Black Bamboo...or is it??

Discussion in 'Poaceae' started by iluvbamboo, May 10, 2008.

  1. iluvbamboo

    iluvbamboo Member

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    A few months ago I purchased some "black bamboo" off of ebay thinking that it was Phyllostachys Nigra. The seller had over 15,000 positive feedback and only dealt in plant material so I assumed he knew what he was selling. The ad claimed "large root mass" but it was a tiny division. However, they are alive. I recently emailed him to ask how tall the black bamboo would get in this area (he's only 30min. from my house) and he said at maturity maybe 10ft? I was under the impression that P. Nigra would get much taller in my zone 7? The canes on aren't really black but more of a burgundy/brown. Could this be P. Nigra or something else? Does P. Nigra only reach 10ft in a zone 7?
    Confused,
    Jennifer
     
  2. kaspian

    kaspian Active Member 10 Years

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    Maybe the seller has simply never seen this plant growing outside a greenhouse. It can easily top 20 feet where it's happy. (Max height is said to be 30', but I've never seen it that tall.) Or maybe the variety he's selling is some kind of dwarf cultivar. I think at least one of these exists.

    I wouldn't worry about the color. Young plants often need to spend a year or two in the ground before they develop their mature coloration.

    Probably this is the plant you thought you were buying, and next summer it will be looking more like what you're hoping for. Meanwhile, make sure it gets plenty of water while it's getting established. Black bamboo, for me, always seemed thirstier than other types. (I don't grow it anymore since I moved to zone 5.)
     
  3. Ron B

    Ron B Paragon of Plants 10 Years

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    Culms become more black with age. Depth of coloring also varies, some clones are more black than others. Bamboo specialists offer extra black named selections. See Species Source List at web site of American Bamboo Society.
     
  4. Weekend Gardener

    Weekend Gardener Active Member 10 Years

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    It's tough because the term "Black Bamboo" is somewhat ambiguous, and may be applicable to any sepcies of bamboo with black culms - Bambusa lako, e.g.. Whereas most of the giant bamboos with black culms are tropical or subtropical in origin, there are a few Fargesias whose culms will turn dark with maturation. Some varieties of Chusquea culeou also have near black culms.

    For most people, the term black bamboo refers to Phyllostachys nigra. It is still the most commonly available variety. So, if it is offered on E-Bay, it's still likely to be P nigra, because most of the other black culmed varieties are harder to come by and more expensive.

    My P nigra culms start off all green, and gets darker through the summer. They darken faster on exposure to sunlight.
     
  5. iluvbamboo

    iluvbamboo Member

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    Thanks for all the info. I know that the bamboo wasn't in a greenhouse. The ebay picture was outside at his nursery and the bamboo was a dug division and didn't look like other bamboo that I have purchased stabilized in pots. So 10ft could be normal for P. Nigra? Thanks again!
     
  6. JCardina

    JCardina Active Member

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    I'm in zone 7 and my Ph. Nigra was planted last summer from a 2 gallon pot, I expect to get at least 35-40 feet out of it at maturity.

    The seller could be correct if the plant was not under good conditions, i.e. bad soil, not enough water, lack of sunlight or simply too young to be large yet.

    There is a cultivar of Ph. Nigra called "Hale" which is the only "dwarf" variety of Ph. Nigra that I know of and it's height is listed as 20 feet.

    There is another cultivar referred to as "Giant black" of Ph. Nigra listed as 60 feet.

    Typical Ph. Nigra (no special cultivar) is described as maximum 50 feet but for zone 7 is estimated to grow 30 feet here on the west coast according to my main bamboo supplier who is in zone 7 as well. I have mine in an excellent protected spot with lots of sun and heat and am spoiling it and all my bamboo rotten so I expect more out of it but it's too early to say yet. It's gone from being a half a pencil sized culms in a 2 gallon pot to this years first shoot being about 10 times larger than that, as thick as my thumb at least.

    10 feet sounds extremely unlikely for any cultivar of Ph. Nigra in zone 7.

    They like full sun which turns the culms black and they like plenty of water. You can also fertilize if you really want to push it.

    I have another black bamboo Chimonobambusa Yunnanensis but they are less than a year old so I have no solid info on them yet but they are also reportedly hardy in zone 7.
     
  7. kalli

    kalli Member

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    I am planting some black bamboo in pots for my deck. The glazed pots are 22" high and 22" wide. I'm hoping to achieve a 12 - 15 foot height? Also I'm not too sure what to do once I've achieved the desired height and density, does the plan stop sending out rhisomes when it runs out of room? I know the clumps are a pretty solid mass so I am not too sure how digging it out of a pot will be achieved? Also, I'm in the White Rock area so should I be protecting the whole plant in winter from frost/snow?
     
