming in the pond, adding a spot of rich color amid all the greens.


Walking up the side-yard path, you pass the Yucca rostrata, one of my favorite plants that’s really grown over the past couple of years. The pomegranate is blooming beside it. Beyond is ‘Blue Ice’ Arizona cypress, which I’ve had to limb up for walking under it.


Up the path and looking back, here’s the opposite view. The upright vertical shrub on the right is ‘Will Fleming’ yaupon holly, and the little tree on the left, just past the blue pot, is weeping redbud ‘Traveller’.


Outside the gate, in the front yard, a Mediterranean fan palm (Chamaerops humilis) holds court by a bench. The golden shrub just visible in front is ‘Eureka Gold’ dwarf yaupon.


It colors up beautifully in spring but then goes green summer through winter.


Moving around to the front garden, the Berkeley sedge (Carex divulsa) lawn is greening up with warmer weather. It doesn’t exactly turn brown in winter, but it definitely takes on a tawnier hue during the cooler months. On the edge, Jerusalem sage (Phlomis fruticosa) is blooming. Wouldn’t that ‘Eureka Gold’ yaupon look pretty beside it? I’ll have to give that some thought. Paleleaf yucca (Y. pallida) looks good with it too.


The ‘Green Goblet’ agave near the driveway is recovering from antlering damage from the deer last fall, and putting on new growth.


And along the front of the house, in the shade of live oaks and a Japanese maple, native river ferns (Thelypteris kunthii) create a cool, lush look along a dry stream.

Thanks for coming along with me on this garden stroll! Are you changing up anything for spring in your garden?

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
_______________________

Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Mark your calendar for the Inside Austin Gardens Tour on May 6, sponsored by Travis County Master Gardeners. This fun garden tour occurs every 18 months and features a mix of homegrown gardens “for gardeners, by gardeners,” as their tagline says.

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts — performances in private homes, which support musicians and give a small audience an up-close and personal musical experience — I’m hosting a series of garden talks by design speakers out of my home. Talks are limited-attendance events and generally sell out within just a few days, so join the Garden Spark email list for early notifications. Simply click this link and ask to be added.

All material © 2006-2017 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

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