Saturday, June 7, 2014

Is bamboo drought tolerant?

As of this post, California is in the grip of a pretty serious drought - one that has been around for about two years, but in 2014 turned quite severe.  Pretty bad.  Though thankfully the March 2014 storms have provided some relief, but certainly the drought is not over by any stretch and this summer will prove to be a challenging one.  As I know that this is top of mind for many of you - I wanted to address a very common question that I have been asked over the years - "Is bamboo drought tolerant?"

Yes, somewhat - but it really depends.

OK, so not the clearest answer, but let me explain.

Clumping bamboo tends to be more drought tolerant that its running cousin because it grows slightly deeper, on average.  This lends the ability to have more water supply opportunities for the plant, much like a tree with a deep taproot would.  However, generally this would require the bamboo to have a mature, established root mass.  So, if your planting a brand new bamboo plant, don't expect to treat it like a California Poppy (which is a very drought tolerant California native plant).  A new bamboo plant, like most plants, require regular water in the first full going season for the roots to grow and become established.

Bambusa ventricosa 'Buddha's Belly Bamboo' and Bambusa multiplex 'Alphonse Karr' (both far left of photo) doing well in our water efficient front yard.  By removing the front yard grass and watering efficiently in both the front and back yard, we realized a 58 percent reduction from the same time last year.

After that, you could be moderately miserly, to some extent with water, but the trade-off is that the growth of the bamboo plant will slow and it won't be as lush as it would with a consistently moist soil.  But there are limits, and your bamboo plant will show it with yellowing leaves and curling leaves.

So, one other myth to dispel (bamboo carries a lot of myths with it) - bamboo likes soggy, wet soils.    In fact, many visualize bamboo you see in the jungle - jungles get a lot of rain and thus all bamboo must like soggy soil.  Well, not really.  Some bamboo can tolerate soggy soils, but the vast majority do not.  If fact, soggy soils over an extended period of time lead to root rot, which will ultimately kill the bamboo plant outright.  Don't get me wrong, bamboo likes regular watering, like an average medium water use plant, and can tolerate some dryness, but moderation is the key.

So - with this drought - here are some easy strategies to keep your bamboo happy and while using water wisely.

- First, mulching is a great way to extend moisture around the plant and slow evaporation of water.  Plus a good mulch offers other fertilizing benefits to the bamboo as well.

- Supplement your water that would have normally gone down the drain.  Many Californians are using a low tech solution to capture and use water that would have normally just gone down the drain.  While warming your bath or sink water, put a bucket to capture that water.  Use the water (at room temperature) to water your bamboo.

- Water your bamboo plant in the early morning to minimize evaporation and allow the plant to maximize the intake of the water provided, before air temperatures rise.

Tell-tale sign that your bamboo needs watering.  Curling of leaves.

- Pay attention to your bamboo plant - if you get leaf curling, its a signal that your bamboo needs to be watered.  Short periods of dryness are OK - but don't push it.

For many, droughts offers unique opportunities to learn and adapt to extraordinarily dry conditions.  Bamboo can survive in a drought, it just takes a deeper understanding of the plant and its needs, coupled with common-sense water efficiency practices that apply really to any type of landscape circumstance.

Mad Man Bamboo Nursery - Rocklin
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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

PARK(ing) Day and bamboo in Sacramento, California

I had the good fortune to work with the local Sacramento of landscape architecture firm - Stantec on Park(ing) Day which was held this past Friday (September 20, 2013). PARK(ing) Day is an annual worldwide event where artists, designers and citizens transform metered parking spots into temporary public parks.

As of 2011 (they stopped counting), this international event was celebrated in 162 cities, 35 countries, and 6 continents.

So, my part in this event - I was asked to lend bamboo for the Stantec project in midtown Sacramento. To add more bamboo, to the very bamboo savvy Sacramento - I'm in...  all in.  Gotta help the landscape architecture firm that appreciates the beauty, utility and awesomeness of bamboo.

So, here is how the project turned out...

The Stantec Team.  Bamboo used included 'Mexican Weeping Bamboo', 'Weaver's Bamboo' and 'Big Leaf Bamboo.'

Strolling through the competing projects. The bamboo looks great!

Nice transformation of a midtown Sacramento parking spot!

Great job Stantec! Thanks for letting me adding bamboo to your awesome PARK(ing) Day project....

Twitter - @madmanbamboo

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The best containers to grow bamboo in...

Ah, a moment of spare time - I finally have a chance to get back to this blog, break the radio silence and talk about a topic that I have been thinking about and get asked about alot - "What kind of container should I use for my bamboo?"

Bamboo lends itself to growing quite well containerized.  In most cases, due to my relatively cautious nature and past experience, will advise most people to always containerize their running bamboo, due to its invasive nature when uncontrolled.  Additionally, there are several clumping bamboo, such as Bambusa ventricosa 'Buddha's Belly Kimmei' that show off its best characteristics (bulbous 'belly' culms') in a container (pictured below).

