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Well-Behaved Bamboo

"The borindas are coming on as a big deal," says Jackie Heinricher, proprietor of the wholesale bamboo nursery Boo-Shoot Gardens. If you can picture a 35- to 45-foot-tall, noninvasive timber bamboo with powder blue canes, you'll have an idea why Borinda boliana will storm the market when it is released in 2006. . . .


Jackie Heinricher answers gardeners' most common bamboo questions.

Q: All bamboos run, don't they?

A: No. There are at least 19 genera with hundreds of species of noninvasive clumping bamboos-both hardy and tropical—in cultivation in the United States.

Q: Do f need a barrier for clumping bamboo?

A: No, clumping bamboos expand slowly, much as a clump of iris does. There are some clumping bamboos that have an open habit that will require more space in the garden, but in any case clumping bamboo will not require a barrier.

Q: Is bamboo evergreen?

A: Yes, There are only a few bamboos that are truly deciduous, and none of these are cultivated for the retail market in the United States. When a bamboo isn't hardy for a particular region it can lose its leaves and in some cases die completely. But generally the plant will die to the ground and come back from the roots later in the summer.

Q: Are lucky bamboo, heavenly bamboo, and that new trailing bamboo all true bamboos?

A: I get asked all the time about plants with the word bamboo associated with their names. All of the plants mentioned above are not bamboos at all, but a dracaena, nandina, and a turf grass. I guess it points out the true popularity of bamboo—it inspires others to attach its name to other plants for marketing purposes.

Q: How do I get rid of a running bamboo?

A: Put a “For Sale” sign in the front yard and hope that the prospective buyers don't ask about the plant growing through the basement floor. Joking aside, the best way to eradicate a running bamboo is to physically remove the entire grove and all existing rhizomes. This involves a lot of digging and the tenacity to keep digging until all of the rhizomes are finally removed. Once the grove has been removed, keep after any new canes that emerge from rhizomes that may have been missed during the initial dig. The plant will eventually lose its momentum.

“THE BORINDAS ARE COMING ON AS A BIG DEAL,” says Jackie Heinricher, proprietor of the wholesale bamboo nursery Boo-Shoot Gardens. If you can picture a 35- to 45-foot-tall, noninvasive timber bamboo with powder blue canes, you'll have an idea why Borinda boliana will storm the market when it is released in 2006. Not only does it grow quickly into a handsome, rusding, evergreen screen, with pastel canes that mature to shades of burgundy and purple, but B. boliana is hardy to 10°F (USDA Zone 8),too. “I see bamboo being where ornamental grasses were about 15 years ago,” says Heinricher. “Bamboo's going to really break out.”

This stately timber bamboo is just one of many hardy clumping bamboos from Boo-Shoot Gardens, which specializes in unusual, noninvasive species. Heinricher and Guy, her husband and business partner, have an impressive display garden in Anacortes, Washington, and a production facility in nearby Mount Vernon. Through years of research, they devised and perfected an innovative cloning technique by which they now mass-produce 27 species (mosdy dumpers) for distribution across the United States and Canada.


Heinricher, a scientist specializing in natural resource management, has been fascinated with bamboo since she was a child watching her father raise it as a hobby. She admits she's never seen a barrier that could effectively contain running bamboo. “Steel, plastic, cement, none of diem work—nurserymen need to tell die truth about bamboo,” says Heinricher. She experiments with running bamboo in her display garden because, with seven acres, there's space for it to spread. She surrounds die groves with canals of sand that are six to eight inches wide and twice as deep. Rhizomes, seeking the path of least resistance, aim for the sand, and she cuts them off in the fall. This method helps to keep die bamboo under control. But any running bamboo she sells is adorned with a bright orange cautionary tag.

Noninvasive bamboo, however, spreads slowly into a larger clump, as an iris does, rather than as wildfire. It differs botanically from running bamboo, which has rhizomes diat send out long indefinite runners as far as 20 to 30 feet from die original plant. “There are only a few garden sites where runners can be grown appropriately,” says Heinricher. “An adequate space for a running bamboo would be at least a 20-by-20-foot area.” So, Heinricher mostly grows and sells dumpers, all of which carry a bright go-ahead-green tag.


Clumping bamboo is every bit as effective and beautiful in die landscape as running bamboo, without die worry. It's ideal for restoration, holding hillsides, and creating bird habitat, while providing the elegant look, feel, and sound that many gardeners love about bamboo. No other kind of plant takes up such little horizontal space while growing quickly into a narrow evergreen screen.

1. Chusquea culeou 2. Fargesia robusta ‘Wolong’ 3. Borinda angustisslma 4. Thamnocalamus crassinodus 5. Fargesia murieliae 6. Thamnocalamus tessellatus 7. Borinda boliana 8. C. c. ‘Cana Prieta’ 9 Fargesia nitida

Because most of the clumping bamboos hail from the mountainous regions of the Himalayas and Tibet, they don't like extremes of heat and drought. Climates with cool summer evenings and milder winters suit them best. Heinricher explains that bamboo has a cycle that's the opposite of most garden plants. In the spring it sheds its leaves as if it was autumn; not until July and August does it turn green and plump and settle into summer. She finds bamboo likes a rich soil, fed with composted manure. Although it doesn't like standing water, bamboo is a grass, and as such Heinricher finds it needs to be watered regularly.


In the display gardens that surround Heinricher's rural home, groves of timber bamboo rustle in the wind, creating an unexpectedly elegant and mysterious atmosphere in the gentle green folds of this Northwest valley. The sturdy Chusquea culeou is interplanted between pines, its fountain shape creating an exclamation-mark effect among the pine needles. This bamboo is unusual because its canes are solid wood, hard as stone. Indigenous to southern Chile, C. culeou's feathery plume profile is ideal as a soft hedge or an accent in containers or borders.

Nearly as surprising as the rhythm of needles and canes is Heinricher's luxuriant tropical garden, where fat leaves of bananas and cannas provide a lovely contrast to the vertically of timber bamboo, Bamboo not only sprouts from the ground throughout the display gardens, but makes up the infrastructure as well. Bamboo fencing delineates garden areas, in patterns that run from intricate to spare. 'The fencing canes last forever,” says Heinricher, “and you don't need to varnish them if you don't mind them turning gray.” Off in a corner of the display garden are 25 raised beds, filled with new introductions being tested for cold hardiness, vigor, and good looks. Such an abundance and variety of canes popping from the ground assures that Borinda boliana won't be the last time Heinricher stirs up the gardening world with an exciting new bamboo.

For sources of plants featured in this article turn to page 76.

Bamboo Flowering

PLANTS OF A SINGLE BAMBOO SPECIES WILL FLOWER AT THE SAME TIME, everywhere in the world. This strange phenomena is called gregarious bamboo flowering. It's an oversimplification to say that each individual plant is a clone of the species the world over, but basically that's what it is. What's more important is what happens after flowering: clumping bamboos die; running timber bamboos will regrow, but over a long time. (For this reason, growers often take them out once flowering is in full swing.) Some bamboos can grow for up to 120 years before flowering, while others flower every 60 years or so. Some species, triggered by environmental conditions, can flower more frequently.

Generally, growth will be vibrant for many years before flowering occurs. When you buy a seedling, you probably won't see it flower in your lifetime. If your bamboo does flower and die. it will be years before new plants mature from seed and in the meantime there will be a bare site in the garden. To ensure a lasting display, include several different species and cultivars in screens or plantings.

Jackie Heinricher