Posted by Brent Wilson on 7/27/2016 to Fertilizing & Watering Tips
Bamboo are easy to grow and care for. That said, as with planting any type of plant a little good advice from the experts can go a long way.
Contrary to popular belief, bamboo aren't difficult to control when you know how to stop bamboo from spreading.
Here's some tips for feeding and watering bamboo plants in the landscape...
How To Fertilize Bamboo Plants
Though it may not look like it, Bamboo is a grass plant. Though bamboo does not require fertilization, as with many other types of grass plants, such as lawn grass, bamboo responds very well to it, especially nitrogen: the first number on any package of fertilizer.
To keep my bamboo plants healthy I feed them before new shoots begin to emerge in late winter or very early spring and again in early summer.
In general, bamboo benefit from nitrogen, which is the first of the three numbers on any package of fertilizer. There are many types of fertilizer or plant foods for use on bamboo plants.
Here's a list of fertilizers with basic instructions for how to use them.
There are several fertilizer products on the market "specially formulated" for bamboo. These usually come at a higher cost so we use just use Fertilome 19-8-10 Tree & Shrub Food, an exceptionally high-quality fertilizer which contains the essential nutrients and elements bamboo love and need for optimum health and vigor. Apply 2 pounds of fertilizer per 100 square feet in late winter or very early spring (before new shoots emerge) and again in early summer.
When feeding bamboo with a lawn fertilizer select one that contains around 20 percent nitrogen, give or take a few percent, and apply about 2 pounds per 100 square feet in spring and again in early summer. Avoid the use of a lawn fertilizer that contains a weed killing chemical, which can kill your bamboo plants and any other plants you spread it around!
Organic Plant Food
When feeding bamboo with an organic plant fertilizer or food, which is usually much lower in nitrogen, you'll need to apply more generous amounts of fertilizer so that the bamboo gets enough nitrogen. For example, if the organic fertilizer you're using contains 5 percent nitrogen apply about 4 pounds per 100 square feet in spring and again in early summer.
An alternative method for feeding bamboo is compost, which slowly feeds both the soil and the plants. Composted manures, mushroom compost or homemade compost are suitable materials. For season-long feeding, simply spread a 1- to 2-inch layer of compost around your bamboo plants in spring. A second application can be made in early summer. Not only will the compost feed your soil and plants, it will also help to retain moisture in the soil.
How To Water Bamboo Plants
Once established, bamboo need little care and normal rainfall is generally all that is needed. That being said, during prolonged periods of dry weather even established bamboo will appreciate supplemental irrigation.
Here's some tips for watering bamboo plants...
At Planting Time
After planting, deep soak the soil, including the root ball of your bamboo, to a depth equal to the height of the root ball. During the planting process, it's a good idea to build a water retaining ring (doughnut) around the perimeter of the planting hole to help retain moisture from rain or irrigation.
Note: If your bamboo begins to loose leaves soon after planting it may be just adjusting to its new home and sunlight conditions. After a period of time, it should put on new leaves to replace the ones it dropped during the transition. Under most all conditions bamboo will retain 70% of its leaves after having been planted. A significant or total loss of leaves could be an indicator of an overly wet or dry soil, or a lack of sunlight.
During The First Active Growth Season
During the first growing season after planting, lack of sufficient water, especially during hot or windy weather, is the leading cause of failure or poor growth of new bamboo plants. On the other hand, constantly soggy or wet soil can be problematic; causing problems with the roots. So make sure to plant in a well-drained site and provide only enough water during the first growing season to maintain a consistently moist soil.
When established, bamboo are more drought tolerant. During a hot summer established bamboo will roll their leaves to prevent transpiration. This is a neat characteristic of bamboo so do not be alarmed to see your bamboo roll up its leaves. During a prolonged period of drought your bamboo will appreciate an occasional good deep soaking.
Watering Bamboo In Containers
Essentially, follow the same instructions as when watering plants in the ground. Keep in mind that soil dries out more quickly in containers so it's a good idea to check soil moisture daily until you have a good idea how long it takes the soil to dry out. Always use your fingers or a good moisture meter to determine whether or not the soil is dry or wet. If the top 2 inches of soil in the container is dry apply some water. If damp, wait to water.
Other Bamboo Care Tips
Well-established bamboos are rather tolerant of flooding, but newly planted bamboos can suffer from too much as well as too little water.
Regarding young bamboo, it's always best to use the finger test to check soil moisture before watering. If the soils feels wet, wait to water. If dry, provide water.
When growing a long hedge or screen of bamboo, installing a simple drip system with a timing unit that connects to a water spigot is a cost effective and efficient way to assure the watering needs are met, while minimizing the chance of over-watering.
Soil pH is a measurement of the alkalinity or acidity of soil and is measured on a scale of 1-14, with 7 as the neutral mark. Any measurement below 7 indicates acid soil conditions, and anything above 7 indicates alkaline.
Bamboo grow best in a moderately to slightly acid soil ranging from 5.5 to 6.5 on the pH scale. Most average garden soils range between 6.0 to 7.0 on the pH scale.
If you're unsure about the pH of your soil, and whether or not it's suitable for growing bamboo plants, it's a good idea to test the soil pH in the planting area. You can quickly test soil pH with an inexpensive soil pH tester kit or probe. To raise the pH (make more alkaline) you can add pelletized limestone to the soil. To lower the pH (make more acid) you can apply Soil Sulfur, Aluminum Sulfate, or Chelated Iron. Adding organic compost to the soil or using compost as mulch can also help to increase acidity and maintain acid soil conditions.
Learn More: What is Soil pH and How To Adjust It >
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