Save the World by Growing Bamboo

Posted on Apr 22, 2008 | 0 comments

In honor of Earth Day, I thought that I would write a post today about something that you can do to help the environment.  In recent years it has become more and more common for regular folks to keep plants in an effort to produce oxygen and sequester CO2.  It only makes sense, then, that we would want plants that does this most efficiently.  For reducing your carbon footprint, you just can’t beat bamboo.  Recent studies have shown that it produces 35% more oxygen than an equivalent amount of trees, and sequesters as much as 5 times the carbon.  It also grows very quickly, so your plants start to make a real difference almost right away.  Of course, it also helps that bamboo is beautiful and low-maintenance.  Most bamboos also adapt well for growing in containers.

One of the best things about growing bamboo is that there are so many varieties available.  With more than 1500 known species of bamboo, there is almost certainly one for you.  Some of these species that are available are really interesting and unique.  I’ve already mentioned on this blog that I have a great fondness for Black Bamboo, but we recently made available the amazing Candy-Cane Bamboo, Himalayacalamus falconeri, and it’s competing for my heart.  The culms of this interesting bamboo are striped randomly with vivid colors: dark green, red, yellow, and pink.  If left to grow as high as it likes, the culms will reach between 20 and 30 feet tall, but it’s a true clumping bamboo, so you don’t need to worry about it spreading out of control.

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I'm very excited about my next houseplant project.  This year Wayside Gardens has one of the most stunning and hard-to-find bamboo varieties you'll ever see, Phyllostachys nigra.  It is a deeply colored black bamboo, and I've always heard that it makes an excellent large indoor plant.  I've got a perfect spot for it this year, left empty when I finally planted my container-bound Japanese maple tree outside. 

Black bamboo is a great choice for indoor planting for a few reasons.  Most obviously, the dark culms are very dramatic and interesting.  It is a relatively slow-growing bamboo, so it requires less pruning and thinning to keep it looking wonderful.  It is also a larger bamboo than most varieties commonly grown indoors, so it will grow taller and with a straighter upright habit, which is great for a very impressive effect and can give an entire room, even a large room, an amazing exotic feel.  I'm hoping that, as it gains height, it will draw the eyes upward and emphasize the tall ceilings in my living room.  Of course, as with any large houseplant, it can dominate a small room, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing.  This bamboo in a smaller room could create a wonderful meditative feel of being in a perfectly calm outdoor temple somewhere in China.

Bamboo is never a houseplant requiring no care at all, but it is a relatively easy plant to care for.  It is important whenever growing bamboo indoors to keep it trimmed, but with taller varieties, such as Phyllostachys nigra, it is especially important to keep it from overgrowing the ceiling.  Trim the tops of the culms (they're technically not "canes" until after they've been cut) just above a high branch.  This pruning shouldn't harm the plant at all.  You'll also want to thin it, cutting off most of the smaller new shoots and culms at the soil, especially once the plant is well-established (though you'll probably want to keep some of them, as the green of the new shoots looks wonderful against the black of the older culms).  Trim the branches from the lower third or so of each culm to emphasize the shape and wonderful ebony color of the bamboo, and prune the branches above that to the second or third branching.

If black bamboo indoors isn't for you, keep in mind that it thrives in zones six to nine, and makes a fantastic privacy or border plant, or it can just be grown as an interesting grove.  It is one of the best bamboos for landscaping not only for its beauty but also because it is a less invasive variety of bamboo, requiring less work to keep.

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