So, you planted some nice clumping bamboo and watched it race skyward. It is funny stuff, bamboo, but after all, it is a grass, no matter how tree-like in size it becomes.
Watch your new bamboo shoots. They will be just like the mature stem in diameter. Unlike a tree with its growth rings, bamboo comes out of the ground with its one and only diameter and can reach adult height in one growing season. The new stem – which looks a bit like
an asparagus – grows to nearly full height before putting out any branches. All of the power for this push upward comes from the roots and is supported by the branches of mature plants. That power is massive. One species of bamboo has been clocked with a growth rate of a milimeter every two minutes. That’s 3 centimeters or over 1.25 inches every hour.
With its height completed in about 4 months the wall of the stalk or clum hardens over the next two seasons and the bamboo is ready to harvest in its third year. After it reaches maturity, bamboo begins to accumulate a fungus and decays over the next few years. A life cycle of individual stalks is five to seven years. For use in construction or decoration, bamboo is usually harvested in that third year.
And what are you going to do with all that bamboo? First, you will cut and dry it over several months. In Georgia’s drier climate, my bamboo was subject to splitting as it dried/ this has not been a problem in our more humid climate although the bamboo needs to dry a bit longer.
Then there is the cutting, traditionally done with a special saw that is used to cut only in one direction to reduce splintering. Then comes the peeling of the outer layer. I use a heavy knife and long strokes. Sanding follows. Without peeling and sanding, nothing you put on the bamboo will stick, not paint, not varnish. Paint, in particular, will look dull. Varnish will just peal off. Of course, if you are going to use your bamboo for construction and then discard it, you only need to cut and dry it first.
Now, I am not a bamboo expert and I make no claim that this is all you need to know about bamboo. Far from it. There are nice thick books on growing and working bamboo. Find one at a bookstore or download one on your Kindle and go play with your bamboo. Why? Because it’s fun! And isn’t that what gardening is all about?