Sunday, January 30, 2011

Miniature bamboo: Short on stature, but not on beauty...

When most people think of bamboo, its natural to think of a tall, upright grove or forest, full of beauty.  Some beautiful examples of large bamboo specimens can be found in places such as the Sagano Bamboo Forrest at Arashiyama on the outskirts of Kyoto, Japan; or the famous bamboo groves found on the way to Hana on the island of Maui, Hawaii.  Some of these groves have culms as tall as 75 feet.

Contrary to what many think of as the most beautiful bamboo, some of the most beautiful bamboo, in my opinion, are four feet or less - what I call - 'miniature' bamboo.   These small bamboos offer some dazzling qualities that can add interest to most gardens.  Ironically enough, despite their small stature, these small running bamboo are among some of the most aggressive and are recommended to be used as potted plants only, unless you have room for these small plants to roam.  As a landscape plant, these 'miniature' bamboo plants are often used as a groundcover.

Here is a sample of what I consider to be the best of the 'miniature' running bamboos:

Pleioblastus humilis 'Albovariegatus' - less than four feet - some afternoon shade.  This variety was introduced into the United States by the late bamboo pioneer Gerald Bol in 1994.

Pleioblastus viridistriatus 'Dwarf Greenstripe' - less than three feet - needs mostly shade, especially in the afternoon (even more important in Sacramento's hot summer afternoons).

Pleioblastus fortunei 'Dwarf Whitestripe' - less than four feet - needs mostly shade.

Some other interesting bamboo 'miniatures' include - Pleioblastus distichus 'Mini' (less than one foot); Pleioblastus  linearis 'Nana' (less than four feet) and Pleioblastus akebono (less than two feet) and Pleioblastus pygmaeus 'Pygmy Bamboo' (less than two feet).

Some other interesting smaller varieties that are not 'miniature,' but work well for containers include:

Indocalamus tessellatus - grows to about four feet, but can grow up to 10 feet in ideal conditions.  The leaves grow as long as 26 inches long by 5 inches wide.

Sasa veitchii 'Kuma-Zasa' - Max height is five feet, usually less.  Needs shade in the afternoon in Sacramento.

Every year, these 'miniature' bamboos regenerate new leaves starting in March and in many cases as with Pleioblastus viridistriatus 'Dwarf Greenstripe' and Plieoblastus fortunei 'Dwarf Whitestripe', the old winter worn leaves can be mowed down all together to make room for the new brilliant growth.

While the big bamboos often steal the limelight, these 'miniature' bamboos shouldn't be overlooked. These small bamboo don't carry around alot of height, but certainly alot of character.  They are a perfect addition to any Sacramento landscape that has some shade on the patio or in the garden.

Mad Man Bamboo
(916) 300-6335
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Twitter: @madmanbamboo

Don't miss our April 9, 2011 Bamboo Open House in Rocklin, CA - details coming soon.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

A bamboo that Folsom can call its very own... Phylostachys nigra 'Daikokuchiku' or 'Folsom Black'

Phylostachys nigra 'Daikokuchiku' is a variety of Giant Black Bamboo that hails from one lone bamboo grove in Folsom, California.  Normally, regular 'Black Bamboo' maxes at 30 feet and about 2 inches in culm diameter.  Phylostachys nigra 'Daikokuchiku', also known as 'Folsom Black,' maxes at 57 feet and 3.3 inches in diameter and is known to be a deeper shade of black and turning black much quicker than regular Black Bamboo (Black Bamboo shoots green initially and turns black over 2 years).

Some who have propagated from this grove in Folsom state that its tremendous growth is attributable to good genetics, lots of hot Sacramento sun (I guess those hot 100 degree summers are good for something) and a well irrigated, deep sandy loam soil.

Some skeptics, clearly not from the Sacramento region, attribute the tremendous growth of 'Folsom Black' Bamboo to just lots of sun exposure from being a well placed bamboo grove.  Naturally, its more than that, right?  Not that I am biased.

When I speak with my fellow bamboo collectors (other 'bamboo geeks') or with customers, it gives me a sense of pride that Phylostachys nigra 'Daikokuchiku' or 'Folsom Black' came from the Sacramento area.  Most people gather pride in where they live by a defining attribute for the area that makes it special -  a well-performing local professional sports team (no comment), a pervasive industry (like Milwaukee's beer brewing history), or a city with unique character (like Santa Cruz, San Diego or San Antonio).  

For a 'bamboo geek' like me - its a one-of-a-kind Giant Black Bamboo from Folsom.  I know... I'm hopeless, but happy in my simple pleasures.


Mad Man Bamboo
(916) 300-6335
Twitter: @madmanbamboo

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Cool container ideas for bamboo...

Recently, I have been looking for alternatives to glazed pottery for my running bamboo plants.  Glazed pottery works fine with bamboo, the only issue is that the running bamboo's root mass will eventually get so woody and dense, that it exerts enough pressure to break the ceramic.  This usually happens after about four to five years after the initial planting in the ceramic pot.

