Winter 2010 – a commentary

Printed in the May 2011 issue of BAMBOO

(ABS magazine)

by Susanne Lucas  /

It is amazing what a little time can bring.  I just took a stroll around to take a look at my bamboos, as Betty had asked me to give a report on the past winter.  Today, there are gorgeous new shoots of Bashania fargesii, Fargesia robusta, and all kinds of Sasa.  But it was not so long ago it was winter, and we had lots of snow, and strolling was not possible.  Snow-shoeing, or trudging, or simply glimpsing from inside the house was my only recourse to visit with my bamboos.


On December 26 we got a great Nor’easter storm which resulted in easily a foot of snow. And we didn’t see the ground again for probably something like 8 weeks, at least. Subsequent snows accumulated and temperatures stayed cold (never going above freezing for at least a month), so the bamboos had lots of insulation.  Many of them were also lying on ground, and many of them were broken, as large drifts of snow hung up on the pine branches above and then those branches came crashing down, busting most anything woody below.  This happens often with the Phyllostachys vivax forms; but other species with thicker walls seem to somehow “bounce” back once the snow melts.


There is something kind of fun with the Fargesia when we get so much snow.  They collapse in a heap, but rarely break, and then, when no one is watching, they rise gently back up.


Our lowest temperature for the winter was about 4 degrees F, which is nothing unusual here.  And as I mentioned, we went many weeks without a day above freezing, so I think it was a rather normal winter here in the milder side of zone 6, coastal southeastern Massachusetts.  What was not so typical was the wonderful snow mulch that provided a respite much like down blanket to the bamboos, which helped keep moisture in and roots undamaged.


During the months of January – April, we can burn brush here, so that is what I relish doing each winter with all the broken bamboo bits that cannot be salvaged as poles, and with the groundcover bamboos that I clear-cut each April before shoots appear.  I love burning.  Very primal, very satisfying and very helpful in keeping my huge compost pile from filling with silica-laden bamboo leaves that take a century to break down.


Take a look at the pictures and you will see how it all looked in January here.  Maybe Betty will ask me how my bamboos fared over the summer and I can send nice green lush images for you to compare.  Rest-assured, the bamboos all did survived very well.  I probably have something like 60-70 different forms in the ground here on just about one acre…..and nothing died, nothing suffered much burn – only bends and breaks.   One plant I am so pleased with after about 5 years in the ground here:  Fargesia scabrida.

Yes, it is lovely with its mature dark olive green stems, coming along after gun-metal blue bloom is revealed behind orange-colored culm sheaths. Its leaves are long and held almost horizontally, and are thick and tolerant of the winter cold.  It is a clumper, but makes a very wide clump, with new shoots coming out quite far from the center of the clump and securing some real-estate in which to mature.  My largest clump is about 8 ft tall now and easily 4 feet wide.  We live in a white pine grove, so the overhead evergreen canopy gives a great amount of protection from winter sun, and wind is rarely a problem;

I think this is why scabrida is so happy in my garden (along with our sandy-loam well-draining soils).


I’d say my other pleasure of bamboo winter success here is with Phyllostachys parvifolia.

It has reached a height of 35 ft and 2.5 inches in diameter = easily my largest bamboo, and very resistant to winter cold, staying completely beautifully evergreen and holding up against snow loads.


Thank the bamboo gods for 4 seasons in New England; with each one we find a reason to celebrate the next!

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.