How much water does my bamboo need?

Most people are planting in subdivisions or areas that are well drained. Bamboos need water especially to get started. I recommend installing a drip line or a soaker hose to make this easy. The first two weeks I suggest watering everyday after that the plants should be watered three times a week. Once the plants are established you might be able to back that down to twice a week depending upon the site. The bamboo roots are very shallow so they will dry out quickly. On the bright side they will enhance their surrounding by growing a large root system and by dropping leaves that compost and mulch the ground. Our dry season tends to be in the spring so they may need more water during that season.

How can I tell if my bamboo is dry?

The bamboo leaves will curl to conserve water. The next step is that the leaves turn yellow and eventually fall off. Even at this point the plant can be revived by watering daily until new leaves emerge.

What do I do with the leaves that drop?

Tropical bamboos or clumping bamboos will drop between 50-80 % of their leaves every year. I like to say that they are meticulous cleaners and discard any damaged leaf in the spring between February and May. These leaves are food for the plant and it is important that they be allowed to mulch the soil. They protect the small root structure of the plant that comes to the surface and allow for high levels of mycorrhizal activity. This is part of the magic that makes bamboo such an amazing cleaner of toxic soils. The leaves also provide the exact nutrients that the plant needs to grow. I do sometimes rake them up and use them on the garden or make a compost tea from them if they get really deep but in general I let them be.

What spacing should I plant to achieve a solid coverage?

While I have had some clients plant bamboos in a trench for a more instant effect I generally recommend 3-5′ on center for the smaller bamboos and 5-10′ on center for the larger ones. The smaller bamboos will grow together easily while the larger ones may compete for space when they are planted closer then 5′. Of course they can always be moved later on or one can go with survival of the fittest. I also recommend planting them 3-5′ off of any fence line unless you don’t care what happens to the fence. Bamboos grow fast but not so fast that you can’t trim or maintain them to the space given.

What fertilizer should I use?

Bamboos are giant grasses so any fertilizer for grass will work for bamboos. I like time release because they feed over a period of time. Manure and compost are perfect especially to plant into. Like bananas bamboos are heavy feeders so the more you feed the faster they grow.

How can I use bamboos in permaculture?

When planting other plants with bamboos it is necessary to plant them at the same time. Once the bamboo is established plants cannot be easily added. The bamboos will take up all of the soil space therefore consuming all of the nutrients and water. Bamboos are a great addition to the permaculture garden. Poles can be used for staking, trellising, and for building. Guilds are easier to establish with running bamboos then with tropicals since the ground real estate is not completely consumed by the root system. Ground covers are the best long term partners.