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PostPosted: Fri Feb 14, 2020 6:19 pm 

Joined: Fri Feb 14, 2020 4:49 pm
Posts: 6
Location: Eastern Siouxland USDA z. 4b, AHS heat zone 6
After over twenty years of neglecting bamboo in zone 4 Midwest (in the Iowa, South Dakota, Minnesota border area), I am giving it another shot. In my first attempt with hardy bamboo in 1998, I went with the philosophy that the plants had to take care of themselves or they weren't worth the effort. Planted 17 species way out back and after the first year they received no watering, no fertilizer, no mulching, and no protection from grass, weeds, or critters.

-ALL died to the ground each winter (Did I mention our lows ran in the 20's to 30s below zero f, usually no snow cover for insulation, and we have lots of wind and winter sun).
-Many survived, and we enjoyed the mass of green foliage that persisted through early winter.
-The hardy phyllostachys produced a mass from six to eight feet tall most years.
-NONE of the clumpers survived our summer heat even in their partially shaded locations (lots of time in the 90s and over 100 some years).

After twenty years of observing these plants, this is what I have learned for our climate and phyllostachys:

- NEED a rhizome barrier - but not for the reason you would think. I had no problem with invasiveness since there were hundreds of feet of lawn between the bamboo and anything of consequence. The plants would run 10 to 15 feet each year, while abandoning the areas where they grew the previous year. More like a migration. Each spring I would just not mow where most of the plant seemed to be at the moment. In retrospect, cutting off 3/4 of all the shoots each year was not that good for encouraging plant growth where none of the culms ever survived the winter. And the new shoots had to compete with established lawn grass for any moisture (and sunlight since the shoots and grass both grew tall in the unmowed areas. Last year I gave up and mowed off almost everything as they were growing nowhere near where I wanted them. This time around I will use barriers to keep the shoots out of harm's way.

-Fertilization, mulching, and some water during dry years would probably have gone a long ways towards promoting larger plants. Our ground often freezes more than four feet deep, so a good mulch layer may have helped more rhizomes to survive. Could be the reason why no shoots came up in the area of the prior year's growth, as that area was bare ground that would freeze the deepest, while the surrounding areas that shoots did find were insulated by 6" tall grass that caught some snow and provided some insulation.

Long term performance of the phyllostachys, all under identical conditions:

Those that didn't survive long:
- vivax

Those that got smaller each year and eventually were gone:
- aureosulcata 'Harbin'
- aureosulcata 'Spectabilis'
- aureosulcata 'Alata'
- propinqua (may have migrated into the next group)
- propinqua 'Beijing' (may have migrated into the next group)

Those that were successful, but moved too far to be useful anymore - formed a huge mass:
- congesta
- bissettii
- bissettii ' Dwarf'

Others that survived easily:
- rubromarginata - healthy and fast regrowth, but culms very close together and thin.

- nuda - Slow to start and unlike the others, migrated into the shade of trees rather than to the warmer open soil. Some years reached 8 feet in height. After twenty years was choked out by pines and redcedar in the shelterbelt where it migrated to.

- dulcis - Easily my best performer!!! In 1998 we ventured way down south to Tennessee to buy some bamboo from Adam Turtle. After explaining our climate, he suggested trying the dulcis as it stored more of its energy reserves in the rhizomes rather than the culms. The other phyllostachys we tried had much hardier leaves, but all lost the culms each year anyway. The dulcis keeps growing back stronger each year. It currently has migrated into three clumps and completely abandoned its original location. in a good year the culms are 3/4" thick a couple feet up, and at times have reached 15 feet tall. This year I will start taking care of it and see what it does if it is actually fertilized and watered. As a bonus, many of the culms (in the sheltered parts of the clumps away from the winds and sun) are still dark green here in mid February. It has been a very mild winter with our lows only getting down to 12 below zero a few times (including yesterday).

This spring I plan to make some rhizome barriers and try some more atrovaginata as well as parvifolia and some arundinaria gigantea 'Macon'.

Sorry for being so wordy.

PostPosted: Sat Feb 15, 2020 10:11 pm 

Joined: Sat Jan 03, 2009 4:13 pm
Posts: 2908
Location: St. Louis area Location Details
No apologies needed -- this was very interesting and some parts were funny (intentionally or not). I like the "migration" description especially. :)

I'm actually shocked that with such cold winters ANY of those still survive. It's also surprising that yearly topkill won't cause death after a few years. Amazed that you got 15' culms.

Confused that dulcis is your best. I've had mine in the ground for about 5 years, and a topkill 2 winters ago really set it back -- so much smaller the next year.
I've seen the same thing with rubro, and I believe my plant can be traced back to Adam Turtle too.

I agree that you should see what happens when not knocking over most of the shoots. :)

Post photos, and please share an update this summer!

My blog: It's not work, it's gardening!

PostPosted: Sat Feb 15, 2020 11:18 pm 

Joined: Fri Feb 14, 2020 4:49 pm
Posts: 6
Location: Eastern Siouxland USDA z. 4b, AHS heat zone 6
Yes, parts of the post were tongue-in-cheek because of the extreme conditions these plants were put through. I guess I have never seen setback after complete topkill since all my plants have experienced complete topkill every year for twenty years. I am looking forward to what the dulcis may do in a couple years after I start mulching and fertilizing it. Maybe introduce it to a garden hose too.
Here our winters are getting warmer and summers cooler, so that also may help a lot. A local town has hit -45 twice (-43C) but I have never seen below -35 (-37C) at our house. Warmest at our place has been 108 (42C).
Looking forward to trying some newer varieties, especially those that store energy in rhizomes as the dulcis or that have really deep root systems that can keep pumping water to the plant when the soil is frozen solid for months.

PostPosted: Tue Feb 18, 2020 2:25 pm 

Joined: Mon Nov 03, 2008 12:28 am
Posts: 1253
Location: Island off Cape Cod Massacusetts
Interesting observations. I'm not surprised that bissettii is one of the survivors, but did not know rubro was that hardy. I also thought ducis's hardiness was closer to vivax.

The migrating phenomena is also interesting, it kind of reminds me of the way P flexiosa behaved after flowering. It took a while for the new growth that survived along side of dead grove to show any interest in moving back into site of former grove.

Good luck with future "extreme" bamboo growing.

PostPosted: Tue Feb 18, 2020 5:25 pm 

Joined: Fri Feb 14, 2020 4:49 pm
Posts: 6
Location: Eastern Siouxland USDA z. 4b, AHS heat zone 6
I guess it all depends upon your definition of hardiness. Most of the other survivors keep nice green foliage long into the winter while dulcis gets toasted pretty fast. But since dulcis keeps a greater proportion of its energy underground vs. the culms compared to the others, it bounces back faster after a topkill (this is from Adam Turtle back in 1998).

I went crazy ordering bamboos for this spring - So many more now available and our local climate has been moderating. Hoping to have success with various mountain bamboos (which I cooked the first time around). Going to keep them on the north side of structures for moderate summer sun and zero of the deadly winter sun. Last time I put too many on east exposures, which in our climate is almost as bad as a west exposure. We are so far from water that we seldom have a morning haze and the sun is intense from the moment it clears the eastern horizon.

Piling up ten tons of fresh sloppy cow manure and blending with old straw as we speak. It is an adventure.

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