Cut, dried bamboo canes work well when you are making furniture or doing craft projects. They also work well in the garden as stakes or trellises for climbing vines, or veggies like beans or tomatoes. If you have bamboo clumps growing in your backyard as a privacy hedge, you might be happy to thin them out. Both varieties of bamboo -- clumping and running -- produce tall canes with leafy foliage at the top. It's not difficult to harvest the canes and cure them for projects.
All About Bamboo
Bamboo is a remarkable plant. It's an evergreen that grows fast--extremely fast. Some of the larger types of bamboo shoot up by over a yard a day. There are more than 1,000 species of bamboo, belonging to 91 genera. You can find them scattered over most continents worldwide, from the cold mountain peaks of Tibet to the deserts in Africa.
The range of bamboo plant shapes and sizes is enormous. Some bamboo are smaller than your thumb, while others grow more than 100 feet tall and 8 inches in diameter. The canes are termed culms. They are usually green, but some are black and others striped, giving them more ornamental value in landscaping and also craft use.
Cutting Bamboo Culms
When you decide to harvest bamboo for garden use or craft projects, your first step is to select likely culms. It's best to choose those that are mature--at least 5 years old. Unless you have unique requirements, pick the larger, straighter canes. They will be widest at the base and taper off toward the top, so one tall cane will give you a variety of diameter options.
The type of tool you'll need to take down bamboo depends on the size of the culm. For smaller, slender canes, use pruners. For larger culms, you will need a fine-toothed hand saw or even a chain saw. Make the cut at ground level. Once you have felled a culm, remove the branches with a pruner. Unless your plan for the bamboo requires long lengths, the canes are more manageable if you cut them into sections of 4 or 5 feet before you cure them.
Drying Bamboo Canes
Curing bamboo is simply a process of drying it. You can use heat to accomplish this, but unless you have experience and an acetylene torch, it's easier and safer to air cure the canes.
To air dry the bamboo, you'll need a few sawhorses and a covered outdoor location in the shade to set them up. Organize the sawhorses so that you can lay the cut culm segments across them. You don't want them to touch the ground at all. Alternatively, use a rack made for drying firewood.
You don't want the bamboo canes to split as they dry. To prevent this, wrap fine-gauge wire around the two ends of each segment, 1 inch or less from the cut ends. Twist the wire until it is tight. Wrapped in this manner, the bamboo canes won't crack or split.
After one week, return to the bamboo and rotate each cane a quarter turn. Do this once a week for several months or until the bamboo is cured. You'll know when it is ready for craft use because all of the green disappears and the culms turn brown.
From Alaska to California, from France's Basque Country to Mexico's Pacific Coast, Teo Spengler has dug the soil, planted seeds and helped trees, flowers and veggies thrive. A professional writer and consummate gardener, Spengler has written about home and garden for Gardening Know How, San Francisco Chronicle, Gardening Guide and Go Banking Rates. She earned a BA from U.C. Santa Cruz, a law degree from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall, and an MA and MFA from San Francisco State. She currently divides her life between San Francisco and southwestern France.