So what is an ideal container for bamboo?  Here are some ideas:

1.  My favorite container is a metal horse trough, like these that I bought today.  Simple, sturdy and best of all, the sides are at a 90 degree angle.  Additionally, bamboo likes horizontal space and depth is not a priority (2 feet is typically adequate for depth for most bamboo).  Be sure to drill a few drain holes at the bottom for good drainage.

2.  I always stay away from pots that taper at the top - always go for straight side or pots that are "V' shaped.  When it tapers, the bamboo root mass will tend to fill the pot's growing space completely making any future attempt to pull the the bamboo out an exercise in futility.

3. Always get a container that allows water to drain.  Bamboo does not like to sit in water and 'wet feet' will cause the plant long-term harm up to death over time.  Word of caution though, if you have a container that has a running bamboo and the container is on the ground, be sure to put a paver underneath the drain hole.  Otherwise running rhizomes, will escape (pictured).  This does not apply to clumping bamboo.

4. Think outside the box - bamboo is a unique plant - use the recommendations above, but get creative and bring out the best in your beautiful, unique bamboo.

Use these recommendations and your bamboo will be happy and healthy in its new home above the ground. Cheers!

Mad Man Bamboo Nursery - Rocklin, CA
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Sunday, March 10, 2013

Signs that Spring 2013 is right around the corner...

This is the time of year when I start to wander outside more and more.  My normally short attention span is exacerbated, by the draw of discovering something new in the garden that has budded out or sprung from the ground.  Today was no exception of course.

I guess it is what makes us folks that love nature and gardening who we are.  To me, this is the time of year when I awaken from the gray slumber of winter excited to see nature too, waking up.

So, today, in wandering around the tired, winter-worn garden, signs of life are indeed starting to emerge.  No doubt with temperatures rising to the mid-70's in Sacramento in the coming week, this is just the beginning...

New shoot from my Phylostachys nigra 'Othello' pushing through the ground seeking the warm sun.

Buds are opening on my green Japanese Maple.

New colorful and furry shoot from my Bashania fargesii.

Definitely a time of excitement for gardeners.  With camera in hand, and longer days, I'm sure I'll be drawn to the garden more and more.  A distraction, that I don't mind at all.

Mad Man Bamboo - Rocklin, CA
(916) 300-6335
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P.S. If your ready to get back out in the garden and love unusual plants, check out two upcoming plant sales... Saturday, March 23 (Auburn Farmers Market (bamboo only)) and Saturday, March 30 (at McKinley Park in Sacramento; lots of plant vendors)).  Details can be found at

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Brrr... its cold, does my bamboo need a jacket?

Really when most people think of bamboo, they picture a lush green plant in a jungle.  Well, jungles are usually in a tropical setting, warm and humid. So, one would wonder, can bamboo survive in cold temperatures?  The short answer is 'yes.'  Bamboo is such a diverse family of plants, originating from climates as cold as northern China to the warm jungles of Central America, an everything in between, including the Sacramento area.

With our recent 'cold' snap here in northern California with temperatures dipping below freezing, its bound to give a local plant lover some anxiety.  Getting ready to go to breakfast on Saturday, I saw the usual tell-tale signs of a good hearty frost (pictured above).  Icy white grass, visible breath and even some slippery ice on the sidewalk. Alas, knowing bamboo well, my anxiety level is pretty low, even given the frigid temperatures.
So, how do you figure out a bamboo plant's temperature tolerance?  Typically, most bamboo growers don't rely on the USDA Hardiness Zones (pictured) as the basis to identify the minimum temperature tolerance of a plant.  Although the map itself is useful in that it helps to identify your lowest average annual temperature, which is the first step, it is not the whole answer.  The be all-end all for bamboo geek's like me are the temperature guidelines assigned to each bamboo variety by the American Bamboo Society.

Generally in the Sacramento region, where we have mild winters, the lowest temperature tolerance in a bamboo plant that I will carry for sale is 21 degrees f.  However, I carry some varieties, like Phylostachys bissetti which can survive at temperatures as low as 10 below zero.  Most running bamboo do not have an issue with the cold temperatures in northern California.  By and large, you need to be cognizant of temperatures for the most popular genus of clumping bamboo growing in the Sacramento region called Bambusa, a practical non-invasive sun-loving clumping bamboo that are used to grow privacy hedges along fence lines.

Here is what to expect for the most popular Sacramento area Bambusas:

Bambusa multiplex 'Alphonse Karr' 18 f

Bambusa multiplex 'Hedge Bamboo' 18 f

Bambusa oldhamii 'Giant Clumping Timber Bamboo' 21 f

Bambusa ventricosa 'Buddha's Belly Bamboo' 21 f

Bambusa textilis 'Weaver's Bamboo' 18 f

Bambusa tuldoides 'Punting Pole Bamboo' 21 f

Several years ago, the Sacramento area dipped below 20 degrees for a few nights, quite rare, but I did cover some of my most temperature sensitive clumping bamboo.

