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Grooming your bamboo

A bamboo grown well in the right place is striking, and more are being planted nowadays with the fashion for creating a tropical or jungle effect. Early summer is the time they put up new shoots from energy stored in their underground rhizomes. It is also the time to take action to make your clump look its best.

There are three things to do. Firstly Have a good look at your bamboo. See where the new shoots are coming from, and importantly, in which direction they are growing. Many do not go straight up, but have a tilt on them. Have a good look at the older stems too. (Culms is their proper name.) You need to decide which, if any, to remove to make the clump look balanced and well spaced. Any weak, damaged spindly shoots can go. A clump of ten fat straight stems will be more impressive than a thicket of twenty weak ones. Then be brave, cut out the unwanted stems completely to their base. The new growth will be soft and easy to cut, the older culms will be tougher.

The above photo shows a lovely fat new shoot on the left, which had to go because it would have obstructed the door (the photo below shows after thinning out). Some further thinning will probably be required as more new shoots appear.

Next clear the side shoots off the lower part of the new growth. They can be snapped off easily with your fingers at this stage. This will show off the coloured stems, and in the case of black bamboo (Phyllostachys nigra) allow sunlight to reach the stems which will deepen their colour.

Lastly, give the plant a feed. Bamboos are in the family Poaceae; they are grasses. Feed with lawn food or any general purpose fertiliser. Make sure you keep them moist, and give them a good soak in prolonged dry periods.

If you are growing a thicket of bamboo as a windbreak, screen or boundary none of this is relevant, and it would rapidly become impossible on a large scale anyway. Older cut canes are useful as plant supports. For those of us who can have bonfires, note that burning bamboo makes loud bangs as air trapped between the nodes heats and expands then pops. This will delight some (but not others).