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Can I grow bamboo in my St. Louis garden?
Bamboos comprise a fascinating group of plants in the grass family. They offer interesting contrasts in texture, color, form and size. Their straight strong stalks--called canes or culms-- topped with graceful foliage make them good choices for use as hedges, screens, windbreaks, ground covers, waterside features and specimen plantings.
Bamboos are classified according to their growth habit. There are running bamboos which originate in the temperate regions and are hardy even to subzero temperatures. The running bamboos are vigorous growers, spreading by stolons or runners. They form large open colonies.
Some bamboos have a clumping habit. Unlike running bamboos, these tend to form single dense clumps. In addition to these two extremes, a range of variations exists, from open clumpers to lazy runners that grow outward and then stop. Clump bamboos are generally more tender. In some cases, bamboos in colder climates are root-hardy but not top-hardy. Two hardy clump bamboos for the Midwest are blue bamboo (Sinarundinaria nitida) and umbrella bamboo (Thamnocalamus spathaceous)--both grow over six feet tall and do best in shade.
Clearly, the clump bamboos offer better choices as accent plants in situations where they will be planted directly into the garden. You can use the running bamboos in containers or in places where they are unlikely to get loose. Raised beds on paving, island beds surrounded by paving and sites surrounded by water are among the places you could plant running bamboos with no fear of their rampaging through the garden. Island beds of running bamboos surrounded by lawn allows control of the bamboos by lawn mower. The canes will continue to come up but will be mowed before they can attain any size.
Since bamboo rhizomes usually travel at a level four to six inches below ground, physical barriers of 12-inch plastic siding can prevent the spread of running bamboos. Insert the siding around the planting at an angle with the lower edge closer to the plants. The top inch of the barrier should be above the ground level to allow easy removal of any rhizomes that try to climb the rim.
Recent midwestern evaluations of garden bamboos indicate that, since ornamental effect, size, and coloration of bamboo canes is not reliable in colder climates, the foliage becomes the most significant ornamental characteristic. Containerized bamboos can be extremely ornamental and, since they don't require a dormant period, they make handsome house plants for use as indoor accents. Use bamboos in containers as garden accents during the growing season, then indoors during the cold season.
Hardy running bamboos for the Midwest that grow over six feet tall include yellowgroove bamboo (Phyllostachys aureosulcata) and other members of the genus Phyllostachys. Medium bamboos (two to six feet high) for our area, all suited for shady sites, are arrow bamboo (Pseudosasa japonica), Sasa palmata and Indocalamus tessellata. Dwarf bamboos for the Midwest, those under two feet tall, include pygmy bamboo (Pleioblastus pygmaeus), dwarf silver-stripe bamboo (Pleioblastus argentostriatus) and dwarf yellow-stripe bamboo (Pleioblastus viridistriatus).