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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