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Bamboo grows in most areas and has many important uses for communities. Generally, bamboo can be split into two categories: clumping bamboo (sympodial) and creeping bamboo (monopodial). Clumping bamboo grows in tropical climates and is more common, while creeping bamboo generally grows in subtropical climates. The process of planting and managing bamboo clumps properly is the first step for producing high quality and easy to harvest bamboo.

Bamboo provides:

  • Income
  • Building materials (examples here and here)
  • Furniture materials
  • Food for people and animals
  • Fences, living fences or trellises
  • Wind breaks
  • Irrigation pipes
  • Bamboo charcoal for cooking
  • Material for making musical instruments
  • Material for making containers
  • Material for handicrafts and much more.

Bamboo propagation

There are a few techniques for bamboo propagation, including rhizome propagation, using branch cuttings or using branches and seedlings for some larger types of bamboo. The technique depends on what type of bamboo you are propagating and what the bamboo will be used for. For drier areas, the start of the wet season is the best time to propagate bamboo. However, if enough water is available, propagation can be done at any time.

Rhizome propagation

Rhizome propagation is good for small scale planting because it has a high success rate. However, this technique is more difficult and takes more time than other techniques. Rhizome propagation works with almost all types of bamboo, but rhizomes of large species are usually too difficult to dig up. Therefore, rhizome propagation works best with smaller bamboo species with many rhizomes and culms.

Steps for rhizome propagation

  1. Choose the bamboo rhizome and culm which you want to propagate — one year old culms on the outside of the clump are easiest and best to use.
  2. Cut the culm three or four nodes above ground level.
  3. Cut again through the rhizome, where the rhizome joins with the next rhizome. Usually this is towards the centre of the clump. Dig the roots and soil about 10-15 cm away from the culm, so that when you remove the rhizome, the roots and soil stay attached.
  4. Keep the rhizome and roots wet until planting, or plant immediately. Wet the leaves as well. Keep the rhizome and roots out of sunlight.
  5. Plant the rhizome about 15 cms in the ground and water well. Apply fertilizer and compost, then add a layer of mulch around it. New leaves and branches will grow from the bamboo and at the beginning of the wet season new shoots will grow from the rhizome. Sometimes new shoots will grow right away.

Culm (pole) cutting propagation

Culm cutting propagation is better for large scale planting and wind breaks because it is easier and takes less time. However, the success rate is lower. This technique is best to use with larger bamboos, which are difficult to propagate using rhizomes.

Culm cutting propagation steps

  1. Choose a bamboo culm with lots of branches, aged 2-3 years.
  2. Cut it as close as possible to the ground, then cut the culm into 1.5-2 meter lengths.
  3. Cut off the branches and leaves after the first node on each branch, leaving only 2 or 3 branches on one side.
  4. Dig trenches and bury the bamboo culms about 15 cm in the ground. After planting, cut the remaining branches at two nodes above ground. This will help you to see where the bamboos are planted.
  5. Water every day for the first week. After that, water twice a week for one month. When the culms begin to grow new shoots, they can be dug up, cut and replanted wherever you want them.

Branch propagation

Choose a few larger bamboo branches; they are usually at the top of grown bamboo. Cut the branches as close as possible to the main branch, about 1 meter long (there should be a minimum of 3 nodes on each branch). Plant the branches in healthy soil, and treat the same as other plant cuttings. It is best if planted at an angle.

Bamboo nurseries

Culm and branch propagation can also be done in containers, but rhizomes don’t grow well in containers and should be planted straight into the ground.

  • Don’t use the top 1/3 of each culm, because the success rates will be much lower
  • Cut a hole between each node before burying or planting to help hold water

Growing high quality bamboo

Every type of bamboo has a different quality and character. Growing different species of bamboo in one area can be an advantage as you will receive diverse benefits to fit your different needs. To grow high quality bamboo, it is important to supply the plants with enough nutrients, and remember that bamboo plants are heavy feeders. Bamboo has root systems which grow close to the ground’s surface. Because of this, it is best to give bamboo small amounts of fertilizers regularly — for example every 3-6 months, rather than large amounts once a year. The best fertilizers to use are manure and compost, especially just before the wet season. The best manure to use is pig or chicken manure as they contain all the nutrients needed for bamboo growth. Applying a layer of mulch, about 30 cm thick, will also improve bamboo growth. When the plants are two years old, thinly sprinkle cement powder around the clump, underneath the mulch. Cement contains silica, a mineral which will help the bamboo harden and improve bamboo pole quality.

