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Starting bamboo seeds again

Starting bamboo seeds again

After a several years, I’ve felt an urge to start bamboo seeds again. This time, I purchased cheap bamboo seeds from Aliexpress.

Buying fakes

Sprouting bamboo grain.

I’ve ordered a bunch of different seeds and among them two bamboos – Phyllostachys pubescens ‘Moso’ and Phyllostachys aureosulcata. Since I know that Phyllostachys aureosulcata is not flowering at the moment and the seeds are named falsely, I decided to try growing the seeds and see what I can get. My initial assumption is that all the seeds are regular Moso seeds which are readily available every year.
As I received the seeds, I found out (I suspected that when placing an order) that more than half if not all the seeds were fake – they were physically completely different. At least bamboo seeds were bamboo seeds, not some kind of turf grass.

Lottery

Based on my previous experience with growing bamboo seeds, I’ve had very low expectations. Bamboo seeds lose viability quite fast and when the seeds are not properly stored, germination rate drops heavily. It happened twice with Moso seeds I’ve ordered in the past. Out of hundred of old Moso seeds, I couldn’t even get one seedling.
I thought growing ‘fake’ seeds could be a project, not only because of high uncertainty regarding the bamboo variety the seeds came from, but also the fact that the seeds might have problems with germination. I expected nothing.

It’s alive!

First of the Phyllostachys pubescens seeds sprouted

After two weeks of uncertainty, I noticed that one of the seeds started sprouting. The first one that germinated was labeled as Phyllostachys aureosulcata and it’s very pale at the moment. When compared to the seedlings I’ve grown in the past, these seem to grow somewhat slower. It’s still a bit early to draw any conclusions though. At the moment, there are 2 seedlings from each bag I recieved and I expect more to sprout in the following weeks.

Proper ID…?

A couple of days old bamboo seedling.

If (when) they grow into larger seedlings, the characteristics of bamboo should start showing up. In their second or third year, the fuzzy culms will most likely point out that all the seedlings are from Moso bamboo seeds. It is highly unlikely, but the seeds could be from another Phyllostachys. If that’s the case, the difference should be evident in 6 month or so. Let’s see how it goes.

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Late snow in the end of April

Late snow in the end of April

Large Moso shoots when it started to snow.
Large Moso shoots when it started to snow.

After several weeks of extremely nice and warm weather, polar blast brought much lower temperatures and a ‘shipment’ of heavy wet snow. Most of bamboos already started shooting some time ago, trees are all leafed-out and most of the fruits have already flowered. The day started warm with strong southern wind, but the wind direction changed instantly, heavy low altitude black clouds appeared temperature dropped from around 15°C to just a bit above freezing. When it darkened in the middle of the day, thunderstorm brought sleet and first half melted snow which instantly started to pile up on plants, even if the soil remained warm enough to melt it.
It snowed for the rest of the day and by early evening, I could hear distant breaking of tree branches. Luckily it only snowed for a couple more hours and stopped completely by the end of the day. Total amount of snow was around 15cm. Considering the fact that a lot of it melted, because of nicely warmed ground, there might have been more on the completely flattened bamboo.

Only an inch of wet snow flattened Spectabilis to the ground.
Only an inch of wet snow flattened Spectabilis to the ground.

Like I already mentioned, most of my bamboos already started shooting, especially early shooters like Fargesia sp. ‘Rufa’ and Phyllostachys edulis ‘Moso’. These two started shooting early this year and many smaller shoots already started poking over the canopy of last year’s culms. All those shoots were not nearly hardened enough to handle the weight of heavy snow alone, not to mention the weight of whole bamboo flattened to the ground. Large Moso shoots have been growing on the northern side of the older clumps and that’s what saved them from breakage – bamboo grew more leaves towards south and the culms always fall down into south-eastern direction.

Here's how the Phyllostachys aureosulcata 'Spectabilis' culms look like in the snow.
Here’s how the Phyllostachys aureosulcata ‘Spectabilis’ culms look like in the snow.
Phyllostachys aureosulcata ‘Spectabilis’ was lucky to have started growing the shoots slowly. The largest shoots were pushed towards the ground by the weight of the culms, but so far, there’s no visible damage, even if they point into different direction. Other bamboos were only slightly damaged, because new branches already started to grow, shoots were either too small or not existent.

When the snow finally melted, most of the shoots that were bent to the ground recovered. Some of them snapped and died off, but most of them recovered with culm deformation which resembles genuflection, often seen on P. aureosulcata.

Some of the shoots have snapped under the weight of snow
Some of the shoots have snapped under the weight of snow
None of the larger shoots got damaged and they took off instantly after the snow was gone.

Fruit trees and walnuts were also lucky enough to survive without a lot of breakage. Could be much worse if there was just a little bit more snow.

