Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Sustainable Timber Bamboo

Sustainable Bamboo

We all know bamboo grows fast, right?  And is light, easy to cut, and very strong?  So it makes the perfect sustainable garden resource - growing your own timber products each season is now possible once you plant bamboo!  But isn't it invasive and just generally a complete no no for the suburban garden?  Not when you use a clumping variety of bamboo, like I have planted, which has all the positives of bamboo without the invasive growth habit.  In short, bamboo is the perfect short term harvest timber product.  Here's how I used last summer's growth in my garden this weekend just gone.

Timor Black's Bambusa lako glossy black canes - dramatic against the greens of the garden
Introducing Timor Black, my preferred bamboo for its deep black colouration and well, just because I like it the most of all the varieties.  It cost me around $80 for a 12 inch pot with the tallest cane about 6 foot high.  I planted it in a well drained sandy soil with a great northerly aspect, improved with plenty of well rotted cow manure and chicken manure.

Harvest your clump each year for control - this area is small 3m x 1m

For the first growing season I watered it weekly, and it grew well, having about five or six green canes emerging from the base which were the width of my thumb.  They coloured to black over the winter and for the second season the canes were thicker until the fourth summer just gone the canes were 4 to 6 inches diameter and just screaming out to be used for some building project in the backyard.

You may be familiar with the terraced vegetable garden and citrus orchard I have built at Merewether Life, and in preparation for the fast approaching spring I did some tidying up and strengthened the walls holding the terraces.  Now I'm not one for too much concrete and bricks around the growing vege patch, so I have used bamboo to build the retaining walls, which are more like 18 inch holds so the soil does not wash down the hill in a storm.

Build the terrace, reminds me of my days volunteering in Thailand
So the bamboo made a perfect fit for the job.  Easy to hammer into the soil with a sledgehammer, and resilient enough to last a couple of seasons before I replace it with some new canes.  And totally recyclable and chemical free.

Some people lacquer the canes and put them indoors as an interior design display - I don't.

I recommend clumping bamboo to gardener's who aren't afraid of a little mess, as the bamboo after all is just a giant grass so does have some leaf fall that needs to be swept up every now and then (thanks KC).  Further, this makes a great easy to compost additive for mulches and once in place it dries and sits light and loose.  I use it around established trees and as a base in all my planting holes for some extra organic matter.  Another thing about bamboo is it's height, up to ten metres which sounds high but is really handy for a quick growing screen to obscure inquisitive neighbours or to deflect heat from west facing brick walls (our reason).  The bamboo loves the heat and will appreciate some extra water across Feb and early March, otherwise it will retire some leaves early to save on transpiration losses (more sweeping, thanks kc!).

This years challenge is to air layer some cuttings from the bamboo as I have so many requests for cuttings and I think it would make a real treat for a Christmas present for all of those who have asked.  But that's another post...


  1. Bamboo interests me and have often wondered about what is the best variety to grow. Thank you for the tip!

  2. I had never gotten brave enough to grow bamboo, but found a beautiful one growing in a home I purchased a couple of years ago. Thank goodness, it is a clumping bamboo. With black canes about 1/8-1/4 inch in diameter and a height of about 8 feet, I love it's light and airy appearance. My cats love to hide there too. I can see that this will make nice stakes for potted plants or tied together for larger ones. I have even had some brief thoughts of dusting off my childhood basket making skills to try making a basket or screen of some kind.


  3. I have been contemplating bamboo in planters on my balcony for screening and also for my need for something GREEN! I will have to search for a variety that is somewhat smaller than your lovely black-caned variety!

    Also, tx for stopping my blog. I have recently been trying to set up my new blog on my own site at realmudgarden.com. Without a garden, I'm still terribly keen on gardens and the natural world! So, I will be skulking through your wonderful blog!

  4. Thanks for stopping by,

    @ Greener Me - I think the Timor Black is the best variety, it is a bit 'fashionable' at the moment but don't let that stop you. With all this rain we are experiencing we just need a bump in temperature for the bamboo to wake for its summer growing season.

    @ Crafty Gardener - Go ahead and cut out some canes sight near the base level with the soil. be careful not to leave too big a receptacle for rainwater with the leftover cane shoot as it will fill with mosquito larvae. From experience.

    @ Kati - Try some of the dwarf varietals, they are more grassy in appearance but still have all the lovely features of bamboo.


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