Stock up on bamboo at 39th annual plant sale

  • Maximus and Violet Wisniewski stand and show the gigantic size of this monster clumping bamboo. This Dendrocalamus brandisii at Kona Cloud Forest Sanctuary may reach a height of 100 feet or more. (Photo courtesy of Voltaire Moise)

March roars in like a lion and leaves like a lamb. It is the official month during which spring officially occurs. For plant lovers, it is time to find interesting new additions to homes and gardens.

So for one-stop shopping, check out the Big Island Association of Nurserymen sponsored Horticultural Show and Sale at Edith Kanakaole Stadium in Hilo, March 8-9. It is the largest show and sale on the island. Now in its 39th year, it promises a great variety of flowering and fruit trees, orchids, air plants, succulents, shrubs, ground covers and the best array of rare bamboos to be found in Hawaii. Expert nursery folks will be there to answer your gardening questions. For further information on the event you may contact Sean Spellicy, at 966-7169 or sean@rpetropicals.com

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According to Peter Berg and Susan Ruskin there will be dozens of noninvasive bamboo species available. These are suitable for privacy hedges, gorgeous landscape statements, edible shoots, windbreaks and those used for construction.

Hawaii’s varied climates and cultural makeup are ideal for bamboo, but until the 1980s, there was no serious effort to introduce the valuable elite bamboos of Asia and the Americas. Thanks to the Hawaii Chapter of the American Bamboo Society and Quindembo Nurssery, we now have over a hundred species available.

Asia is the ancestral home of many kamaaina, both people and plants. When it comes to plants, one of the most valuable of these is bamboo. Although there are many species found in Central and South America, tropical and subtropical Asian cultures have utilized bamboo for thousands of years. It is said that bamboo and rice are the very foundation of these cultures. The Hawaiian ohe kahiko, may be found in many parts of Polynesia. The actual genus and specie is not clear with taxonomists and botanists not all agreeing. We do know that it is a tropical clumper probably originating in Southeast Asia. It is likely schizostachyum. Vast stands may be seen in the mountains of high islands like Raiatea in the Society Islands. Polynesians there still use it in crafts.

With large tracts of land now available for forestry, and our local interest in sustainable agriculture, bamboo may become one of our major resources. It has many uses for food, construction, arts and crafts.

Some folks only know bamboo from their experience with the rampant running species. Needless to say, these types are not for the small garden unless contained. However, they have been used very effectively to stabilize steep slopes that are prone to erosion. That is why we find large stands of running bamboos on the steeps slopes above Waiohinu in Ka’u or at the back of Manoa Valley and on Maui. The intricate mat of roots and rhizomes hold soil and rocks in place and save roads, homes and streams from mud and rockslides. Bamboos are certainly a more attractive and environmentally sound approach to steep slope erosion control than concrete, wire or chain link screens. Erosion on East Hawaii gulch roads is a serious problem that could be addressed with certain bamboo species.

Bamboos are also excellent cattle feed and have a place in supplying nutritious greens at a low cost. Local farmers have been working on the potential of growing bamboos for multiple use sustainable agriculture incorporating the animal feed component and for windbreaks.

Even though bamboos are excellent sources of edible shoots and construction material, most folks are interested in ornamental bamboos for their looks. Bamboos, of one type or another, are a natural for almost any tropical garden. In fact, many of the hundreds of types of bamboos do grow in the tropics, but some species grow as far north as New York or Seattle, and can be found growing up to 10,000 feet in the mountains of Asia, Central and South America. Bamboos vary from forest giants of 120 feet to dwarfs of 6 inches.

Many specimens of bamboo are suitable for ornamental purposes. The clump bamboos are ideally suited for ornamental uses in their area of adaptation. They can be planted in groups for hedges or singly for specimen plantings.

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Bamboo does best in a moist well-drained soil with some organic matter. Apply complete fertilizer such as organic 8-8-8 or manures four to six times a year to the planting. Mulch the soil around the planting. Mulches add organic matter to the soil, help to restrict the growth of weeds and conserve soil moisture. Dead leaves or dry grass clippings can be used for mulch. Apply a layer of mulching material at least three inches deep.

If you are interested in bamboo culture for economic and agricultural uses, contact your UHCTAHR Master Gardener Helpline for UH Extension circular Bamboo Forest and Garden. The phone number in Kona is 322-4893 and 981-5199 in Hilo.

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