 
 
 
 
 

Shoots that did not snap are seriously bent
Shoots that did not snap are seriously bent

Damage was not as severe as it seemed
Damage was not as severe as it seemed

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Moso shooting 2016

Moso shooting 2016

I tried planting bamboo seeds in 2011 and failed miserably with old Phyllostachys pubescens Moso seeds. I’ve tried 100 seeds and couldn’t get one single seedling to sprout. Second batch of seeds was supposed to be fresh and much more viable. I was able to get several seedlings to grow slowly from tiny little plant to not so tiny bamboo seedlings. I’ve learned Moso bamboo is hard to keep happy. I’ve been slowly learning about bamboos on my onwn mistakes and growing them in containers was a nightmare. In the end I’ve ended up with 2 living seedling, one is declining and is now hardly any larger than one year old seedling, but the second one managed to survive all the torture and eventually escaped the pot in its second year. It started growing in tight space where I left it, knowing that some day, it might become too large and I’ll have to remove it. That day seems to be getting close.

Smaller shoots appeared all around last year's culms.
Smaller shoots appeared all around last year’s culms.

A year later I’ve bought Phyllostachys aureosulcata rhizome division, and learned how much faster they grow, compared to tiny little seedlings. Well, all that was true until this year (Well, Spectabilis should also upsize considerably this year – can’t wait)! The tiny little Moso seedling finally took off after completely covering the area with thick rhizomes.
Last year I’ve been a bit disappointed in the spring, when it only managed to put out around 10 shoots which did upsize, but not as nearly as much as I had expected. Largest rhizomes were around the diameter of the largest shoots, but… rhizomes were everywhere and upsized shoots only grew in a tight clump on south-eastern position of the bamboo.

A bit larger shoots are not as packed together as the smaller ones
A bit larger shoots are not as packed together as the smaller ones

The last summer and autumn, seedling further increased rhizome growth! Some of the rhizomes that were ‘dolphining’ around the clump were a bit over 1cm diameter, which is larger than last year’s shoots. I expected upsize. And I expected more shoots than last season.
I haven’t been fertilizing the beast much, except for the bucket of wood ash or two over the winter and a thick layer of mulch in the fall, which I removed when warm weather came with first signs of spring. I noticed first shoots quite early, compared to previous years, so I wasn’t really aware, what to expect regarding the shoot size. After the first real rain, the shoots instantly took off.

Haven't even noticed the largest shoot until now!
Haven’t even noticed the largest shoot until now!

Some of the shoots have white hair.
Some of the shoots have white hair.

The winter this year was quite warm, and the bamboo didn’t suffer almost complete defoliation like it did a year before. Like usually, first shoots that appeared were the smaller shoots of the shooting season. They appeared a week or to before the large shoots started to appear. And when they finally did, I knew why I like this time of the year so much. 🙂

The upsize of new shoots is  extreme
The upsize of new shoots is extreme

New shoots growing out behind last year's culms.
New shoots growing out behind last year’s culms.

Is the coin getting smaller, or are these shoots getting thicker?
Is the coin getting smaller, or are these shoots getting thicker?

It's quite easy to determine the rhizome direction
It’s quite easy to determine the rhizome direction

Some of the shoots show white variegation
Some of the shoots show white variegation
Some shoots seem to be quite compact at the bottom
Some shoots seem to be quite compact at the bottom

Incredible variegation looks even better on larger shoots
Incredible variegation looks even better on larger shoots
The same kind of variegation in low-light overcast conditions
The same kind of variegation in low-light overcast conditions

Like last year, variegation returned
Like last year, variegation returned

Like in previous years, white variegation of the shoots returned and with this seedling’s first more mature shoots, variegation started to show completely different effect. On juvenile shoots, variegation was nothing more than white striped leaves, sometimes even with a hint of purple. Variegation seemed fabulous, but then I’ve seen how mature shoots look like! On mature shoots, there is much more purple and red pigment, which brings out beautiful bright orange coloration. I’ve taken two shots, one in bright sunny condition and one in low light overcast weather – shoots look great in both cases, but the light emphasizes the bright color even more. Like previously, the variegation builds up with each additional node. At the beginning they start without variegation and the shoots look like regular Moso shoots.