  8. Poetry to Burn

    Poetry to Burn Active Member

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    I grow the supposedly giant variety in Z7. This plant has been in the ground for 4-5 years. It is a beauty but the tallest culm is maybe 20'. It responds hugely to water and manure. It is sleepy and slow if dry and under nourished. Also the habit is somewhat arching. I've taken to topping them off to keep them more upright.

    Takes a season or two to get the beautiful mottled black look.

    Wild looking when the emerge from the earth in Spring.
     
    Last edited: May 21, 2008
  9. kaspian

    kaspian Active Member 10 Years

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    Kalli, I've grown black bamboo (Phyllostachys nigra) in pots, and in my experience, this species needs more attentive care -- especially watering -- than other relatives like P. bissettii and P. aureosulcatum. If you don't keep up with the watering, the leaves will start to brown at the tips. (The black culms will still look great.)

    P. nigra also seems to produce a larger and deeper-spreading root mass than the other types, so it will need repotting more often -- probably every two or three years, depending on the size of the container, how much you feed it, and how happy it is in general.

    Repotting is not always an easy task. You can usually yank it out of the pot by pulling on the (large and sturdy) culms -- that's not the problem. But then you're confronted with this dense mass of roots, and it's not a simple matter of pulling the clump apart, as with many woody perennials. You pretty much have to get medieval with it. I use a fairly sharp spade and even then have to rip the clump apart by hand in the end.

    Naturally the plant objects to all this and becomes sulky for a while, shedding foliage and sometimes losing a culm or two that has been ripped from most of its associated root mass. For this reason I try to schedule the operation for a cool, rainy stretch in either spring or fall, when I can keep it discreetly out of sight for a while.

    For years I grew P. nigra in one big pot and, for contrast, the golden-caned variety of yellowgroove bamboo, P. aureosulcata 'Aureocaulis,' in another. But after a few years I gave up on the black bamboo, which never quite looked happy in a pot for me, and now grow P. bissettii and P. decora instead, both of which seem to tolerate a bit more careless treatment and root confinement.

    Nonetheless we know black bamboo can work beautifully in pots, if its needs are attended to, because there's a well-known indoor planting in (I think) the lobby of the IBM building in Manhattan. I think this is the cultivar 'Bory.'
     
  10. JCardina

    JCardina Active Member

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    Two things that might be useful to know:
    Experienced bamboo people tend to use Sawzall type electric reciprocating saws to cut bamboo rhizomes due to their toughness.

    When you cut off a clump of bamboo to divide it it's important to also cut the length of the culms down at the same time so that the now decreased root mass doesn't have to try to support all the leaves. It's common for growers to top the culms in half when taking a division cutting from the root mass. This avoids the dying leaves which is the plants natural way of accomplishing the same thing.
     
  11. Poetry to Burn

    Poetry to Burn Active Member

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    Kasp,

    I had the 'Daikokuchiku' in a whiskey barrel for a few years before i put it in the ground. Removing this plant from the planter was the most laborious unpotting I've ever done by far. The saw approach totally makes sense. The roots held the wood straves so firmly I used a sledge to break it away.

    This plant is not invasive in my garden. I think it's slower because of very fast drainage and moderate rainfall.
     
  12. Weekend Gardener

    Weekend Gardener Active Member 10 Years

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    One way of growing those thick black culms in containers is to maintain a supply of mature culms by growing a clump somewhere in the garden. Divisions with mature culms can be dug up periodically to replace the one's which have deteriorated in the containers (which, without doubt, they will - as Kaspian suggested - it tends to get pot bound very quickly). I grow a clump of it in a whiskey barrel in our front yard. The original mature culms usually last about 3-4 years, after which, they look a bit ragged. The new culms that emerge are never thick enough to have the same aesthetic impact.

    My tool of choice for dividing a pot bound bamboo is my Porter-Cable "Tiger Saw", armed with an 8 inch green blade.
     
  13. kaspian

    kaspian Active Member 10 Years

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    Obviously I need to invest in more ferocious root-cutting technology. Or bribe my neighbor Dave with some brown ale to bring over his Sawzall.
     
  14. kalli

    kalli Member

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    What happens if you clip the tops? I just planted some black bamboo in pots on my deck but they are taller than I need and the culms are sparse at the moment. I wanted to cut them back and encourage the growth to spread wide first - is that something you can do at any time of year?
     
