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Magnificent Bamboo Garden

Roy Rogers grew up on a farm in Mississippi that was very different from the huge, hidden garden of tall tropical bamboo he tends today. But it was there that he learned how plants and tending them can soothe the soul after his mother died when he was 12 and he took over her garden.

In growing, propagating, and selling bamboo plants as he will be doing at the USF Fall Plant Festival, October 13 and 14, he enjoys helping homeowners to make the most of these fast growing, graceful plants in their own landscapes.

"The running bamboo has given the whole group a bad reputation because they can take over so quickly and completely," he says. He sells only the clumping or tropical kinds that are ideal for giving quick and graceful privacy and shade if planted on the perimeter of a property.

Newly retired from 30 years as a teacher of honors history and social studies at East Bay High School, he says, "Now every day is a Saturday," and he is happy to spend most of them working with his plants.

Here he shows one that has variegated leaves, Sinobambusa tootsik 'Albostriata'.-Mexican weeping bamboo, Otatae acuminata ssp.Azatecorum, was one of the most difficult for him until he learned the secret. It needs extra drainage so he adds perlite to the soil.

"I'd never do this for a living," he says. He has figured out how to dig and propagate the new young canes, but it isn't an easy job. One customer came and said he'd dig what he wanted himself. It took him 2 hours to dig one plant.

You can tell Roy Rogers was a great teacher just by talking to him about his bamboo. He helps you see amazing things you've never noticed before. He sometimes teaches workshops on bamboo at USF and his classes often run well overtime because everyone is so engrossed in the subject.

Bamboo is actually a grass with woody stems called culms. If you buy a slim stem in a 3 gallon pot, the first summer the plant will send up several new shoots and each one will be larger in diameter until all the new ones reach the mature size for that variety. They often come up one color, green, for instance, and later turn black or develop shades of peach or a bloom of silver or blue. Some have stripes on the stems, variegated leaves, or subtly colored culm sheaths.

"I'm always looking for something new," says Rogers. He thinks nothing of spending $400 for a promising, unusual plant.

Varieties vary in height from 1 foot to 100 feet and in stem width from 1/4 inch to 8 inches. As the plants mature, it is not unusual for new shoots of taller kinds to grow 50 to 60 feet from the ground in 60 summer days.

In many countries bamboo is considered the poor man's timber and used for everything from fuel to floor mats to home construction. In the US it is growing in popularity and becoming the rich man's choice for such things as flooring and furniture that resists stains and has interesting graining, vertical blinds and roller shades and bamboo inlays in traditional furniture. It gives a sense of serenity to a room as well as a garden.

Roy Rogers and his wife Elaine built their present home in north Tampa in 1978 and also bought an extra 3/4 of an acre behind the house where he grows his bamboos among the oak trees. "Most people think of bamboos as sun loving plants, but they do well in the shade, too, though they may not have as many shoots or as close clumping." Many of his bamboos now tower above the oak trees.

Rogers makes good use of his pockets of sun for the plants he is propagating for sale. He lost one large tree, plus many branches from the storms of the last few years, so there is more sun now that before.

He has to work to keep his container plants small enough for USF customers to carry them home.

New canes from established clumps can grow 60 ft in 60 days. Bamboo grower Roy Rogers stands in a clump of Bamubsa oldhamii or Oldham bamboo.
Now's the time to...
Check this website for much more detail: www.bambooweb.info
Rogers keeps his bamboos well watered until they are established and through the dry times of their first summer and thereafter they mostly can survive on natural rainfall. If the homeowner planting bamboo wants to get the plant to full size, he should provide additional water, primarily during the dry spring. Then the bamboo should reach full size within 3 to 5 years.
He gets truckloads of compost from the landfill on Fualkenburg Rd and lets it decompose further for six months before using it as a potting medium.