Other clumping bamboo that are even more cold hardy for further up the foothills and low mountain regions is the Fargesia genus, native to the mountainous areas of China and found in the Himalayan range.  Also a popular genus for Panda Bears, that eat this bamboo.  Fargesias like Fargesia nitida 'Fountain Bamboo' and Fargesia murileae 'Umbrella Bamboo' are very cold hardy taking temperatures down to minus 15 below zero.  Note that Fargesias are somewhat sun sensitive and should be grown in afternoon shade in our region.

So, the next time you wake up and see that hard frost, don't fret too much.  If you stick to the bamboo listed above you should be fine - your bamboo isn't shivering like you probably are!

Mad Man Bamboo Nursery - Rocklin, CA
(916) 300-6335
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Saturday, September 29, 2012

Roseville homeowners bring tropical feel to their backyard - bamboo-style

Today we had a chance to visit some fellow bamboo aficionados that live in Roseville to see their backyard.  Over a couple of years they have bought bamboo from me and have quite a nice collection of both running and clumping bamboo.

These folks are nice people and love bamboo.  They have clumping bamboo from another house they still own but no longer live at and have grown to understand bamboo (the difference between running and clumping) and appreciate it for its usefulness and beauty.

As we walked into their backyard - I couldn't help to say - 'Wow!'  The backyard has a definite 'oasis a la Hawaii feel.'  They use both running (contained) and clumping species quite nicely in combination with palms and it is a really nice, relaxing and well done landscape.  Most of which was done by themselves.

Here are some photos of their nice backyard:

A two year old Bambusa oldhamii 'Giant Clumping Timber Bamboo' behind a peaceful water feature.

An Otatea acuminata aztecorum 'Mexican Weeping Bamboo' in a cleverly constructed container that is finished off with bamboo fencing.

A Phylostachys nigra 'Giant Black' in a container in its first year of growth.

A hand-made tiki from Turlock, CA.  I definitely need to get the name of the guy who does these.

I thought they did a great job on their backyard and am happy to see the bamboo that I grew has found a happy home, as it certainly shows.


Mad Man Bamboo - Rocklin, CA
(916) 300-6335
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Sunday, September 23, 2012

Local bamboo artisan puts heart into his creations

At our September 15 plant sale in Elk Grove, I had the pleasure of meeting Steven King, a Sacramento area bamboo craftsman that makes both beautiful and functional hand-carved art pieces made from bamboo poles.

Steve's business, Bamboo Whisperer ( is just getting off the ground and he has already sold several pieces.

Steve has had an interesting journey that ultimately led him to pursue his craft.

"In 2007, my vehicle was hit head on by a wrong way driver. After receiving 2 operations on the left arm and one on the right, I began using meditation as a method of pain control. During sessions, I would play various styles of music. One particular genre stood out from the rest, and is how I discovered the wonderous sound of the Shakuhachi.

Deciding to take the next step, I began learning the instrument and accompanying music. Being able to produce the sounds that captured my full attention was a wonderful experience. Deciding to display the flutes, I began creating ideas on how best to do so while maintaining the harmony within the instrument. It was at this point that I realized the best medium to use was the same material as the flute itself. Bamboo!

Just as I created the first wall-mounted display, I learned that the surgeries failed. Five additional surgeries and four years later, I was no longer able to position my arms to hold the Shakuhachi.

Being mindful of not what was lost, but rather my new found passion, I spent 2011 developing crafting techniques which would allow me to continue working with bamboo under the new limitations.

The Shakuhachi and the warm, open community which surrounds it across the globe, helped me through some very difficult times. Through my art, I hope that in some small way, I'm able to offer something in return."

In talking to Steve at the sale, his art is both a passion and a means to achieve peace and focus.  It was very clear to me that Steve loves what he does.  I can relate.  Although running Mad Man Bamboo is alot of work, it underscores a fact of life that if you love what you do, it doesn't feel like 'work.'

I also like it that Steve is a local craftsman.  He has a personal stake in his art and it shows.

According to Steve, "Bamboo Whisperer is art, inspired by nature and life. I don't consider the pieces a form of my personal expression, but rather an opportunity for others to see more of the beauty nature has within it.

Sometimes I can visualize a piece immediately, other times I will have it sitting next to me for a week before the first cut. During the latter, I know something is there, but the image is unclear. Over time, I've come to realize the vision is always there in plain sight, it was only my thoughts which were out of focus.

It is in this way, I am connected to every piece. Each one has either allowed, or enhanced a peaceful moment."

At the sale, we talked about Steve participating in future plant sales and local farmers' markets.  I'm hoping we will see him and his art in 2013.

In the meantime, if your interested in any of Steve's pieces, you can contact him at his website at


Mad Man Bamboo - Rocklin, CA
(916) 300-6335