Experiments done with bamboo show that bamboo timber is stronger if grown on hillsides rather than near rivers.

Clump management

A properly managed bamboo clump will produce high quality bamboo and will be easy to harvest. A well-managed clump of bamboo will have a range of different aged culms, from 3 years, 2 years, 1 year and new shoots. There should be 6-8 culms of each age in every bamboo clump, which makes 24 – 32 culms of bamboo per clump. They should all have enough space to grow well and be easy enough to harvest.

Opening clumps

A well-managed clump of bamboo will look open and healthy, which makes it easier to choose and observe which bamboo is ready for harvesting and which bamboo is still too young. An unmanaged clump of bamboo will look tightly packed and disorganized, making it difficult to choose which bamboo is ready for harvest, so there will often be dead or dry culms in the middle of the clump. This type of condition will make it difficult to harvest.

The first step in managing a bamboo clump is by cutting or removing all the old or dead culms. This will be difficult because sometimes they are located in the middle of the clump. One way to do this is to cut into one side of the clump to the middle, then cut out all the old or dead culms. Cut them as close as possible to the ground. This will create a shape that allows harvesting mature shoots from the centre of the clump without damaging new shoots which are usually located outside of the clump.

Thinning

Remove any damaged or bent culms and any culms which are growing too close together. If the clump has been harvested before, there will be many culm stumps. These stumps should be removed, or cut as close as possible to the ground. This will make it easier to reach the middle of the clump.

Branch pruning

Prune off lower branches to make clump access easier. Cut the branches at the second or third node to avoid fungus reaching the culm.

Choosing and marking new shoots

During shoot season, choose 6-8 healthy shoots, located in a good position. Remove all the other shoots, this will encourage new shoot growth in the future. The removed shoots can be used as vegetables or animal feed. The chosen shoots can be marked to keep track of their age. The bamboo poles will be stronger, harder and more insect resistant if they are harvested at 3 years old or more. Mark the shoots by scratching a number into the shoots before their leaves grow, this scratch will leave a permanent mark. Mark all the shoots when they are about the same height — about 1 meter above ground level is good. For example, for the year 2014, mark all shoots with the number 14, the bamboo will be ready to harvest in the year 2017, so you will know that all shoots with the number 14 are 3 years old.

Bamboo plantations

Bamboo can be grown near the house, on cropland or as part of a managed system. A bamboo plantation is the most efficient way to produce high quality bamboo. Produce from a bamboo plantation will fulfil many functions and provide shoots for vegetables, leaves for animal fodder and bamboo for charcoal, and the bamboo clumps can also function as wind breaks, living fences and provide erosion control.

Intensive plantations

Intensive bamboo plantations are plantations where bamboo is the main crop. The bamboo can be planted in rows, with 4-6 meters between clumps and 8-10 meters between rows. On sloped lands, the bamboo should be planted on contours. By leaving 8-10 meters of space between rows, there will be enough room to harvest and collect the poles. You can also graze animals between these rows.

Mixed plantations

Mixed plantations are plantations where bamboo is one of many different types of crops — for example a coffee plantation with bamboo functioning as living fences and windbreaks. Bamboo can be combined with crops of about the same height, like mango, coconut, avocado, jackfruit, timber trees and fibre trees. The combination of plants used is up to you, but don’t forget to leave enough space for harvesting bamboo in the future. Animals can also be integrated into this system. Planting bamboo on hillside contours will help prevent erosion and stabilize the edge of a terrace.

