All About Bamboo , Handyman magazine,

It’s easy to become a bit obsessive about bamboo, says Greg Braun, owner of Sydney’s Mr Bamboo. Greg fell in love with bamboo more than 30 years ago when he lived in Japan.

‘Now I specialise in cultivating bamboo specifically for the Australian urban market,’ says Greg.

With over 1500 uses, bamboo is one of the most versatile plants in the world. You can buy bamboo clothing, flooring, blinds, cutlery and crockery, furniture, paper, musical instruments, planters and fencing. You can also use it for building and scaffolding, as biofuel and even eat the shoots.

With so many uses, it’s hard to believe that bamboo is nothing more than a tall, strong grass.

‘It’s incredibly useful but we don’t have enough stock growing here. Most of the plantation bamboo is for shoot production, the edible kind,’ he says.

‘Most of our customers live in the city and want bamboo they can grow in between houses and in confined spaces as privacy screening.’

Three Ways To Use Bamboo

You can eat it

Many bamboos have edible shoots that can be steamed, boiled or used in stir-fries. Harvest when they’re 150mm high in summer. Try Buddha belly, giant timber, golden bamboo, Moso and walking stick.

bamboo and asian greens, all about bamboo, handyman magazine,
Many bamboos have edible shoots that can be steamed, boiled or used in stir-fries

You can use it as a garden stake

Cut canes can be used in the vegie garden as stakes or woven into trellises for climbers. For best results, harvest them in their peak months. TIP Harvest most running bamboo in spring and clumping in summer.

bamboo canes used to stake tomatoes, handyman magazine,
Cut canes can be used in the vegie garden as stakes or woven into trellises for climbers

You can use it as a fishing rod

Make a simple version of a bamboo fishing rod for your next holiday. Choose a 2m long cane, with a 12mm diameter base and 6mm top. Sandm it smooth, apply lacquer then attach eyelets and a reel.

fish on bamboo fishing rods, handyman magazine,
Make a simple version of a bamboo fishing rod for your next holiday

Types of bamboo

There are two main groups. One is ideal for a backyard garden, the other needs to be regarded with caution.

Says Greg, ‘Clumping bamboo is what you want, not running.’

Clumping bamboo grows in a tussock, like fescue grass. Its old shoots need to be thinned out every few years but aside from that it is well-behaved and easy to manage.

Running bamboo grows from a rhizome that likes to travel underground, like kikuyu grass.

Bamboo runners can travel a long distance and become very invasive. Grow this type in pots or with an impenetrable barrier around it.

‘It’s not really fair or accurate to describe them as good and bad types, as all bamboo is such a valuable crop.’

In the country, both bamboos can be useful. ‘The running type grows in areas where other crops can’t. But it’s certainly inappropriate for the suburbs,’ says Greg.

TIP Tall clumping bamboos over 10m high have very strong rhizomes, so keep them at least 2m from masonry walls to prevent cracking.

clumping umbrella bamboo, handyman magazine,
This a type of bamboo called, Climbing Umbrella Bamboo

How to grow it

There’s a bamboo for almost every location. ‘Bamboo doesn’t need a hot climate, it grows right through to the coldest parts of mountainous regions of China,’ says Greg.

As a general rule, running bamboos tolerate cold climates better than clumping varieties.

SITE Choose the right bamboo for the amount of sun or shade in the spot where you need it. Give it support for the first two months in summer or during winter in a windy location.

SOIL Slightly acid soils are best, about pH 6.5. In loamy or sandy soils, plant straight into the ground. In heavy clay soils, build a mound out of good soil and compost and plant into that.

FERTILISER Clumping types like frequent small amounts of organic lawn food or chicken manure over summer, while running bamboo prefers to be fed from spring. Add a bit of potassium-rich fertiliser every six weeks. Feed with trace minerals yearly.

WATER Like most grasses, bamboo likes its water, so keep the soil moist. Clumping bamboo copes with lots of water, running doesn’t like wet feet.

Removing bamboo

Controlling unwanted bamboo is easy, as long as you work quickly.

‘It needs to be done fast because the sap is quick to sink into the rhizome,’ says Greg.

‘If you can apply the herbicide before this happens then the herbicide rides down on the sap so it’s quickly absorbed.’

TIP You’ll probably need to repeat this process over several months until shoots stop appearing.

Step 1. Identify the bamboo

Identify the bamboo that’s unwanted or damaged.Cut off the bamboo close to ground level with a clean, sharp pair of secateurs.

cutting bamboo with a pair of secateurs, handyman magazine,
Identify the bamboo that’s unwanted or damaged

Step 2. Apply weedkiller

Apply weedkiller to the cut cane straight away using a glyphosate-based product and a paintbrush, so the coated sap sinks into the roots.

apply weedkiller to bamboo with a paintbrush,
Apply weedkiller to the cut cane straight away using a glyphosate-based product and a paintbrush

Screen the neighbours

With its lush foliage and fast-growing habit, bamboo is one of the best choices for screening out noise and pollution, as well as unwanted views.

And unlike built screening, you don’t need council permission to grow it. Choose the variety you plant by height as well as looks.

Greg says that before you choose your bamboo, you need to determine what height you need screened.

‘One storey is three metres, two storeys are six metres. Our bamboos grow up to five storeys high.’

As a screening plant, bamboo is planted near the fenceline but you can also grow it more thickly as a hedge. ‘Stripestem Fernleaf’ and Temple bamboo are ideal, just trim regularly.

On a balcony, you can use pots or a planter box to create a green screen, try blue or black bamboo.

Greg warns that bamboo can be costly. ‘It’s more expensive than most plants because it’s slow to propagate in the beginning but once it gets going, it’s one of the fastest growing.’

And unlike built screens, there are minimal upkeep costs.

Choosing a variety of bamboo

For single storey homes

  • ‘Stripestem Fernleaf’ (clumping)
  • ‘Alphonse Karr’ (clumping)
  • Slender weavers (clumping)
  • Blue bamboo (clumping)

For double storey homes

  • ‘Alphonse Karr’ (clumping)
  • Slender weavers (clumping)
  • Black bamboo (running)
  • Temple bamboo (running)

For balcony privacy

  • ‘Stripestem Fernleaf’ (clumping)
  • Blue bamboo (clumping)
  • Black bamboo (running)
  • Temple bamboo (running)

For fencing

  • ‘Stripestem Fernleaf’ (clumping)
  • Slender weavers (clumping)
  • ‘Alphonse Karr’ (clumping)