Growing bamboo in a narrow space – pros, cons, and a solution for support



Last spring, May 2012, we added five bamboo plants, Bambusa multiplex Featherleaf, along our fence line.   This variety is the clumping type (no aggressive rhymezone runners) for easy control near the property line; it takes zone 8b afternoon sun; it reaches twelve feet maximum height- so not a height that will dominate our urban pie-shaped lot.

After a year with the Featherleaf bamboo, I appreciate how it sways and rustles in the wind and admire how the slender leaves brightly glow in the sunlight.   A negative, in a narrow space at least, is its fine culms that tend to arch out as opposed to the larger, straight and erect culms often seen in narrow bamboo hedges.   This drooping habit is common in clumping bamboos that can take sun.  As expected, it grew minimally in height its first year, but it filled out considerably, and its natural tendency to arch began to block the adjacent pathway.

I didn't take a proper before photo, but the left side of this photo shows the bamboo encroaching on the heavily used wood plank path.  Confrontations at the side gate were becoming regular events.

The left side of this image shows the bamboo encroaching on the often walked plank path.  After a recent nice long rain, it flopped completely onto the path.

I knew when they were planted that they’d eventually need corralling to work in the slim space, and I had planned to use an idea I’d seen on the Digging blog featuring a Houston garden where bamboo was secured to a fence.  It turned out that this was not a good option for us, so I came up with a similar non-fussy and inexpensive solution.  I’m very happy with its form, function and low-cost.  My husband appreciated how light the materials were and how quickly this solution came together.IMG_2004[1]


The structure was built using….
– 4′ steel stakes (sold as yard sign stakes at Lowe’s and HD)
– bamboo poles found at nurseries and garden centers (3/4″ diameter at least)
– 8″ inch zip-ties
– spray paint (optional)

To install, we hammered the stakes in as posts, then attached bamboo poles to the front side of the stakes using zip-ties to “pretty them up”.  This gives the illusion of light and organic but with the strength and rigidity of steel.
The horizontal poles were then added by criss-crossing zip-ties.

The horizontal poles where attached with zip ties in a criss-cross lashing fashion.

Horizontal poles attached with zip-ties in a criss-cross lashing fashion.


It was an after thought to spray paint it to blend with the fence color.  This gives the illusion that perhaps the lashings are something other than zip-ties (above) and helps the 15′ long structure be less visibly prominent (below).


The plants were also pruned in a manner that is called “legging up” bamboo: the oldest and thinnest culms were removed from the center, and the secondary side growth was removed from the remaining culms so the foliage seems to float above bare lower culms.

My son then worked to add the same support to the new bamboo that swatted our faces each time we passed the backyard stone planters. 



Same support structure made in a square.   Extra height was left at the corner posts so that higher horizontal supports can be added as the plants get taller.



Before-  Featherleaf (on left) grown in planter before pruning and support


Two years ago, before & after: 2011 ~ 2013

A friend asked me yesterday to share some “before” photos of our front garden- photos from before the 2011 major revamp, when it was a very thirsty and tired yard.   This is the perfect cue to also update the blog with “after” photos showing the current garden, a la May 2013.  At the bottom there is also info. on the watering and fertilizer upkeep.

I’m surprised I didn’t post comparisons long ago!   I love before & afters, and it’s been nearly two years since we removed the lawn and improved the hard-scape.  I’m tickled that someone has interest, tickled enough to clear the hurdle of perfectionism and not wait till I have good current images to post.   The below recent photos are via my phone and in not-great light. But, they are better quality than what I’ve been posting recently- that is, they are better than nothing.

Notice the healthy sago palms. They've not looked as healthy since due to back-to-back hard winter freezes.

Before, late winter 2010 (just before our purchase of the home)-  I like the curves and contrast, but it looks ho-hum to me.  It does have neat and tidy going for it.

After, May 2013


Before, 2011

After 2013

After, 2013


Before, 2011- view from back gate, and shows line in dirt for future wood plank path


After, 2013- view from gate


Before, 2011, entry path / porch

After 2013- entry path / porch

After, 2013- entry path / porch


Spring 2012–  Taken about a year ago and one year after the big revamp.

After, Spring 2013

Spring 2013
Compare with above photo to see how the butterfly agave has grown this past year.  It kinda needs to stop.

The garden is hand watered:

– about 3x per week when newly planted during the still hot Sept.- Nov. 2011,

– then once per week during the first winter,

– then 2x per week during the summer of 2012 (the first summer),

– once per month this past winter,

– and every other week this recent spring.