High quality bamboo poles

Producing high quality bamboo poles will depend on the following factors:

  1. Bamboo species
  2. Bamboo pole age
  3. Harvesting time
  4. Curing and storage
  5. Preservation

1. Bamboo Species

Some types of bamboo are naturally stronger and more resistant to borer insects than other types of bamboo. The types of bamboo which are commonly grown and used include Betung / Petung bamboo, Tali / Apus bamboo, Gombong bamboo, Item bamboo, Ampel bamboo, Duri bamboo, Santong bamboo, Tutul bamboo, yellow bamboo and more.

2. Bamboo pole age

Bamboo poles should be harvested when they are at least three years old. For some species of bamboo, it is better to harvest at four, five or even six years old. Tali / apus bamboo is best to harvest after three years, but Petung bamboo should only be harvested after four or five years. If bamboo poles are only 1-2 years old they contain more compound sugar / starch, which borers and starch insects (Dinoderus sp) like to feed on. After three years there is less starch and silica becomes more dominant. Silica is a mineral which makes bamboo poles harder and more resistant to insects. Bamboo harvested less than three years old will shrink and crack easier, and attract more borers and starch insects.

3. Harvesting time

The best time to harvest bamboo is during the dry season. Choose a time when new shoots are almost at their maximum height and have just begun to grow leaves at the top. At this time mature bamboo will be in its strongest condition. A common practice is to harvest bamboo on the full moon. This is to help prevent borers in the bamboo, and the bamboo will contain less moisture during the full moon. Following this practice will produce better quality bamboo. Avoid harvesting during shoot season, because at this time the bamboo are still ‘feeding’ their young, and the bamboo will contain high amounts of water and sugar. And besides that, cutting bamboo at this time will damage the new shoots.

4. Curing and storage

Bamboo needs 4-8 weeks to dry before it is used. If bamboo is stored vertical it will take about 4 weeks, while if it is stored horizontal it will take about 8 weeks. Bamboo must be cured and stored in the shade, not touching the ground and out of the rain.

5. Preservation

Borers, fungus and termites are the biggest problem with bamboo. You need to preserve bamboo to make it more resistant to these insect pests. It is also important to understand how borers work. Borers are small beetles which lay their eggs in damaged parts of bamboo skin. This could be at the ends where it was cut, where branches have been removed or where the skin has been scratched. The borer eggs will hatch at different times and the borers will then eat the compound sugar / starch inside the bamboo. Therefore, borer attacks can be prevented with good management and by not damaging the bamboo poles.

The first step in preserving bamboo is to reduce the starch content even further. This can be done in many different ways, including:

  • Clump drying. The poles can be cut and left in the clump for 4-6 weeks, until their leaves have all fallen. The pole should be placed on rocks so they are not touching the ground. The leaves will use up most of the starch in the pole and the pole will dry slowly without any areas for borers to lay their eggs.
  • Preserving with water. The poles can be soaked in running water for 2-3 weeks. The water will clean out most of the starch. After soaking in water, the bamboo poles must be dried slowly in the shade. Don’t dry in the sun because the bamboo poles will crack.
  • Preserving with seawater. For treatment with seawater, the bamboo poles can be soaked directly in the ocean. Tie the bamboo tightly to rocks so they won’t float away with the tides. Don’t let the bamboo poles lay exposed to sun at low tides, because they will crack. Another method, which is perhaps easier, is to dig a pit on land near the ocean. The pit will naturally fill with seawater as you dig below sea level. With both of these methods, leave the bamboo soaking for two weeks. Afterwards, remove the poles and leave them to dry in the shade.
  • Tuha treatment. There is a type of plant called “tuha” which can be used to preserve bamboo. Tuha is poisonous for people and animals, so it must be used carefully. You can use an old drum as a container. To use tuha, make a solution of one bucket of tuha combined with 200 litres of water. Short pieces of bamboo can be cured in the drum, and poles of bamboo which have just been harvested can be placed in the drum with their leaves still attached. The liquid in the drum will be drawn up through the pole to the leaves. Add more tuha into the drum as needed, then leave for one week. After this time, remove the leaves, and take the poles out of the drum to dry in a shady place off the ground. You can also use a tank or container made specifically for curing bamboo. This container should have a cover to stop rain from seeping in and children or animals from entering. Cut the bamboo in lengths and remove the branches from the poles. Put the poles in the container filled with tuha liquid and leave for 4-6 weeks. Then, remove the bamboo poles and dry them in a shady place until they will be used. If you use a water treatment first, than the tuha treatment will only take two weeks.
  • Oil and varnish. Finished pieces of furniture or crafts can be oiled or varnished to prevent fungus from growing and to make the product last longer and increase the value of the product.
  • Preserving with borax. Bamboo can also be treated with borax, a chemical which will kill borers and their eggs. Borax is best to use on large amounts of bamboo which need to be cured quickly, this is usually for export purposes. Most countries will not import bamboo which has not been chemically treated. The way to treat bamboo with borax, is to simply soak bamboo poles in a borax solution for two weeks, then dry them in a shady place off the ground. Caution:
    • Borax is a very strong chemical. When using borax, you should wear protective clothing, and afterwards always wash thoroughly.
    • Borax solutions should be disposed of carefully. If borax is diluted in water, the solution can be spread around fruit trees. Spread as widely as possible. This solution contains mild pesticide and herbicide properties. If diluted to 1% (1 part borax diluted in 100 parts water), it can be used on vegetable gardens. Do not dispose of this solution in rivers or irrigation systems.

