About Bamboo

Adorning the perimeter of many commercial buildings, the willowy Bamboo stands, in containers and planter beds, providing screens and landscape focal points. Its reputation as a renewable resource for flooring to furniture and even fabric, make it emblematic of the sustainability movement.

We maintain several sites in San Francisco with Bamboo plants and we appreciate their beauty, first-hand. They are finicky though, and need to be planted in just the right micro-climate. 

Because of its heightened interest we thought you might be interested to know more about them. Each Bamboo will have slightly different characteristics so in the interest of brevity we are providing general tips that apply to most Bamboo plants.

Types of Bamboo

There are numerous varieties of Bamboo.  One clarification – Lucky Bamboo is actually not a Bamboo.  It comes from the Dracaena family. 

Bamboo grows by spreading horizontally through “rhizomes”.  Rhizomes are modified stems running underground horizontally.  They represent a part of plant production and also store nutrients.

Below to the right is a simple illustration that points out the main parts of a Bamboo plant: the Culm and Rhizome.


Clumping Bamboo

One of the challenges of Bamboo is that it can be invasive.  The benefit of Clumping Bamboo is that its rhizomes do not spread so rapidly.  They are also slightly more drought tolerant.


The Parts of a Bamboo

Running Bamboo

They have long Rhizomes which enable them to spread rapidly. This type of Bamboo is considered invasive.


The Best Environment for Most Bamboo

  • Full sun. That means 5 hours of sun.
  • Well draining soil is preferred. Amend clay soils to improve drainage.
  • Water once or twice a week for a young Bamboo.
  • After that time once per week or less should be sufficient
  • Bamboo does not tolerate soil that is too saturated.  Roots that sit in water can rot.



Well Drained Soil

What Stresses a Bamboo?

  • Abundant sun combined with dry wind can stunt the growth of a Bamboo and cause winter burn.
  • Frost can also damage a Bamboo
  • Over-watered Bamboos can be excess yellowing foliage, rotting new canes
  • Too much sun and heat
  • Lack of water their leaves will curl in a “v” shape

Stressed Bamboo

Planting Bamboo in Containers

The larger container the better.  One source suggests 18”x18” and 18” deep box is the smallest size container they recommend.  Your container should be wider than it is tall.

Potting soil dries out more quickly and it needs to be moist (not wet).  Make sure your container has drainage so the plant is not sitting in water.


About Bamboo Maintenance

  • Bamboo is dormant in the winter.
  • Best time to fertilize is spring and summer.
  • They need occasional pruning and thinning.
  • Once any part of a Bamboo is cut, it will not grow back.
  • Bamboo leaf litter is actually good for the soil. Although in urban environments it may make the base of the plant look messy.
  • Because of how the Bamboo grows it will usually have a mixture of new and dying or dead leaves.  This can be frustrating for their owners. Some varieties can shed as much 30% of their leaves at a time.

What’s new in landscape and gardening?

Every year there are numerous reports on the latest trends in plants, hardscape, irrigation and even color. From technology to outdoor living. Designers, Landscape Architects and Green Industry pundits weigh in on what’s hot. 

There are several sources for this article. The people at Gardeners’ Guild have chimed in on the latest wrinkle. I’ve combed through Garden Design Magazine, NALP (National Association for Landscape Professionals), ASLA (American Society of Landscape Architects) and irrigation experts. 

According to some experts, Millennials are driving some of these trends.  See below.

More Local Sourcing

Using native plants is a trend that has been building over the years. Some landscape designers see the market’s interest in natives morphing to endemic plants – those which are native to a particular ecosystem.

One example – is a project we completed for U.C. Berkeley in 2016.  It was the restoration of Strawberry Creek.  The specifications required locally sourced plants and mulch. They had to be native plants grown in the Strawberry Canyon area, the location of the project.

Note: I encourage you to visit Strawberry Canyon. It is a marvel – a quiet oasis of nature sandwiched between a highly caffeinated college campus.

