Bamboo Death(?) and Zucchini Life

Flowering is desirable in some garden plants (fruit trees, broccoli, and, of course, flowers) and undesirable in others (lettuce, cabbage, and arugula). I’m not sure how I feel about the flowers recently appearing on my bamboo (Phyllostachys aureosulcata). Yes, bamboo! Bamboo typically flowers only after decades of growth, sometimes after more than a hundred years of growth. My bamboo is about 25 years  old.
The downside to bamboo flowering is that it weakens, sometimes even kills, the plant. And “the plant” could be a whole grove since bamboo spreads by rhizomes (underground runners). All shoots are connected underground and are, essentially, one and the same plant. Bamboos sometimes flower gregariously, that is,

most or all of them all over the world flower in unison, so death or weakening could be more widespread than my little grove.

Which brings me to what is good about flowering of bamboo: It’s very interesting (but very unspectacular). I’m not too worried about my whole grove dying because I remember starting with a few pieces of bamboo which, perhaps, were not a single clone. Also, lopping off flowering shoots would keep them from draining the rhizomes of energy.
The best thing about the flowering is the possibility of collecting seeds. How exciting. Bamboo from seed. I won’t get my hopes too high because bamboos typically yield very little, in some cases, no seeds. On the other hand, sown in flats, the seeds allegedly sprout within only 3 weeks.
o, does anybody else anywhere have flowers on their Phyllostachys aureosulcata? This species is commonly known as yellow groove bamboo, notable for the vertical, yellow groove on the canes and the bent “knee” often on the lower part of a cane. It’s one of the best bamboos for sturdy canes where winter temperatures plummet below minus 15°F.
Searing heat and plenty of rain have made for Amazonian weather here, much to the liking of weeds (even with the “weed less” techniques I use, as described in my book Weedless Gardening). Rains in June were almost 200% higher than the average.
Mostly, what’s involved in weeding here is periodic hand pulling, starting at one end of the garden, then working my way across the garden ripping out main roots and tops of weed plants. I’m spurred on knowing that, for instance, one lamb’s quarter plant can produce over 70,000 seeds, and having noticed the speed with which sharp quackgrass runners spread underground.
I admit to having too much garden, so some neglected areas always get ahead of me. Like that patch of quackgrass growing and spreading happily between a couple of dwarf apple trees. Digging out the quackgrass would be too tedious. Tilling the soil would kill the plants, but many of the chopped up runners would take root and grow into new plants. Tilling would also expose buried weed seeds to light and more air — just what they need to sprout.
My tack is to mow the plants to the ground and cover the area, and a bit beyond, to account for underground spread of runners, with 4 layers of newspaper, overlapped. An alternative cover is grey resin paper, a building product, available on rolls that make the paper easy to roll out and, therefore, useful for larger areas. The paper smothers weeds in place, leaving the roots and tops to rot and enrich the soil.
Sure, the paper looks ugly and can blow away. That’s why I wet it as soon as it goes down, then cover it with mulch, wood chips, in this case, because I happen to have a pile of wood chips available.
This method of killing weeds is effective, easy, quick, and I can immediately plant something — a second crop of zucchini transplants is my plan — in the mulch. As long as everything is kept moist, roots of the transplants can grow into the mulch and then into and down through the wetted paper into the moist earth below.
My first crop of zucchini, from transplants seeded in early May, is growing like gangbusters. And it’s no

wonder, given the weather and their being planted right in the compost piles. Nutrients, warmth, and water: What else would a warm-weather plant need?

The compost piles are covered with EPDM rubber roofing material to seal in moisture and heat, and to keep out weed seeds. I cut two square flaps, each about 3 inches square, into the EPDM in which to “plug in” the transplants. The compost, in addition to offering a smorgasbord of nutrients, also clings tenaciously to water, so the zucchini plants need essentially no care.
In contrast, some care will be needed for the zucchini transplants that will go into the mulch between the apple trees. They’re at ground level, just right for rabbits, and the soil there is nowhere near as rich or moisture-retentive as pure compost. Then again, one can have too many zucchinis.


Bamboo is a plant that can strike up admiration as well as terror. Right now, my planting is leaning towards terror.

Most cold hardy bamboos are so-called running types for their ability to spread via underground runners. A few hardy bamboos behave like tropical bamboos, forming neat clumps whose spread is hardly noticeable. These cold-hardy temperate kinds (Fargesia spp.) have relatively thin canes that create picturesque, delicate-looking fountains of greenery. 

But 20 years ago I wanted (and still want) bamboo with robust canes thickening to an inch or more across, a bamboo on which can climb tomato or bean plants, that I can use for making trellises, even for eating. And the grove itself, with some pruning out of crowded canes, becomes a mysterious forest.

This spring’s new growth of bamboo towering above last year’s.
Yellow grove bamboo (Phyllostachys aureosulcata) is among the hardiest of the “timber” bamboos. Within a half-hour’s drive from here, into cold hardiness Zone 6, this species grows over 20 feet tall, with 2-inch-thick canes. In this cold spot where I live, yellow grove bamboo grows only about 15 feet high, with canes just a little more than an inch across — nice, but not quite as “mysterious” or “foresty” as I had hoped. Except for recent winters, the canes of my planting have always died back to the ground so that each year the plant had to grow all new canes, something it does with much enthusiasm. I’ve measured 6 inches of growth per day for the month or so it elongates in spring!

In recent winters, my planting has held its green leaves all through winter, just like plants further south. The result is thicker and longer canes. That extra energy saved also infuses the whole planting with even more vigor — and that is what incites terror.

I had the foresight 20 years ago to hem in most of my planting with an impenetrable barrier to stop the future spread of the roots. The thick plastic barrier reaches down a couple of feet deep into the ground and is usually used to prevent tree roots from creeping beneath and heaving up nearby sidewalks.

I lacked the foresight 20 years ago to appreciate how relentlessly the roots would seek escape from said barrier. Some roots evidently briefly braved sunshine long enough to hop over the lip and then dive back into the ground, reappearing across an 8 foot strip of mown grass in among some raspberry and gooseberry plants. My plan for the latter escapees is to cut down shoots as relentlessly as they appear, and eat them. And then, close inspection of the barrier and severing of errant escapees right there should starve out the root network that has entered the garden.

I never put a barrier to the rear of my planting. There, woods have pretty much kept the spread of bamboo roots in check. But with warmer winters, less so in recent years.
I just don’t get all the hubbub about garlic. I was recently looking at a friend’s very small vegetable garden, almost half of which was devoted to garlic. It’s not that garlic tastes bad (although in the past it was used more as medicine or for warding off witches than for eating). It’s just that the area devoted to garlic could have been devoted to asparagus, tomatoes, lettuce, or beans. Even small fruit bushes, such as gooseberries, currants, or blueberries could have used that real estate instead. 

I’d choose any of these vegetables or berries over garlic (for eating, not sorcery). Home-grown asparagus, tomatoes, lettuce, or beans taste vastly better than what you can buy. Same goes for the berries, and you can’t usually even buy gooseberries or currants, especially of the better varieties. Garlic from a store or farmer’s market tastes as good as what you can grow, and fresh-picked is not a consideration for this storage bulb.

I grow garlic as an afterthought in out of the way places. It does get its needed full sunlight and rich soil, though. In fact, around here, I spend more time weeding out garlic than planting it. Clumps sprout in my flower beds, in amongst my berry bushes, and at the base of a rose bush. Garlic does not make seeds so I can’t imagine how it gets to all these places.

I’m glad that the one place where it does not appear spontaneously is in my vegetable garden.