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Bamboo for cane production in New Zealand.

The species that have the most potential for commercial cane production are Arundinaria hindsii, Bambusa multiplex, Bambusa “Wong Tsai”, Bambusa “gracilis”,  Phyllostachys aurea and Phyllostachys nigra.

Establishment and culture

The bamboos suitable for cane production all tolerate poor soils, but establishment  (and subsequent production) can be greatly accelerated by soil improvement. Deep ripping and soil loosening, along with  the addition of organic matter and balanced fertiliser prior to planting is extremely beneficial.  In heavy soils, plant on raised mounds. Placing the plant into a mound of  composted bark, or even  sawdust and chicken manure is extremely effective as long as the plants are not allowed to dry out, and ensuring that nitrogen is applied as a liquid to the mound if leaves are yellowing.

Irrigation is recommended as the single most important requirement to speed the growth of young bamboo, along with high nitrogen fertiliser if leaves look in the least bit yellow. In early autumn apply high potassium fertiliser if plants need hardening to frost. Silicon fertilisers applied at this time of year help increase cane strength and durability. On a yearly basis, dress with a balanced fertiliser in Spring, followed by high nitrogen fertiliser accompanying irrigation or following plentiful summer rain. Alternatively side dress clumping bamboos with large amounts of sawdust and chicken manure. Running bamboos are best fertilised by general top dressing along with soil loosening ahead of advancing rhizome.


With all species the canes are most durable when 2 to 5 years old. For highest quality stakes it is recommended that harvesting is done by yearly thinning of  2 to 3 year old material, leaving the younger canes to continue to photosynthesize and harden. However younger canes are strong enough for use as stakes, and it is possible to clear fell all canes at once, possibly to suit machine harvest. In this case the plant will be weakened and will take some time to recover, and long term yields will be less than with careful selective harvesting as photosynthesis is halted for a period following harvest. If clear felling is to be considered, it would be preferable to harvest only 50% of each plant at one time to enable photosynthesis and rhizome development to continue.  Clear felling a stand will reduce the height and diameter of following shoots, and these should not be harvested till the plant returns to its former vigour.


It is probably desirable not to plant only one clonal type of bamboo for mass cane production, for two reasons. Firstly bamboos live a long time then flower and die, and all clonal types flower simultaneously.

Running bamboos.

The species listed below are all relatively vigorous and thus suited to fast establishment and heavy harvesting regimes. If managed to form a dense stand the canes will be clear of branches for up to half their length. Their size can be reduced by heavy rates of harvesting.  The plants shoot in spring - early summer,  then harden the soft growth and produce active rhizome. Harvesting canes in winter, as late as possible but before shoot production, is preferable as it interferes least with plant growth. When new shoots are emerging from the ground they are easily damaged (this is when they are most edible for human consumption).

Running bamboos can be encouraged to spread by cultivation and fertilisation in late Spring, ahead of the advancing rhizome, then by irrigation in summer. Treated thus, they will establish in three years and yields will progressively increase. Expected yields would be 100 shoots per plant per year after 5 years,  and over 1000 shoots per plant per year at 8 years.  Harvesting improves the yield in most species.

 Regular grazing or mowing will slow the spread of running bamboos. Their spread will be halted completely by  permanently boggy ground or a water filled trench, a solid barrier extending 600mm below ground (less if ground is very hard and dry). Do not use a translocated herbicide such as Amitrol or Glyphosate as it will move through the entire plant and can kill a whole stand.  However paraquat may be used to dessicate foliage without killing the rhizome system, and has a similar effect to defoliation by stock.

Arundinaria hindsii grows to approximately 6- 8 metres high, 20 -30 mm diameter and is a very vigorous running bamboo that is capable of colonising several acres per plant. However it is relatively scarce in NZ at present.

Phyllostachys aurea grows to 12 metres high and 50 mm basal diameter on a good site, but is usually smaller, 7m x 20mm . It is very vigorous and frost hardy to -12 degrees C.  The wood is durable and tough, and if grown in a dense stand, is unbranched for up to 3.5 m. It is commonly used for fishing poles at full length, or for stakes at shorter length. The upper part of the cane can be debranched for smaller diameter stakes, or short branch stubs can be left for climbing plants to attach to. Ideal for beans or tomatoes.

Phyllostachys nigra is very similar to P.aurea except that the canes are black in colour, giving the established plant  a very exotic ornamental appearance. The black colour gradually fades once canes are harvested

Clumping varieties

These tend to be more frost tender than the running bamboos, and shoot in summer - autumn. They produce as many stems per hectare as running bamboos once established, but require more plant material to plant up an area, as they remain in tight clumps and do not spread.      

A division should be left to establish for one to two years with irrigation and fertiliser, then harvested by regular thinning.  The best harvest time is when they begin to shoot or just before, taking care not to damage any shoots that are emerging.

The main advantage of clumping bamboos is that they are able to be neatly contained where planted, for example as a shelter belt or in a production orchard, at high densities of production. They grow better if regularly thinned, and are set back by clear felling, in other words producing lesser numbers of smaller shoots for at least a  couple of years. Yields per plant are in the order of 100 stems per plant per year after 5 years.

Bambusa multiplex  (and B.multiplex var. Alphonse Karr; - as for multiplex with a green stripe on the yellow stem when fresh, gradually fading when harvested). This bamboo grows  to 5 - 8m x 15- 25mm at maturity,  depending on the site. Frost tolerant to -3 degrees.  Thrives on irrigation and fertiliser, makes an excellent hedge. This bamboo is a smaller relation of the common horticultural shelter B. oldhamii and is eminently suitable for stake production or medium height shelter in warmer areas.

Bambusa “Wong Tsai” grows to 5m x 15 mm, a little smaller than multiplex.

B. “gracilis”  is smaller again at 3 - 4m x 12 mm.   These latter bamboos are suitable for producing smaller lighter stakes than B. multiplex.

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