Bamboo mulch shares a lot of similarities with other mulches. Before moving to bamboo mulch specifically, let’s go back to basics for a bit and talk about mulch in general.
Mulch is used in landscapes around plants and has many benefits to it.
First of all, it acts as a weed barrier and helps the soil hold in moisture and nutrients, which is crucial during periods of drought. In cold climates, a layer of mulch protects the soil and roots of plants from freezing. As the mulch decomposes it also fertilizes the soil.
And let’s not forget – it also makes the garden beds more attractive.
Normally mulches are made of organic material (like leaves, woodchips, manure, and others) so they are biodegradable, meaning that they decompose into the soil over time and have to be replaced. However, the process of decomposing will improve your soil’s fertility and organic content, which is great.
You can think of mulch as a slow-release fertilizer in that sense.
If you’re using manure, compost, or straw as a mulch be careful to source it from a reliable seller – if not careful in preparation, these materials sometimes contain viable weed seeds. Not great if one of the main reasons for using mulch is dealing with fewer weeds sprouting between your carefully chosen flowers, shrubs, and other beautiful plants.
The dryer and woodier the mulch, the slower it will decompose. Bamboo decomposes at a slower rate than many shredded wood mulches, so you can replace it less often, saving both time and money.
Where do you get bamboo mulch? Purchase it ready-made or shred your own bamboo.
What’s good about bamboo mulch
First of all, bamboo mulch is good both for you and your plants. It minimizes the time you need to spend tending the garden and it feeds the soil your plants grow in.
All mulches have valuable nutrients in them. What makes bamboo mulch stand out is Silica. Bamboo mulch is high in Silica, a nutrient that gives many benefits to a wide variety of plants.
Biologists call it a “non-essential beneficial plant nutrient,” which means that plants can survive without you adding it to the soil as fertilizer, but provides many benefits if you do.
It increases the plants’ resistance to drought, boosts photosynthesis and chlorophyll content, improves tolerance to salt and heavy metals, and increases the yields and crop quality. It also reduces insect pressure and even frost damage.
So the silica content alone should make you happy about adding bamboo mulch to your landscape. But of course, it’s not the only great thing about it
Bamboo mulch has a low nitrogen drawdown, which reduces the need for additional fertilizing. Another benefit is a noticeable increase in worm activity underneath the bamboo mulch.
In comparison, woody mulches like sawdust, bark or woodchips usually have a high nitrogen drawdown. A high nitrogen drawdown leads to the need for additional fertilizer to maintain healthy soil.
How to make bamboo mulch
The easiest way to acquire bamboo mulch is by buying it ready to use. But if you own or have access to a bamboo forest, you can make your own.
The most basic way that does not require much special equipment is also probably the most tedious and time-consuming. But hey – maybe you have lots of free time and love to do simple tasks with your hands!
If you do not have a special shredder, you can simply cut down as much bamboo as you wish, then trim off all the stems with foliage, leaving the culms aside for other uses. Then start snipping handfuls of the leaves and stems into about an inch-sized pieces with hand slippers until you have enough mulch material.
If you don’t need much, it can be a nice relaxing garden activity, and you can even involve kids for a while. They won’t have lots of patience so probably you will end up doing most of the clipping yourself.
Using a chipping machine
Before buying a chipping machine it is crucial to check whether it can handle bamboo.
Typical consumer-grade chipping and shredding machines are built to break down the most common kinds of organic yard waste like leaves, twigs, branches of wood, grass clippings. Bamboo is not among them.
Even if you are curious and want to experiment with putting bamboo into a shredder, it is not a good idea – it can be unsafe and lead to unexpected malfunctions and injuries as well as break the equipment way sooner than using it the way manufacturers intended.
Bamboo is an incredibly strong natural material, with bundles of fibers running lengthwise along the stem to provide reinforcement. When dried, it can be harder than even some Brazilian hardwoods or woods like teak.
You will need to use a large, powerful shredder because the average consumer chipper shredder isn’t made to break down something as sturdy as bamboo culms.
Now, are there any chippers for home use on the market that can handle bamboo?
There must be more but for normal home users, the only option I personally found is a portable chipper by Patriot. Maybe you get lucky and find more options than me. Here is a video demonstrating the size of bamboo it can take.
How to mulch with bamboo
There is no one strict rule about how thick a layer of mulch you should make. But a rule of thumb is – the more extreme the weather the thicker the mulch should be.
Why – because mulch acts as a barrier in many ways – it prevents moisture evaporating in case of extreme heat and drought but on the other end of extremes – it protects soil from freezing in cold winters.
That said, let’s go through a rough guideline of laying down bamboo mulch. Feel free to experiment and adjust according to your climate and landscape peculiarities.
First, apply a 2 to a 3-inch deep layer of bamboo mulch around your flower beds. And try not to push the mulch against the plant stalks, keep a little bit of space. Not much, just enough so it’s not pressing on plants.
When it comes to trees, it`s optimal to have a 2 to 6-inch layer of bamboo mulch depending on how big the trees are. Keep about 2 inches of mulch free zone around the tree trunks.
If your yard has any wet areas or puddles, put shredded bamboo in there and the bamboo fibers will bind together and form a moisture barrier.
If you haven`t paved the walkways of the yard with stone, a layer of bamboo mulch is a great alternative. It is both budget-friendly and looks charming.
With time the bamboo in mulched areas will decompose. All you need to do is add another layer on top of the previous one. Don`t remove it, just add more. Less work, more nutrients to the plants.
Which plants will like bamboo mulch
First of all, bamboo mulch is great for bamboo plants. In the wild, it forms naturally – bamboo sheds leaves little by little all year round and they form a protective and nutritious layer on foliage on the ground around the bamboo.
It protects the rhizomes that grow in the topsoil as well as feed the soil back valuable nutrients like Silica and Nitrogen.
Pretty much any plants will thrive with bamboo mulch applied around them – any flowers, trees, vegetables in your yard. Growing food for yourself is going to be easier – tomatoes, peppers, chard, broccoli or anything else – less watering needed and naturally fertilized.
However, the best results you get with crops that tend to be sensitive to a disease called powdery mildew. These are popular plants like cucumbers, pumpkins, and wheat. The high silica content in bamboo mulch shows protective properties against this disease.
Featured image by aehdeschaine, Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0