Using Bamboo

Building Materials

Bamboo is a strong, lightweight and an easy to use material. Bamboo can be used for building houses, walls, floors, roofs, animal pens and much more. Bamboo is also very decorative and can be used to make the house more beautiful.

Furniture materials

Bamboo furniture is very beautiful and long lasting, especially if the bamboo used has been treated properly. Bamboo can be used for making chairs, tables, beds, wall panels, shelves and much more. To learn and build furniture requires training, tools and imagination.

Food for people

Bamboo is highly nutritious food — it contains water, carbohydrates, amino acids and many vitamins and minerals, and it can be cooked in many different ways. Bamboo is commonly eaten in many Asian countries. Some bamboo produces edible shoots, and other types produce shoots which are not good for eating. Some types of bamboo shoots which can be eaten include petung / betung bamboo, hitam bamboo and tabah / tawar bamboo. In the wet season, new bamboo shoots will grow in bamboo clumps. The new shoots are the edible part of bamboo. Cut the new shoots near the bottom where they become hard. The harder parts of bamboo shoots will taste bitter. The best part of shoots to eat is the inner parts, which are usually white in color. This part is soft, tastes good, and will be easy to cook with many dishes. Bamboo shoots can also be pickled, dried or fermented to make them last longer. Don’t harvest bamboo shoots for eating until the bamboo plant is over three years old. Before this time, cutting the shoots will damage the root system and cause the bamboo to grow much slower.

Food for animals

Bamboo shoots are also good food for animals, especially for pigs. Cook the shoots together with other materials, like cassava, sweet potato, leaves and so on. Bamboo leaves and stalks are also quality animal food, especially for goats and cows, which will benefit from the silica content in the bamboo leaves and stalks.

Fences

Bamboo is a common material used for fences, both as living fences and as fencing material. If used as fencing material, bamboo should be used for the crosspiece, not for the posts which are in the ground, because if bamboo is in the ground it will rot much easier.

Living fences

Bamboo plants will function well as living fences. It will take a few years for the bamboo to become thick enough, so temporary fencing will need to be built beside the bamboo plants. Bamboo living fences are good to use for animal yards, including for chickens, ducks, cows, buffaloes and pigs. The bamboo will provide shade and food, and can function as a windbreak. Bamboo can also be grown around orchards, but should not be grown to close to vegetable gardens because the bamboo will soak up lots of water and nutrients and may give too much shade.

Trellising

Bamboo can easily be shaped into just about anything, including trellising, because it is light and easy to move. The trellis can be made in any shape to fit your needs. Bamboo is also decorative, it can add more beauty to your garden.