More building materials are being sourced locally. A reason for the increased popularity of local sourcing can be traced to climate change. Its geographic impacts and the ensuing regulation on say, the use of chemicals, water and the like are, in part, driving the preference of locally sourcing.

The reasons are practical. Reduced use of fossil fuel to transport them.

Strawberry Creek, U.C. Berkeley


Natural Products – With One Exception

There is a gradual shift away from the use of concrete toward natural and materials. Wood, brick, slate, gravel, pea stone and natural stone are popular. Increasingly, green materials are being used for retaining walls, fencing, decking, walkways and outdoor kitchens.
ASLA says “Nature will continue to play an important role in landscape architecture and we as practitioners will continue to be inspired and create designs that emulate and mimic(bio-mimicry) nature. An increasing trend will be to use the messiness and ephemerality of nature in a structured manner to create beautiful landscapes.”

The exception – there is a trend toward the use of artificial turf. Technology continues to innovate a product that looks and feels more like grass. Could they also invent the smell of fresh mowed grass?



Urban Gardening

One type of urban gardening trend that Gardeners’ Guild has noticed is the increased support for urban projects that provide affordable housing, gardens providing food for local residents and restoration projects in low-income urban areas.

ASLA says (American Society of Landscape Architects) “As densities increase in cities we will see larger scale projects that will attempt to service the needs of increasing populations (housing, transport, social, green space, job creation) at a local level.”

San Francisco has a number of projects designed to improve public space. Among them is the Green Benefits District. A quote from their mission statement: “to clean, maintain, enhance, and expand open spaces, parks, plazas, parklets, gardens, sidewalk greening and the Public Realm in general in the Dogpatch and Northwest Potrero Hill neighborhoods”. There are a host of other projects aimed at revitalizing blighted areas such as the Tenderloin.  Gardeners’ Guild did some projects for the Green Benefits District.

Urban Tilth, Richmond is another example. It’s an ambitious non-profit dedicated to improving the health of its community. Their website says: “We farm, feed, forage, teach, train, build community, employ, and give back. We help our community grow our own food;” As part of 2015 Earth Day, GGI helped Urban Tilth plant a  vegetable garden at Verde Elementary School, Richmond.

Container gardening is exploding.  Urban dwellers with limited space see the low maintenance advantages of container plantings. A recent study by Harris Poll found that millennials are embracing edible gardening. Of the 6 million new people who took up gardening, 5 million of them were millennials. Their home gardening interests gravitate toward microgreens, medicinal herbs and herbs they can use in cooking.


Interior Plant Trends

Garden Design Magazine forecasts a renewed interest in interior plants for 2017. They say, “Just as bell bottoms are reappearing on runways, a 1970s-style fascination with houseplants is back. Millennials could have something to do with this.

Living walls for commercial buildings remains popular. They come in all sizes including a plethora modular units that can be installed like wall art. A heightened interest in plants for the office may have to do with the needs of younger workers for a healthier work environment. The extensive research about interior plants’ benefits such as air filtering as well as productivity enhancement is now widely available and posted. Plants both in the home and office is a trend that will continue to proliferate.


Brian O’Hara our Irrigation Manager, has noticed an uptick in the choices of add-on technology or upgrade kits that can convert a conventional controller into a “smart” controller*. This is a budget friendly option.

Smart controller technology continues to evolve. With more sophisticated cellular communication and the cloud all the onsite data can be shared with the operator. It has become a two-way wireless communications giving operators the ability to control an unlimited number of stations and flow sensors from a central remote location.

Moreover, they can be programmed and monitored by smart phone. Some include flow sensors that will text a contractor if they detect a leak in the system.

*About Smart controllers: They use weather and on-site local data sensing tools to optimize your water use.




Do you live in a San Francisco Bay Area city with no yard?

Do you like to eat healthy and buy the same vegetables each week, bemoaning their rising costs?