A month or so ago, I wrestled a couple of running bamboo from their ceramic containers.  One came out of the pot with alot of effort but the pot survived the ordeal.  The second was not so lucky as shown above.

This prompted me to start think outside of the usual.  Here are some unique containers that work well for running bamboo and add some style to any yard:

This was a homemade creation of mine made from an old rubber horse trough that I had gotten free from a co-worker.  I took some bamboo edging and secured it around the perimeter of the container with copper wire. So, got the benefit of the container and it looks great.

This is a favorite of mine - a metal horse trough.  You can often find these used on places like Craigslist or you can buy them new at your local horse supply shop.  This is one I bought last Summer and contains my rare Phylostachys aura 'Dr. Don.'

This is a company I was recently introduced to - BILT Products.  They make beautifully designed steel planters that are made from steel sourced in the San Francisco Bay Area, made with no less than 50% recycled steel, designed and produced in the United States.  I will be getting two of these containers soon (larger custom sizes for bamboo) and will share photos of bamboo planted in them soon.  With colors like "Retro Green," "Safety Orange," and "Blood Red," what's not to get excited about.  Modern and practical, I love it!

Finally, I am all about reuse.  This was an old wash basin that I found at a house my relatives just moved into.  The previous owner left it and had used it as a plant container (holes drilled in the bottom).  I cleaned it up and planted a bamboo plant in it.  Looks rustic and is functional.

These are just a few ideas.  These ceramic pot alternatives can withstand the strong push of bamboo rhizomes and allow you to enjoy running bamboo without worrying about the invasiveness.  Bamboo plants in containers do need to be cut back and maintained over time, but at least you can rest assured that the plants won't bust your container.  Have any good container ideas?  Share them here or send me an e-mail with photos and I'd be happy to share them.


Mad Man Bamboo
(916) 300-6335
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Twitter: @madmanbamboo

Friday, January 14, 2011

10 easy ways to tell if your a Bamboo Geek...

If you couldn't tell by this blog site - I love bamboo.  So much, that it is kind of a nerdy obsession of mine.  I'm a Bamboo Geek, and I wear that label with pride.  Through the years I have met many like me.  It's comforting to know your not alone in this obsession over a giant grass.  So, how can you tell if you are a 'Bamboo Geek?'  Here are the top ten ways to diagnose it:

10.  The majority of your plants have Bambusa (large family of clumping bamboos that grow well in the Sacramento area) in the plant tag name.

9.  You know what the heck a Bambusa is.

8.  When your bamboo plant begins to shoot, you refer to the shoots as - 'my little babies.'  As in, "I can't wait for my little babies grow up!"

7.  You go to the zoo and take more pictures of the bamboo than you do of the animals (or maybe even your own children). The Sacramento Zoo has some of the nicest bamboo specimens around - but completely unlabeled.

6.  You can actually pronounce Phylostachys right, one of the largest family of running bamboos (the very popular Black Bamboo is a Phylostachys).

5.  You are a member of the American Bamboo Society (you know who you are).  Great organization by the way.

4.  You have more than three things in your house made out of bamboo.

3.  At a nursery, forget the Japanese Maples, forget the vegetables, you make a bee-line to the bamboo.

2.  You ask for a bamboo plant for your birthday.

1.  Your one of the few people that doesn't like Panda Bears (just kidding, I actually love them, but they are not invited to hang out at my house anytime soon).

Well?  You a Bamboo Geek?  If so, welcome, your in good company!

Mad Man Bamboo
(916) 300-6335
Mad Man Bamboo on Facebook
Twitter: @madmanbamboo

Friday, January 7, 2011

Irony... bamboo style (bamboo and pole vaulting)

I'm always drawn to bamboo history, after all history was one of my majors in college.  It was a subject that I thoroughly enjoyed and still do today.  But most often, I never have a personal tie to bamboo history, but tonight's post is different.

This brings me to a story about the world record pole vaulter Cornelius Warmerdam who used a bamboo pole throughout his pole vaulting career.  After setting many records, he was destined for the Olympics, in 1940 and 1944, but World War II led to those Olympics being cancelled.  

Warmerdam's pole vaulting career started modestly by pole vaulting in his backyard using the limb of a peach tree and landing in a pit of piled up dirt.  Warmerdam went on to make several pole vaulting records with his bamboo pole and was inducted into several halls of fame for his pole vaulting records.  He later became a track and field coach for Fresno State University and the stadium at the university was later named after Warmerdam.

Cornelius, known as "Dutch" to his friends, spent a good portion of this youth growing up in Hanford, California (where I was born and lived for my first 18 years) and graduated from Hanford High School, my alma mater.  I also went to Hanford High School with Catherine Warmerdam, which I suspect was a relative (not definite, but likely).  Catherine was a co-editor with me for Hanford High's Meteor student newspaper.  

