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Bamboo Pests and Diseases

Basically, bamboos are pest- and disease-free. Very few insect pests found in the continental United States are attracted to the popular ornamental bamboos. Making the rounds these days, however, is an imported pest called the bamboo mite. Because bamboo specialty nurseries will not ship plants they know to be diseased or infested, its spread has been attributed to trading among bamboo hobbyists. Although unsightly, the bamboo mite usually doesn't kill bamboo plants and isn't known to affect other species.

Otherwise, aphids will sometimes attack bamboo but never do enough damage to threaten the plants. If the honeydew secretions become obnoxious, spray the leaves with an insecticidal soap solution. Gophers and similar critters can also be a problem.

A couple of natural phenomena deserve mention here. For starters, if a culm cannot reach open sunlight quickly enough it will die back. Often the culm will be 7 or 8 feet tall before it quits and will show a black rot at the unexpanded joints. When I first saw this phenomenon I had horrible visions of Bangladesh bamboo blight (yes, that's a real disease) or some other malady. I learned later that this condition doesn't hurt the plants. Just remove the dying culms and add them to your stock of plant stakes.

The other thing you may experience is bamboo flowering. Unlike the blooming of most garden plants, this occasion is not something to anticipate. Bamboos generally flower at 30- to 120-year intervals, and the plants usually die after flowering. What's more, every stand from the same parent flowers and dies at about the same time all over the world; because bamboo is almost always vegetatively propagated, the losses can be devastating. In the 1970s the stands of some of the giant bamboos in the United States, notably Phyllostachys pubescens, were decimated this way, as was the panda population in China when entire bamboo forests died off.

Flowering obeys an inner genetic clock - when it is time, the plant will flower. The only thing to do is sigh deeply and replant. Some bamboos can be nursed back from flowering with extra water and fertilizer but it will take the plant several years to regain its vigor.

We think of bamboo as an exotic but, unlike most exotics, it is easy to grow. In fact it is one of the most rewarding and versatile plants you can have in your garden. Try it and you'll understand why the people of Asia have grown it for thousands of years.

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