What About Snow?

by philinshelton on March 15, 2009

in Bamboo Basics

Bamboo over public road

Chusquea culeou

This morning's freaky March weather brings to mind a consideration that few of us make when we plant a bamboo; what happens when it snows?  More than any other landscape plant I can think of, the big bamboos have the potential to cause problems even with light snow fall.  (Click images to enlarge) In Western Washington, our snows typically occur at temperatures just about or above freezing.  These wet, heavy snows can play havoc with bamboos over 20', and create problems for humans as well. Here are 4 things to think about when siting your bamboo.
  1. Bamboo over a roadway

    Bamboo over a roadway

    Snow loaded bamboos may block public roads.  If yours does, you will be responsible for clearing the roadway.  On back roads, it's not usually a big deal as long as there is an open lane.  In urban settings, it could be a real problem if traffic is restricted or blocked, not to mention traffic damage to the bamboo itself.
  2. Bamboo over driveway

    Bamboo over driveway

    Snow loaded bamboos may block your driveway or walkway.  For smaller plantings, this can be a minor nuisance you can fix by shaking the snow from the leaves and branches.  If you have a long driveway, plan to get cold and wet for a couple of hours to clear it.
  3. Bamboo over a neighbors driveway

    Bamboo over a neighbor's driveway

    Snow loaded bamboo may encroach on, or block access to a neighbor's home. If so, you may have to clear it for them or suffer their wrath - especially if your bamboo is laying over the top of their vehicle.  Work out a plan with your neighbors before it snows.  My neighbors/tenants have permission to shake, cut, break and drive over bamboo as necessary. They also have my number, which they can call at any time if they need me to clear their driveways.
  4. Finally, the bamboo itself can be damaged by snow.  Some bamboos are more prone to damage than other.  In general, the taller the bamboo, the more likely it is to break under snow load.  Breakage with the clumping bamboos isn't a problem, because the culms are short enough and flexible enough to bend to the ground.  The big running bamboos, however, usually sustain some damage, sometimes severe.  Hopefully, your clean up will entail removing a few broken canes, but may require a heartbreaking clear cut of broken bamboo.
So, when you're planting your little bucket of bamboo on a warm summer day, make a plan for dealing with snow in the future.  Think about how your mature plant will impact access to roads, and driveways, and pick the best variety for snow loads.  For starters, check out my Bamboo Short, Short List. I'll be writing about the best big bamboos for snow load in a future article.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Pete Bray May 21, 2009 at 3:08 pm

i had the same problem with snow in portland. recalling that in japan most of the horticulture is very much “human controlled”, i used sissel rope to tie most of the larger stems to stand upright. not sure if this itself might cause damage, but it seemed to work.

philinshelton May 21, 2009 at 4:01 pm

Yes, tying up can help when the canes are shorter, say under 25′. If they are very tall, however, the canes can snap off at the rope.

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