Though I (usually) enjoy the 30 minutes spent hand watering, I hope to only need to water every other week this summer, the garden’s second summer.

Before planting in 2011, the soil was tilled and plenty of compost was added. Since then I’ve only added “compost tea” (brewed at a local nursery) about 5x per year and used a palm fertilizer around the sago palms.

Spring entry garden update~ structure and foliage

I resisted spring’s garden fever because I didn’t want to plant or move anything till the deck and fence were stained.  That was done three weeks ago, and we’re completely happy with the results.

Here’s before~ 











And after~

 Obviously the plantings have also changed in the after photo; which brings me to some of what I’ve been up to these past two weekends, during my own “Hurry! Spring-is-almost-over fever”…..

We added five Featherleaf clumping bamboos (bambusa multiplex) along the property line fence.   These should green-up as they become established and grow up to about eight feet.  They already give nice movement.  If they begin to arch over into the path, I’ll use this cool fix I saw on the Digging garden blog.

I added two more culvert pipes to the driveway/entry bed, bringing the total to five culvert pipes in the front (three shown above).   Perhaps that’s enough salvaged drain pipe in the front garden.   Probably. 

Purple Pixie loropetalum (or dwarf chinese fringe flower) is in the tallest pipe, and a manicured Mexican Feather grass is in the smallest pipe.   The Butterfly agave has definitely grown since being transplanted in August.    Here’s the bed in harsh mid-day sun~  stained horozontal fence; culvert pipe plant grouping- with purple pixie loropetalum, butterfly agave and mexican feather grass; diamond frost in front

On the other side of the garden, at the end of the fence is also where two paths meet.  It’s a natural focal point, so I added a tall raspberry glazed pot planted again with Purple Pixie loropetalum.  I like how this relates with the Brake Light yuccas’ spike blooms.    

So the garden structure is coming together-  hardscape, shrubs and focal points.   When the soil is dry enough (more rain possibly this week!)…I have perennial flowers and groundcover to plant- some might say “the fun stuff”, but it’s all fun; and moving from structure and foliage is definitely a departure from my narrow gardening comfort zone.

Footprints in the garden~ an idea for Mother’s Day

We decorated this clay pot in 1998 when he was two years old.    The idea came when we were finger painting on the patio…and that’s the paint we used fourteen years ago on an 8” pot.    We made two more for his grandmother and great-grandmother and added cheery flowers for their Mother’s Day gifts.

It’s a treasured memento for me today – thought I’d pass this simple idea along.

Roll the Music, We Have a Winner….

But first I’d like to thank everyone who stopped by to leave a comment and show their enthusiasm for buying local and their appreciation toward The Natural Gardener

….the winner is LisaH of Austin!  Lisa, Congratulations!  I’ll send you an email with info. for redeeming your gift.   Thank you Natural Gardener for the donated certificate! 

I’m grateful to the very active Austin garden blogging community for introducing me to some independent nurseries that I am eager to visit soon…and for reminding me of the VALUE of shopping locally.    While shopping at local nurseries this past weekend I purchased….

Inland Sea Oats (chasmanthium latifolium) – (below) shade-loving, graceful and looks like a cross between bamboo and prairie grass;  I’m planting it in a strip between a fence and a walkway to soften the parallel edges of the space; it has great rustling movement in the lightest of breezes- nice to include nature’s music in a garden.  (photos provided by Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and Gardener of Good and Evil Blog)



Berkeley Sedge (carex divulsa) – (below) an evergreen carex that is clumping, grass like and floppy like rabbit ears, love it; I’m planting twenty of these in a portion of my garden that is part sun/shade where way-too-thirsty bermuda grass once was. (photo provided by The New York Times / garden design by Mark Word; Annie’s Annuals

Devil’s Shoestring (nolina texana) – (below) an evergreen uber hardy Texas native; I’m adding this amongst my boulders for year-round green and a truly authentic Texas Hill Country look.     (photo provided by the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center)

 I’ve never seen any of the above lovely xeric plants at the big box stores.   Now, I’ve got to go get planting!   I’ll post photos soon…..

And, again, below  are some of the fabulous central Texas garden blogs that participated in Support Your Local Independent Nursery Month – brainchild of Pam Penick of Digging.  I visit these blogs often for inspiration and know-how.  


The Whimsical Gardener

Rock Rose

Vert Austin

Digging- It all starts with a patch of dirt

The Shovel-Ready Garden

Renee’s New Blog

Sharing Nature’s Garden 

Gardening in Austin

J Peterson Garden Design

Go Away, I’m Gardening!

