Saturday, February 12, 2011

Bamboo pruning tip: 'Legging Up' gives bamboo that classic look

Often when thinking of bamboo in a nicely manicured garden, it's common to associate it with long, exposed vertical culms (canes) topped with nice green, dense foliage.  Neat, sleek and clean looking - there is a way to prune bamboo to create this 'classic' bamboo look, called 'Legging up.'

'Legging up' involves pruning thin, weak culms from the plant; and cutting off the branches and leaves from the nodes from the lower three to four feet of the plant. Use a sharp pair of pruning shears to make clean cuts both in thinning culms; and in cutting the branches and leaves from the nodes.   'Legging up' should be done around May for clumping bamboo and September for running bamboo.

It's easy to do and is actually beneficial to the bamboo plant because it opens up the interior to more sunlight and airflow.  Further, the loss of old leaves puts more energy back into the root mass to further future culm development and the generation of new, fresh leaves.

Many Sacramento area homes have pools that have a tropical-style landscape.  'Legging up' bamboo in a tropical landscape offers the lush green upper foliage (for privacy) while showing off the beauty of the culms, giving that true 'jungle feel' to any yard.

Bamboo varieties that lend well to 'legging up' include:


Bambusa multiplex 'Alphonse Karr' (pictured above)
Bambusa oldhamii 'Giant Clumping Timber Bamboo'
Bambusa ventricosa 'Buddha's Belly Bamboo'


Most of the Phylostachys species; 30 feet and taller (includes 'Black Bamboo' and Phylostachys bambusoides 'Castillon')

'Legging up' is an easy pruning technique that lends well to Asian-style and tropical-style gardens.  It's good for the plants and shows off the beauty of the culms that would naturally be covered in foliage if untouched (like a bush).  It's also a great way to keep your bamboo plant healthy as well.  Give it a try and you'll be happy with the results.

Mad Man Bamboo
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John Poswall said...

Thanks for legging up info. How about with running bamboo. What is best way and time to dig up and separate runners to keep alive to transplant for a new plant.

Mad Man Bamboo Nursery said...


The best time is February or March just before they start to shoot and send up new culms. I would propagate on a warmer, sunny winter day in the 60's with no wind. Make sure you cut out a generous root mass relative to the top mass. Put it in a container with soil, keep it watered well in a shady area for 2 to 3 months. Then bring it out in the sunlight conditions suited for the plant normally so that it can acclimate. Hope this helps. Thanks.


Kris said...

I've got a hedge of bambusa oldhamii growing very well. The majority of the clumps are standing at around 8 metres but there are a few rogue thick diameter culms shooting up to about 10-12 metres. I would like the whole hedge uniform at around 6 metres maximum. Whats the best way to achieve this? Pruning with a chainsaw? I sthis too difficult to achieve with this species?

Mad Man Bamboo Nursery said...

Kris, I would wait for all culms to harden and use either a nice sharp pair of pruners or a sharp fine toothed pruning saw as you want to get a nice clean cut right above a culm node at the desired height. I would prune early around April on culms that are fully hardened. Good luck! Sean

Anonymous said...

Sean thanks for the great site! I'm new to this and I've learned so much. Just a quick question, I have black bamboo about 10-14' in pots and I have been told that it's ok to prune a shoot (as described here with the legging up technique)as long as all of the leaves have opened on the shoot, otherwise the shoot will die? Is this ok to do now in June or July if all the leaves have opened? Also, if a shoot has lost all of it's leaves is it possible for the shoot to develope new leaves next year? Thanks a lot, Craig