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Bamboo in zone 5B Fort Collins Colo

Posted by ion_source_guy 5B Fort Collins (My Page) on
Fri, Dec 11, 09 at 20:11

I posted this on my usual forum - Rocky Mountain gardenting. But since I've been a lurker her for a while, and occasionally there are others asking about growing bamboo in harsh climate, I thought I'd put it here too.
When I visited the Anaheim arboretum, and the Huntington Library Gardens, 6 or 8 years ago, I was smitten by the bamboo. It was SO COOL. I don't know how else to put it. Most of those bamboo patches have these little paths in through them. So you sneak in through the path, and then you're invisible to anyone walking by on the walkway. The bamboo is so thick it's like solid walls, or maybe like.... well, I don't know. If you haven't had an opportunity to experience that, you should visit one of those places, or somewhere else that has a bamboo patch of some kind of full size timber bamboo.

A few years later, when I realized there are a few bamboo which may be hardy enough to grow here in Fort Collins, I couldn't resist giving it a try. I knew the stuff just doesn't grow as big in cold climates, so I searched out the biggest really cold hardy varieties, and ordered a few small starts.

Well this past summer was the third summer for my bamboo. Although they are smaller than the bamboo of my dreams, all 3 of the ones I bought have survived, and seem to be pretty healthy, but definitely not large so far.

Decora by castle
This one is Phyllostachys Decora.

Yellow groove and Nuda
The larger one on the right is Phyllostachys Yellow Groove, and the smaller one on the left is Phyllostachys Nuda. There's some kind of silvergrass between them, and a start of hardy pampus just behind and a little to the right.
Please excuse my mess. Of course these were all originally planted with the thought that they might hide my ugly metal shed, and other mess. That may never happen unless they grow a lot bigger, or I unless perhaps I manage to shrink the size of my mess. (don't hold your breath on that one)

It's been fun to grow them. It reminds me of the feeling I got when I was a kid, and my Dad let me grow some of those really big sun flowers in our vegetable garden. Frequently I go out and check to see how tall they are growing. It's particularly exciting in the spring, when the new shoots come up, because they shoot up so fast. I think my shoots seem to grow any where from 3 or 4 inches to a foot in one day. So even though I check them daily in the Spring, often they've zoomed up 2 or 3 feet tall before I have spotted them.

They stay green into December. Then all or nearly all the plant above ground dies. I don't think it's so much the cold that gets to it. I think it's the combination of the cold along with such dry air, and the violent fluctuations between warm and cold and sun through our winter that seems to desiccate it. Some of the stems stay barely alive, and a few of them have managed to put out a few new leaves the following year, but for the most part it dies and has to come up from the roots each spring. I'm sure that must be largely why it's not able to build up much size here. It's sort of starting over each summer.

This winter I've covered one with plastic, to see if that will manage to keep the above ground part alive. I'll let you know how it does.

They say the 3rd year is when bamboo really takes off. However, mine were only a little bigger and more filled out by end of the 3rd year compared to end of second summer. I suspect mine may already be near max size for Fort Collins Climate, unless I'm able to work something out to keep the leafy part alive through the winter.

Even so, I am enjoying them. They're really just sort of a sprangly shrub kind of a thing, but there's something about them that is still appealing, and hints of a different flavor than things we normally see here in Fort Collins.

I wouldn't recommend them here as a screen, as some folks in other parts of the country seem to do. They're not really tall enough for that (so far anyway), and I don't think they're really.... firm enough for that. They kind of tend to droop down.

Although these are all Running, type varieties, and they are starting to spread a little, I really don't feel like that's going to be a problem. It might be an issue if I had them near the property line, but they're not. The runners go out into the lawn, and I mow them off, and that's that. No problem. So far anyway. Perhaps I can update in a couple years to let you know if things get worse.

I've notice a couple of other bamboos here in town, but none that are much bigger than mine, so perhaps they're just always going to be sort of shrub sized.

Well, anyway. It's just something I'm trying, and I thought perhaps others would be interested to learn about how this enigmatic plant does here.


Follow-Up Postings:

RE: Bamboo in zone 5B Fort Collins Colo

  • Posted by kudzu9 Zone 8b, WA (My Page) on
    Sat, Dec 12, 09 at 1:49

Very interesting. I think you are having good success in such a tough environment. The first thing that came to my mind was that you should experiment with a protective wrap...but I see you're ahead of me there. So, please report back in spring. One other thing I've heard of that might work for you is to bend the culms over to the ground, if you can do that without breaking them, and cover them over with a tarp, weight the tarp at the edges with rocks, and put mulch on top.

The only other thought I have is to put a big pile of mulch at the base of each one in the fall and see if that helps with growth/recovery.

One thing about the runners, mowing down the shoots does prevent growth above-ground, but it does not stop the runners from expanding below ground. You might want to practice rhizome pruning, where you chop down around the perimeter of your bamboo once or twice a year: what you chop through will die in the ground and not spread further.

Anyway, I appreciate your post, and wish you luck.

Here is a link that might be useful: Winter protection video

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