Windbreaks

If bamboo is planted close together, it will eventually form a fence. Bamboo clumps can also function as wind breaks.

Irrigation pipes

There are many ways to use bamboo for irrigation:

  • Bamboo which has been split in half with nodes removed is commonly used for flowing and directing water.
  • Bamboo poles can be cut into 1 meter lengths and placed in the ground for watering fruit trees and vegetables. Put holes in the bamboo’s inner nodes to allow water through. This technique will save a lot of water and improve plant growth.
  • Bamboo can be used as pipes, which are useful for many purposes.

Bamboo charcoal for cooking

Bamboo charcoal can be made and used for cooking as a substitute for firewood. The charcoal is made from pieces of burnt bamboo, arrowroot powder and water. Bamboo charcoal will produce heat well, without producing a lot of smoke. Using bamboo charcoal is much easier than collecting firewood.

Musical instruments

Bamboo is a good material for making many different musical instruments, such as flutes, wind chimes and shakers.

Cooking containers

Bamboo is traditionally used as containers for cooking meats and vegetables.

Bamboo buckets

Large bamboo poles can be used to make buckets and watering containers. Bamboo buckets or containers will last much longer if they are varnished before use.

Storage containers

Bamboo can easily be used to make containers for anything, such as jewellery boxes, writing materials, cooking utensils, flower pots and even seed storage containers. These containers can be decorated, carved or shaped, and can then be marketed for sale. The containers will also last a long time if they are treated properly. If the containers are used for seeds, the bamboo should be treated to prevent pest problems. However, don’t use bamboo which has been treated with tuha for storing food, because tuha is poisonous.

Pots / plant containers

Small bamboo poles can be cut into pieces and used as seedling containers. Larger bamboo poles can be used as pots for flowers, spices and house plants. Don’t forget to put a few small holes at the pot’s base to allow water drainage.

References:

16 Responses to “The Growing and Utilizing of Bamboo”

  1. Renee Perry

    Thanks so much for this info! I just learned from a friend who has some really big bamboo that you can start new ones by burying the culms, but that was about all the info he gave me. Thanks again for providing the detail I needed to successfully do this myself.

    Reply
  2. fred

    Have also heard that bamboo can be grown over septic drain fields since it’s considered a grass and the roots do not go down too far to penetrate the drain field.

    Reply
  3. Janet D

    Any recommendations for bamboo for colder temperate regions (zones 6b-7b)? Will bamboo grow in these regions?

    Reply
    • andrew curr

      There is a runner called moso
      Hard to get ,,i want some!!!!
      Delicacy in Japan!!!

      Reply
      • Hetti

        Moso is available at Bamboo Australia Belli Park Qld, It’s slow to establish (we’re still waiting for decent culms 3 years on), and not a worrying runner. At Bamboo Australia they have a wonderful Moso forest, worth a visit. Google them for more details.

        Reply
  4. Andrew Ndawula Kalema

    I grow bamboo and encouraging fellow Ugandans to take it up as a sustainable crop.

    Reply
    • Elizabeth

      I am trying to encourage my parents to go into bamboo farming, i just wanted to know is it as profitable as people claim that it is. I know that it takes 5 yrs to mature.

      Reply
    • MUHWEZI

      Hello, Adrew iam also a Ugandan and iam very much interested in bamboo . Lets link up on my mail address above for an appointment. Thanks

      Reply
  5. Outlaw

    Pseudosasa Japonica grows very fast, tolerant to 10f (mulched) and makes excellent building material that is robust and will not mold.

    Reply
  6. Nitya

    Googled a lot but couldnt find any info about how to treat bamboo naturally and increase longevity. Any leads will be helpful. Thanks!

    Reply
  7. Diann

    I live in East, Central Pennsylvania. We had Bamboo broke during the winter season of 2013. We need to cut a lot of this out due to the breakage. I hate to see all this bamboo go to waste but don’t know what to do with it. My husband planted this back in the 70′s and doesn’t know what type of bamboo it is. Any suggestions for use would be appreciated.

    Reply

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