  15. kaspian

    kaspian Active Member 10 Years

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    You can prune anytime. Cut just above a node on the main culm or stem. It won't affect the health of the plant.

    Remember, though, that bamboos are grasses. They don't behave like shrubs or trees. So cutting them back won't make them produce new large side-branches and become more bushy. It will just keep them from growing above a certain height. Existing side-shoots may grow more strongly, in the absence of a top-shoot, but they're still just part of a single culm. The thing that determines the overall look of a bamboo is not the individual culm but the whole clump or grove.

    This isn't the same as a woody plant that can be induced to develop multiple stems from the same trunk, all of which will continue to grow year after year. With bamboos, as with other grasses, an individual culm has a limited life-span.

    Pruning is still an excellent way to shape your bamboo.
     
  16. JCardina

    JCardina Active Member

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    What Kaspian said. You can't think of bamboo as you would other plants, it just works differently in many ways.

    I just want to add that clipping the tops will result in less leaf mass and therefore less energy to build up the roots and bamboos are all about the roots so unless it's absolutely necessary I would advise against it if you want to get more culms next year.

    Also it's early in the season yet if you are in the northern hemisphere so if you see tall new culms with few leaves on them just wait, they will grow many more leaves and fill in much thicker as the summer comes along.

    Also keep in mind that black bamboo can get quite large and fat. When mature in just a few years it is quite capable (depending on the exact cultivar of Ph. Nigra "Black Bamboo") of growing anywhere between 12 feet to 65 feet and a diameter of 1 inch to 4 inches if it has enough space to build up the root mass to support that kind of growth (i.e. very large pot or planted in ground)!

    The less root mass it has the smaller it will grow but it always wants more root mass so if it's treated well in the pot it's going to quickly fill the pot with roots in a couple of years and require a splitting with a Sawzall type power tool and repotting.

    Basically it's not an ideal bamboo for pots on a deck though there are many others that are which grow shorter by nature, are less hassle in a pot and grow much more thickly with leaves (if it's screening you're after).

    If you decide to consider another type there is a very handy web page with a searchable species list where you can plug in what you want, height, minimum cold hardiness, etc and bring up a list of candidates here:
    http://www.bambooweb.info/SSL.php
     
  17. kalli

    kalli Member

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    Thanks JCardinia - I did a pretty thorough search before I purchased the Phyllostachys nigra and was encouraged to use this species for pots, which are 22" wide and 22" high, so lots of room for the roots. They were just planted yesterday, and they were not inexpensive ($130 per plant) so I am afraid I will need to do my best with this choice. A couple of the tips (4) were bending into the eavestrough so I cut those back by about 1-2 feet each and that's all I intend to do. Overall, the culms range from 4' to 10' high but they are sparse. I am hearing that it will take a couple of years to fill in, and a couple more years for the rizones to spread to the point where they will need to be split? I'm not sure how I will get a sawzall into the pot to split the roots system? I also gather they really like their water? I don't think the nursery was diligent enough, some of the leaves are brown (not many) will they be restored or will they just fall off and grow new ones? How frequently would you water in pots, and how thorough, given the information I've provided here? Much obliged for your advice, I am new to bamboo and given the cost I don't want to do something dumb and kill them (although I gather that's hard to do!)
     
  18. JCardina

    JCardina Active Member

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    I just did a spit take when I read the price you paid for them. :) You must have bought huge pots (like 7 gallons or something). I'm too cheap for that I just buy the smallest one I can find, they grow pretty fast.

    In any case I've only ever had bamboo in the pot long enough to plant them in the ground, but I've seen the process of division described many times:

    You take hold of the largest culms with both hands, have someone else bang at the edges of the pot until it falls off. Set down the clump it will be almost a solid mass. Pick a line across the center that will be accessible to saw and evenly divide the clump. Take a Sawzall or root pruning saw and make a plunge cut in the center and cut out and down then turn around the root mass and cut through the other side. Pot up both halves separately. Some have also said a machete works good for this but I have my doubts as to how that could be as accurate and clean.

    Bamboos require a *lot* of water but they don't like standing in water. With potted bamboos you are going to have to be very careful they don't dry out and equally careful you don't drown them. If you overwater them they'll start dropping leaves. If you under water them their leaves will start curling up.

    Yellow leaves mixed in with healthy looking green leaves are natural at this time of the year and nothing to be concerned about, this is the time of year when it is swapping in new leaves for old leaves. If all the leaves are turning yellow that's not a good thing, if there are a few here and there in the spring that's normaly and for us this is just spring now with the unusually cold and delayed spring we've had this year.

