I love bamboo. There, I said it.
I love it for its trellising potential. I love it for how it becomes the skeleton of a garden, the frame from which my sprawling vines will hang and bear fruit.
I would never plant bamboo in my own yard, of course. Let’s face it—it’s an arrogant weed when left to its own devices.
I found an overgrown stand of bamboo not far my house, a living privacy fence gone wild. A quick call to the owner granted me permission to cut and haul away as much as I’d like.
Armed with a pair of loppers, hand pruners, and a roll of electrical tape, I entered the tight grove of evergreen grass, the tall canes rising up all around me. I lopped the canes close to the ground and dragged them out into the open space, where I snipped off the leaves and the skinny tops and was left with the perfect raw material for trellis and teepee.
When I thought I had enough canes, I bundled them together in groups of eight, wrapping them with electrical tape the way an electrician bundles sticks of conduit. I strapped the bundles to the car roof and headed back to my garden.
Why is bamboo so great? It’s lightweight and strong. And—if you play your cards right—it’s free.
The teepee is the easiest bamboo structure to make. You take three or four canes, tie them together about a foot from the end, spread the other ends open, and push the canes into the ground. Wrap a spiral of jute twine from top to bottom to give your climbers something to hold on to. This is perfect for pole beans, morning glories, even cucumbers and some small squash or gourds—really anything that sprawls and climbs will appreciate a good bamboo teepee. Leave one side open, and by mid to late summer your kids will have a fun shady hideout.
Learn more: How to Make a Simple Bamboo Trellis
Another favorite bamboo structure is something that I call the net trellis. It’s essentially two teepees (preferably tripods) connected by a horizontal stick of bamboo at the top, from which you hang a net of jute twine.
Tie lengths of twine horizontally between the tripods, about every 8 inches. Then do the same vertically across the connector piece, again about every 8 inches, looping each string around the horizontals. Be sure to put a little tension on the twine as you go, ensuring that your net isn’t too loose. Tie the ends of the strings off to the bottommost horizontal. Do this all the way across, and soon you’ll have a handsome little net for your climbers to ascend.
The trick to this, like the trick to almost anything, is to take your time. Be patient, watch what you’re doing, be present, feel the air, hear the birds, make the net.
The net trellis is also great for beans, cucumbers, squash, tomatoes, and more.
I’m using bamboo in a new way this year, too—as supports for the Florida weave I’m trying on my tomatoes. I’m officially done with those flimsy metal tomato cages. Every year by August, my beautiful tomato plants are cascading over the tops of the cages. I prune and tie up as much as I can, but my plants inevitably grow out of control.
This year, I hope things will be different. I have two main rows of tomatoes—one row of six plants (three ‘Brandywine’ and three ‘Cosmonaut Volkov’) and another row of four plants (two ‘Indigo Rose’ and two ‘Green Zebra’). At the ends of each row and between every two plants, I have driven into the soil very thick and very tall canes of bamboo. (I made a pilot hole first using a long metal rod from a quoits set and a small sledgehammer. I was then able to sink the bamboo into the ground about 18 to 24 inches, leaving 7 feet above ground.)
I will weave twine around the plants and the poles, adding another length of twine every 8 inches or so as the plants grow. By August, I should have a nice, neat wall of tomato vines.
For more detailed instruction on the Florida weave, go here:
As with most things, bamboo doesn’t last forever. It will eventually dry out, become brittle, and render itself useless—which is why I go back each year to cut more. And when I go back, I always cut more than I need, because giving a fellow gardener or two a bundle of fresh-cut bamboo is like adding fresh compost to your gardening karma.