Is it normal for bamboo to branch all the way to the ground.

denninmi(8a)December 22, 2009

Hello. I've been growing the various kinds of Phyllostachys hardy bamboos here in Michigan for almost 20 years. I have aureosulcata, aureus, nuda, nigra, the snakeskin one (I think that one is P. nigra henon) and a couple of others whose names currently escape me, but I have the names written down somewhere.

In all of these years of growing, I never get those nice, unbranched clean canes that I see in photos. Mine always branch all the way to the ground.

Is that normal for them? Are the ones that are bare for a ways up the cane actually trimmed up to look like that.

They do great, and I love them. Depending upon the growing season, I've gotten canes as tall as 15 to 20 feet, and up to about 2 inches across. Most winters, of course, they die back to the ground, but I've had them overwinter some milder years without damage.

Does overcrowding of the canes contribute to this perhaps? My beds are awfully full and thick, they aren't those graceful groves one sees in the photos, more like big, thick hedgerows. Perhaps I need to thin the canes out?

I don't mind doing this manually if Mother Nature won't do it for me. Just wondering.

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kudzu9(Zone 8a - PNW)

In my experience, most Phyllostachys bamboo typically branch all the way to the ground. If they are crowded together or in a lot of shade, the lower portions of the culms may not have quite as much foliage. However, having a lot of culms tightly grouped is not a concern...the bamboo knows what it wants to do. You can prune out culms for esthetic effect, but it's not going to change much of how the other culms look or how healthy they are. Those pictures you see that give clear shots of the culms are mainly the result of hand pruning of the lower branches.

    Bookmark   December 22, 2009 at 2:19PM
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OK, thanks. Perhaps the ones with the clean canes are some of the less hardy genera, like Bambusa.

I guess if I want that look, it's easy enough to do. I have one big, round clump of P. aureosulcata in my front yard that's about 15 feet in diameter. That would be a good one for this treatment. I have an 80' hedgerow of the stuff in the back -- that would be much more work.

    Bookmark   December 22, 2009 at 8:26PM
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hank11(8 Northern Ca.)


sometimes when I want that 'bare' cane look, I will pull all the lower branches off of new shoots as soon as they start to branch. My thought on this is that if I remove them early the plant hasn't put a lot of energy into those branches, and maybe will have a stronger top.(Maybe thats why they keep falling over) LOL. The pics you see of groves with tall bare culms are just that, "TALL" in a mature grove of timber bamboo there is very little light down low. From your description it sounds like your grove simply can't get tall enough because of your area/zone. And has to renew itself each year. Personally I'm very jealous of those who can grow tropical bamboos.

    Bookmark   December 22, 2009 at 9:42PM
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Hank -- yes, they are definitely reduced in stature in this climate compared to milder areas. In those winters where the old canes didn't die back, the new growth that emerged was a lot bigger, thicker, and ultimately taller, due in no small part to being "fed" by photosynthesis of the overwintered canes.

And, you concept of stripping the canes when still very young is a good one -- they could be done quickly by hand this way, versus slowly, branch by branch with pruners when older and much tougher.

    Bookmark   December 23, 2009 at 10:53AM
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Greetings from southern Indiana - actually my Phyllostachys groves all stop producing branches lower down once they are a few years old. My Yellow Groove 2 years ago did not have any branches for the first 9 feet up, so I thinned that grove to let more light in so they would produce more branches lower down.

In general, it is normal for Phyllostachys groves to stop producing low branches as they mature and have less direct light, surely environmental conditions play a role as well.

Your groves are older than mine and light congested but still producing branches down low, so my guess would be that the frequent winter kill may cause the new spring canes to to produce the lower branches to ramp up the energy production by having more foliage.

Gil, I'm surprised to hear that your Phy's still also produce branches down low out there in Seattle.

I just checked my website and I do see photos of Yellow Groove, Bissetii, Rubro etc where you can see the 'missing branches' and I don't prune them off.

    Bookmark   December 23, 2009 at 4:05PM
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kudzu9(Zone 8a - PNW)

I'm sort of surprised, too, but I've got some pretty good size Pyllostachys that are still putting out culms with foliage that is low to the ground, and I'm still trimming them up. I've been 5 years at this location and still have to clean them up by pruning. Maybe in a few years that will change...

    Bookmark   December 23, 2009 at 9:15PM
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