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Care & Feeding Bamboos

Simply treat bamboo like a grass and it will thrive. Bamboos like the same sort of high-nitrogen fertilizer used on lawns. Likewise, bamboo can be damaged by the same weed killers that eliminate grass.

Big plants like bamboo need a lot of food and water to encourage maximum growth. I tend to feed and water heavily in the first season, even for plants whose size I want to control, in order to establish the root system.

Most bamboo species are fairly drought-tolerant once established but they do best with ample water, especially during their growing seasons. If the plant's leaves remain green through the winter it will need some water then as well.

Ideally bamboos like soil that is moist but not saturated. Overwatering causes the new culms to rot at the base and will eventually kill the plant. Better to err on the dry side until you find the plant's natural rhythm. When bamboo is stressed for water, the leaves tend to roll up like tubes. It is best not to let your plants reach that stage but it won't harm the plant if it happens occasionally.

I like to side-dress my plants with compost once a year and feed them three to six times a year, depending on the species and the weather. If I'm trying to encourage a fast-growing species, I may feed it every other month in the spring and summer.

The rule for cultivating around bamboo is equally simple: don't. Despite their size, bamboos are very shallow-rooted, and even the largest species will have most of their roots in the top foot or so of soil.

When I set out a new plant, I mulch around it with pine bark, then leave the fallen bamboo leaves under the stalks as a natural mulch. After a year or two it's very unusual to have weed problems in a stand of bamboo. Of course, you won't have much luck growing groundcovers or other plants in your bamboo grove, either.

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