If you have a porch, deck, balcony, small patio, stair landing, or windowsill, consider growing container vegetables this fall. You will save money, find they taste better, last longer than store-bought and have the satisfaction of growing them yourself!

It is easier than you think. The fastest way to do it is to purchase young plants from your local nursery and transplant into larger containers.  This will alleviate the issues you might encounter when starting from seed.  You will find young starter plants in a six-pack or 2 or 4” plastic pots.

There are several vegetables that grow well in the fall to winter. Most can take light to moderate frosts.

You will need to purchase these items.


Size and shape depend on –

How many plants of each type and their requirements for root growth and the space between each one.  Each plant on the list below has recommendations.  Most often your planters will need to be wider than tall.  Its overall size will depend on how much space you have and how many plants you want to grow.  We recommend that you start small.  You can always add later.  I have been to most of the bay area nurseries and there is a wide selection and sizes of clay pots reasonably priced.  Make sure they have drain holes.  I have also read that adding a thin layer of coarse gravel at the bottom of the container will enhance drainage.

Good Soil

High quality potting mix.  This is lighter than the typical bay area soil which is tends to be clay which lacks air pores to drain adequately.  You don’t need to spend a lot of money for this either.  Add compost if it is readily accessible.


They will come in either time-release granules or water soluble form.  Since you are starting small don’t buy a large quantity and follow the directions.  Using compost will also make your soil healthier. Note – container plants require more frequent watering which washes away fertilizer nutrients so they will need to be fertilized more frequently than plants in the ground.


Check with your local nursery first to find out if they carry young plants (seedlings) and if they don’t try to get a referral to one that does.  Check each plant that they appear to be well taken care of, have no flowers or fruits.  Discard plant with roots that are knotted and circled at the bottom of the pot or stems that look spindly.  See the right for some options.


Berkeley Horticultural Nursery
Pollinate Farm and Garden, Oakland
Armstrong Gardens (throughout Bay Area)
Sloat Garden Center (throughout Bay Area)
Annie’s Annuals, Richmond
Home Depot and Lowes may also have seedlings

Now you know the first steps of what to purchase.  See Part 2 for specific plants!


Forest Pathologist with UC Berkeley and expert in Sudden Oak Death Matteo Garbelotto reported that the number of Bay Laurels infected by Sudden Oak (SOD) has increased by 30% in Marin County in the past year.    They anticipate that percentages in all bay area counties will be similar.

Some experts say that the drought is partly responsible as it has overly stressed water-starved trees making them more susceptible to disease. 

Key information: The fungus (called Geosmithis pallida) that causes Sudden Oak attaches to the western oak bark beetle which is particularly attracted to drought stressed or otherwise wounded live oak trees. Female beetles lay eggs in tunnels they create and the larvae mine areas within the inner bark of the tree.

Other Oaks at risk are:
Coast Live Oaks
California Black Oaks
Shreves Oaks
Canyon Live Oaks

Have your Oak trees checked. There is a preventative treatment that should be performed and now is the time.  



How A Neighborhood Drainage Problem Was Solved

I live in a semi-rural unincorporated neighborhood in North Marin.  Our houses are built on a steep hillside.  When it rains the water runs down the north side of the street and into a gutter with an underground pipe.  No sewers.

When the water flows unobstructed all is good.  Unfortunately, the street infrastructure is old and over time the pipe became increasingly blocked resulting in water damage on the south side of the street.  During last year’s El Niño it became critical and it threatened additional flooding of properties on the south side of the street. 

Fortunately, this summer neighbors came together to forge a solution.  The pipe was found to be decayed and mangled.  It was replaced and and a retaining wall was constructed.  The retaining wall offered an additional barrier so runoff would stream, not flood into the gutter.

The two projects were completed in enough time before the first big rain while the neighbors on the south side of the street breathed sighs of relief. 

I learned two lessons about drainage through this experience. 
One, lack of preparation can cause expensive damage and two, living in a community of active and collaborative people makes a big difference!