Bamboo, an evergreen perennial plant, is a versatile and has multiple uses. It varies in size from miniature to giant and has up to 1,250 different species.
It is a fascinating plant, among the toughest and fastest growing on earth, which has seen its importance growing steadily in different sectors.
Perhaps what is not well known about the plant is that it comes in ornamental varieties that can be used to beautify the home and create a serene appearance.
While the plant is reputed to be invasive and hard to control — which is why many gardeners and landscapers tend to shun it— with the right planning and maintenance, it is easy to control.
Before planting bamboo, first research on the variety you want to grow. Do not be dissuaded by its lack of flowers, scent, fruits and other seasonal features because all these features are more than made up for by the plants’ graceful and supple, swaying stems and fine leaves
Bamboo comes in two varieties: clumping, which grows in a big clump that mainly grows upwards, and running, which spreads if not kept in check. Running bamboo basically propagates by spreading out rhizomes, which send out new shoots in neighbouring locations.
This is why clumping bamboo is recommended for home decoration. However, you can grow the running variety, but you should plant its seedlings in a large container that prevents the roots’ contact with the ground.
Ornamental bamboo is easy plant, says Mr Jovenales Njuguna, a bamboo expert and the founder and owner of Kitil Farm, a giant bamboo seedlings breeding establishment in Isinya, Kajiado.
He adds that bamboo is a low maintenance plant, with very few known pests and diseases since it has bamboo kun, an anti-bacterial agent that gives it natural resistance to pest and fungal infestation.
The plants should be placed three to five feet apart, depending on one’s design preference, to enable it to form a dense screen. However, the running variety can be planted farther apart, especially if you are ready to wait a while for the screen to fill out.
Most bamboo varieties reach maturity in three to five years, with the clumping variety gaining about one or two feet per year and the running variety about three to five feet as they spread outwards at the same rate.
Once the seedlings have been planted, they need at least an inch of water per week. Alternatively, you can water the plants intensively to encourage deep roots, which helps protect them during dry periods.
Leaves that fall off the plant should be left there if possible as they help keep the roots protected and moist, and when they eventually decompose, they return essential nutrients to the soil, thereby boosting growth.
As they grow, you can also add a layer of mulch to the base to maintain moisture and keep the plant healthy. It is recommended that you use compost and fertilizer as well.
To check the growth of the running variety, plant it in a container above the ground or surrounded by barrier and cut any shoots that grow above the barrier to prevent them from “escaping”.
Clumping bamboos are easier to control because all they require is trimming to control overgrowth and possible harbouring of vermin such as mice and snakes.
Individual bamboo culms live for about 10-15 years, but a full clump producing many new culms each year can live for several decades, and like other shrubbery, require occasional pruning.
Pruning and thinning also maintain their upright growth and an airy appearance within the plants.
Also, once in a while, remove the older culms and cut off any dead or withered branches, making the cuts just above the internode, to avoid leaving a stub that will die and look unsightly. You can also shorten some of the branches to make the plant look more balanced.
For an artistic display of ornamental bamboos, remove the smaller culms and cut off the plants’ lower branches so that the vibrant and luxuriant culms can be seen easily.
While they have are not common, ornamental bamboo is gaining popularity, especially in urban settings. Mr Edwin Mwangi, the manager of Eden Gardening and Landscaping Ltd, a Nairobi-based landscaping firm, says.
“Many offices, urban homes and entertainment places, among other establishments, are now using ornamental bamboo as a substitute for other plants and flowers,” he says.
He points out that, contrary to popular belief, bamboo is easy to take care of, adding that the plant should be grown in open areas for optimum results.