Shoots are getting thicker
Shoots are getting thicker

This year, the diameter of the shoots increased considerably. There are still a lot of juvenile shoots, especially after some late snow related damage, but the majority of the shoots only started to show mature form. It will be interesting to see how the shoots look like in a couple of years, when they receive even more features of an adult plant. The pattern of spots and speckles on the culm sheath also became evident this year. Shooting season is not even over yet and I can’t wait to see the next one. 🙂

Shoot variegation on juvenile shoots
Shoot variegation on juvenile shoots

First branches
First branches

First branches also show variegation
First branches also show variegation

Juvenile shoot vairegation
Juvenile shoot variegation

Variegation
Variegation

Variegated juvenile shoot
Variegated juvenile shoot

Top of the shoot
Top of the shoot

Dark brown spots
Dark brown spots

Another shot of highly variegated moso
Another shot of highly variegated moso

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Moso and yellow leaves

Moso and yellow leaves

Recently, someone asked me for advice about his yellowing Moso seedlings. I remember banging my head into the wall, trying to realize what was wrong with my Moso seedlings, when I was desperately trying to grow them from seed. At that point I have had no idea about the cause of yellowing and I was doing way too much (all the wrong things :)) to save them. In the end, all the pampering, fertilization, foliar sprays, excessive watering, moving them around from shade to half shade, full sun and back again, didn’t help them. Most of the seedlings from that time died a terrible death, except for one, which is growing vigorously.

Sickly yellow leaves on waterlogged Moso
Sickly yellow leaves on waterlogged Moso
Most possible causes of leaf yellowing are:

  • waterlogged soil
  • too much sun
  • soil heats up too much during the day
  • nutrient deficiency

Moso is terrible when grown in containers. Even if it’s already well established in it’s pot, it can get dry quickly, but it will immediately suffer if watered too much so it starts becoming water logged, roots will start rotting, water consumption will become minimal, soil will remain wet and it will start to die. Rather keep it on a dry side, at least partly shaded and protected from strong winds.

Stunted growth
Stunted leaf formation
Sun exposure can be tricky for Moso seedling as well as watering, but it’s a lot less problematic – seedling can suffer, but should not die because of it. When exposed to full strength sun, it often folds it’s leaves to preserve water. If you water it, you can kill it, if you spray it’s leaves only, it will unfold, but only for the time leaves remains wet. Usually that kind of exposure doesn’t damage the seedling, BUT it will start getting paler green and will look a bit chlorotic with some visual defects on the leaves, it can loose some branches, some of the shoots can get damaged as well. In complete shade, it will grow slowly but should remain dark green and healthy. Best thing to do is to find partly shaded position for it to thrive. When established enough, its tolerance can improve.

In late fall or early summer when temperatures are low enough to allow sunbathing, dark pots can get extremely hot. In overheated soil, roots and rhizomes get damaged, start rotting and seedling starts to decline. Pots have to be protected from sun exposure, so the soil temperature remains constant and low enough. The best option is to bury the pots.

Why I struck through nutrient deficiency? At least for me, it was never deficiency. It can be though!
Yellowing usually occur when there’s nitrogen deficiency. In case of N deficiency, new leaves remain dark green, but older foliage starts to turn yellow. Seedling transfers all the nutrients from old leaves into new ones. Iron deficiency makes the leaves turn yellow, but the veins remain green. It starts showing in new leaves first, in severe cases older leaves also get affected.
Sulfur deficiency hits the whole plant at the same time, which means new and old leaves turn yellow at the same time. Leaf veins get yellow as well.
Magnesium deficient plants start yellowing in the older leaves, then yellowing spreads to newer leaves if deficiency is severe.

… but usually it’s not deficiency at all.

To improve my seedling’s chances I now prepare my soil mix myself. I use garden soil, 2 years old compost (kitchen scraps, grass clippings, wood chips,…), peat moss, partly decomposed wood chips and some sand or gypsum. Soil holds water well enough, there are many air pockets inside and a it offers a lot of nutrients.

Most common mistakes:

  • using cheap pure peat moss ‘soil’
  • up-potting into large container
  • mindless watering and fertilization

The main cause of waterlogging is usually inappropriate soil mix. If there’s too much organic material in the soil, it can hold and lock-in a lot of water. Peat moss, and coconut fiber based soil mix can hold water like a sponge, which leads to yellowing and death of young Moso seedlings.

In a small pot, there will be a lot of roots that will make the soil more porous allowing excess water to drain out of the pot. If there are many roots and established plant above the soil level, water consumption will be high enough to use the water before it becomes an issue. When transplanting the seedling into large (too large) pot, soil can get too wet, preventing seedling’s roots to conquer newly acquired space.

Healthy, dark green Moso seedling
Healthy, dark green Moso seedling

Sometimes when soil is already saturated with water, leaves will start showing the same signs of stress as if the soil would be dry. Wilted leaves don’t necessarily mean that seedling needs more water, if soil looks moist, do not water. If leaves start to turn yellow and you suspect nutrient deficiency, only use mild concentration of fertilizer with the next watering. If issue doesn’t go away after a week or two, it most likely isn’t nutrient deficiency related.

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