The summer before I went off to college, my future wife and I worked for Catherine's family who owned a fruit packing shed (apples and stone fruit), making boxes and learning to drive a forklift (a scary thought).  That job taught me about hard work and gave me appreciation for how hard immigrants work for little pay to keep food on our plates.  Work that is unappreciated by most, but for a 18 year old, it was a life lesson I will never forget.

Warmerdam, coming from a modest background, broke records, all with a bamboo pole.  Can't help to appreciate this piece of history!


Mad Man Bamboo
(916) 300-6335
Mad Man Bamboo on Facebook
Twitter: @madmanbamboo

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Guest Blog: Planting a Rooftop Garden

Today is a guest blog post on a topic that sparked a lot of interest when I blogged about it a few weeks ago - rooftop gardening.  I encountered some roof top gardens on a trip to San Francisco last Summer and it sparked my interest ever since.  Seems many more people are just as interested in the concept.
I invited Dontel Montelbaun, the lead writer for, who also expressed interest in the topic, to write this article on rooftop gardens for our blog.  Enjoy!

Planting a Rooftop Garden

by Dontel Montelbaun; Lead writer for

Rooftop gardens do more than make your roof or rooftop patio look good -- they can also save you money and benefit the environment. When planting your garden, you should know where to buy plants, what types there are and what they can do for you and the Earth.
Types of Plants
A variety of plants will thrive in rooftop gardens, but remember to plant only what you can maintain. You don't need to have high-maintenance plants, but they do require regular watering (if it doesn't rain often enough). Planting hardy shrubs and surrounding them with seasonal bulbs is visually appealing and easy to maintain. 
Bamboo plants, such as Pseudosasa japonica and Phylostachys bissetti, are good for rooftop gardens because they can handle high winds; bamboo planted along the edge of your garden can even act as an environmentally sustainable privacy screen.
When choosing your plants, you need to know what your roof can handle structurally and how much sunlight the plants will get. If your roof can't handle a lot of extra weight, consider planting herbs and perennials. They require very little soil compared to shrubs and larger plants. 
Where to Buy Plants
Your local garden center and growers should be able to provide you with the plants you need. Find out what they keep in stock and see what looks healthy. Just like any plants you buy, those for your rooftop garden should come with planting instructions, such as required soil depth and amount of sunlight, that will help you take care of them. 
Rooftop Garden Sustainability 
Rooftop gardens are highly sustainable and increase your outdoor green space. They're a unique extra to any home or business and offer benefits that outweigh the cost. Rooftop gardens can:
  • Decrease the amount of noise pollution by acting as sound barriers.
  • Reduce rain runoff by absorbing precipitation.
  • Act as a natural insulator, saving you money on heating and cooling and reducing your energy consumption.
  • Reduce carbon dioxide and produce oxygen. 
Thanks to some of these benefits, rooftop gardens are increasingly being viewed as a way to fight climate change.
A Practical Choice for Homes or Businesses
Rooftop gardens do not require flat roofs. Even if your roof wasn't built for extra weight on top, check out the structural possibilities. Lightweight gardens are possible and are still beneficial to you and the environment.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Colorful bamboo plants

When most people think of bamboo, its usually an image of a tall green screen. What really got me into collecting bamboo about 10 or so years ago was its wide range of colors, each very unique in its own way. Your typical green bamboo is no doubt beautiful in its own way, but here is a gallery of some of my favorite colorful bamboo plants that will knock your socks off:

This is a cut culm of Himalayacalamus hookerianus 'Teague's Blue', named after the late Bill Teague, this colorful beauty is a clumping bamboo that needs afternoon shade in our Sacramento climate.

This is another photo of 'Teague's Blue' Bamboo.

This is Bambusa multiplex 'Alphonse Karr', a clumping bamboo that takes full sun and does very well in our Sacramento climate. This variety is ideal as a privacy hedge, but retains some ornamental beauty.

This is a running bamboo called Semiarundaria yashadake 'Kimmei'. This variety takes full sun and takes on a deep red-purple coloring when exposed to the sun. This variety does well as a container-grown bamboo. This is a photo I took this past week.

Himalayacalamus falconeri 'Damarapi' 'Candystripe Bamboo' is a afternoon-shade clumping bamboo that is a great ornamental. The colors shown here ironically are their brightest around the holidays.

This Borinda fungosa, a clumping bamboo that needs shade from our hot Sacramento afternoons. In the right place, this variety can serve as a privacy hedge as it is very dense. I've seen this variety informally referred to as 'Chocolate Bamboo.'

Last, but certainly not least, is Phylostachys nigra punctata 'Giant Black Bamboo.' Not colorful as in vibrant, but black is a color after all and this variety is very unique and very popular. This photo was taken by my friend and Bambutopia blogger, Gerhard Bock, of a plant in my collection. Used with permission.

If you ask most bamboo collectors or even the average gardener seeking to spice up their yard, bamboo offers a tremendous variety of texture, color and size opportunities. For me, the color is what got me hooked and many other people I know. Enjoy and don't get bit by the 'bamboo bug!'

Mad Man Bamboo
(916) 300-6335
Twitter - @madmanbamboo