Great Stems

I’ll follow the sun…


 I’ve been following the light and shadows in my garden. A late afternoon peachy glow projects along our long entry wall – “Showtime!” says the crepe myrtle.

(above) I’d like to plant something that will be sculptural against the wood step enclosure (on the right)…any ideas?

 (below) I also love how the afternoon sun skims across the barrel cactus near the driveway; the yellow spines glow a welcome home kiss to us as sweet as any showy bloom.    This actually doesn’t do the (lower) barrel cactus justice; I need to capture that moment.

(below)   My agave looks dewy in the morning light – even during a summer drought; light filters through a huge oak tree  from nine till about ten, and the sharp-edged butterfly agave has a soft watercolor moment each day.

Where do shadows bloom in your world?

Oh, and here’s a link to a fabulous, short shadow-puppet show (seriously!!) on YouTube…worth the click I promise~

Santa-Rita cactus~ glows softly and carries a big stick

This is my Santa-Rita Prickly Pear that I purchased this weekend at Barton Springs Nursery; I went on a mission to find one, and BSN graciously supplied a beautiful selection to choose from.  I wuv it!  The color combo is stellar.  I like that it is cold-hardy and will get more purple when it’s chilly or thirsty, so I assume when it’s stressed in general.  I saw a very purple one in someone’s “hell strip” near 45th Street – should I leave them a note to water it?  

I want Ms. Rita to go some place special in my Purple Haze entry garden; I’d prefer to only plant her once, that is, not change my mind and move her (unlikely)…so I’m still considering the location- she becomes quiet statuesque, maybe over six feet, but I’ll keep her pruned lower probably- which means baby ‘ritas to share in the future : )    Maybe I’ll re-pot it in a contrasting colored pot (like red or yellow), so I can get her out of that hideous plastic outfit – she’s too good; that way we’re all happy, and my fear of commitment  is fed.   

You might notice her boo-boo on the bottom right;  I was driving down the fast and winding 2222, and Ms. Rita catapulted from my hatchback into the backseat.  I don’t think I was speeding, Officer….but what if she had whacked me in the back of the head? You can see some spines on this lovely, but you can’t see the thousands (I swear) hair-thin (read  invisible) spines that ended up in my dry-cleaning, back-seat and then my hands…but none made it to the back of my head- so thank you, universe – lesson learned.  I still wuv her.

Helptul tip-  to remove cactus spines from your skin, the ones you can’t get with tweezers- spread a thin layer of white / Elmer’s glue to the area, let dry, then peel away – worked for me!   I read that hair-removal wax strips work well for the really stubborn ones, but I didn’t need to resort to that – so happy I didn’t have to wax the back of my head.

Rookie Mistake

When we replaced our lawn with a garden last month, I knew that I wanted to start with two elements – a mass planting of tall ornamental grass (we planted Gulf muhly), and in the narrow border bed between our yard and the neighbor’s driveway, I wanted to mix boulders and native plants in a way that, hopefully, looked more natural than contrived.    I got what I wanted, but there is a little “oops!”;  I didn’t consider that the tall grasses would hide a large portion of the boulder plants. 

I was initially inspired by this lovely photo I saw at the blog Creative Country Mom…..

I don’t have near as much real estate as CCMom, but here’s our new boulder-border below (on the left) sitting behind the tall muhly grass.  I like this view, but it’s only seen if you stand at the curb in just the right spot.   


The rock bed is more visible from the top of the stairs near our driveway (where visitors usually pass to the front door); hopefully the plants in the rocks will thrive and get taller while the muhly shouldn’t get much taller than this since it’ll be cut back each year in late winter.   

I really like this combination of  light green Bamboo muhly and silver Texas sage with a purple boulder.  I wonder if I can keep the TX sage pruned so it stays full at the bottom and not leggy as it matures?  I think low Creeping (wandering?) rosemary (for its dark texture) at the base of the rock would make this even better! 




Here’s more bamboo muhly planted in a culvert pipe- this visually anchors the end of the long boulder bed.  Inspired by Pam Penick’s Digging post about culvert pipe planters.    The dense sago palm and tall pipe shield the afternoon sun from a saucer of fresh water left for the wildlife.    

Garden Concert

If my new garden is a concert…
…then the dense Gulf muhly grass is the mosh pit,
which is easy to imagine when it thrashes and sways in the wind.
Pictured below, a leaf took a stage-dive and is carried across on grass finger tips.