    In terms of watering it's really impossible to say because so much depends on the soil they are in. A high porosity, high drainage mix typically used in nurseries would defnitely mean daily watering. On the other hand a different mix could mean once a week or longer depending on the weather as well.

    Bamboos use a *lot* more water when they are exposed to wind and hot weather. But they're not super fussy about it. Also established plants need less water than ones that were just potted from a division or a cutting.

    You'll have to play it by ear I think. Check them out with your finger to see how damp the soil is, get a feel for it. Watch for leaf curl or leaf drop but don't let them dry out completely. Also they will be requiring heavy feeding in those pots if you want to get the most out of them. The nursery should be able to recommend an amount, you can use lawn food as long as it doesn't have the weed killer built in or a liquid organic fertilizer when you water in spring and summer.

    Also note that they will be far less cold hardy in the containers with the roots exposed so if you get a really cold snap there in winter (like a 20 year record cold snap) you might want to put a blanket around the pots or something.

    Most of all just relax and enjoy them, they are very tough plants, completely not watering them for a long time is probably going to be the only thing that kills them outright.

    And if disaster should befall and all the leaves fall off and they look dead remember the real plant is underground and may slumber through winter and put up brand new shoots next spring. Also if one dies you will have more than you know what to do with in a couple of years when you double your quantity of plants. :)
     
  19. kalli

    kalli Member

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    JCardina I can't thank you enough, that was most helpful! I'll be printing off your instructions and keeping a close tab on the bamboo's performance. Yes I choked at the price myself, but my neighbours have built a deck the size of the Queen Mary off the back of their house and I am completely exposed. I thought bamboo of that size would give me a certain amount of instant privacy but I will probably be dividing them sooner rather than later. I'll let the folks on here now when I've get extras available, sounds like I'll have a plentiful supply assuming I don't kill them off!
     
  20. JCardina

    JCardina Active Member

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    You're welcome. I grow bamboo primarily for privacy as well though I have quite a few that I just grow because they're "cool"! :)

    If you find the black bamboo a little too open consider getting some Chusqueas or Fargesias cheaply in small pots. They are clumpers can be on the shorter side depending on exact cultivar and can provide a nice thick screen you can't see through with very little fuss. If you get the shorter varieties then they provide a natural screen because they are full of leaves from top to near the bottom. If you keep your eyes peeled you might find them for under 30 bucks each and should have no problem selling on the black ones.
     
  21. kalli

    kalli Member

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    Well my bamboo has been in about a month now and with the rainy cold weather we've had here in Zone 7 I'm not sure if these problems are shared by others in this zone? Leaves are dropping, but also curling and brown. Too much water? Not enough? I am using an organic potting soil but it always feels wet, so maybe drainage is the issue? Any ideas?
     
  22. JCardina

    JCardina Active Member

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    Actually in this area and the entire pacific northwest everyone I know has been saying their black bamboo is doing exceptionally well this spring. Unexpectedly large shoots etc.

    Dropping leaves are usually a root related problem of some kind, they could be drowing or simply not enough root to support the leaf mass if they were freshly divided just before you got them. And sometimes when you get a new bamboo it takes about a month before it starts showing signs of shock from being field dug if it's a fresh transplant. Don't give up on it though.

    I received a lot of plants from BambooWorld in Chilliwack this spring and a couple did exactly what you describe and I'm pretty sure they were freshly field dug and unfortunately came with far less rhizome attached than they should have though they were good about replacing them.

    Your best bet is to simply leave it be and see what happens in a few weeks. The soil should not be consistently wet all the time, especially if it's a new transplant. I also use organic potting soil but I cut it heavily with "ProMix HP", about half and half because I've found some potting soils tend to harden up like concrete and don't allow for enough air pockets and drainage. The promix ensures lot's of air pockets and swift drainage and the large amount of perlite in it ensures the paradoxical need (you always see gardening books recommending well draining but moist soil) for both drainage and moisture that never made sense to me before now.

    If it's potted make sure it can drain properly, i.e. the drain holes aren't plugged. If it's still soaking wet from the rain we had a few days ago that's not a good sign. My potted plants are moist but not 'wet' after that last bought of rain last week.

    If you bought it recently give it a few weeks and then get a replacement from the supplier if it doesn't pick up again.

    Once they have established roots it's pretty hard to kill them.

    I've come to the conclusion that buying potted bamboos that have been in the pot for at least a year is a better value for money than freshly dug ones, you always know it's got a good root system and they seem to be much larger the second year after planting as they've built up a good amount of energy in their roots.
     

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