Bamboo Plant Diseases

Written by chuck ayers
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You know those plants you take as presents to new neighbours that are called “Lucky Bamboo,” planted in a vase of stone and water? The ones that are supposed to contain an odd number of plants to bestow the luck they possess? Well, it turns out those plants aren't bamboo at all, they are

technically "dracaena sanderia," - a member of the lily family. Oh well, it still makes a nice housewarming gift. It turns out that real bamboo tropical bamboos cannot survive if planted in water or even with constantly wet roots. Tropical bamboo plants grow much taller, are planted in soil and, while susceptible to certain pests and fungi, are hardy plants.

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What healthy bamboo plants need

Much like most ornamental outdoor plants -- in this case it is considered an ornamental grass -- bamboo needs sunlight, water, fertiliser and mulch. And if you don't want them to look like transplanted jungle in your yard, they need to be pruned, as well. A quick thumbnail of the basics before we move on to diseased plants. When first transplanted, say about for the first month, bamboo needs water once a day. After that, watering can slacken considerably. They like as much sun as they can get, so try to plant them away from larger overhanging trees. Lastly, bamboo, contrary to popular belief, doesn't care for boggy or swampy land. A mulch and fertiliser containing nitrogen and iron are best planting conditions.

Bamboo is a hardy plant

Bamboo is not likely to be killed or significantly weakened by most disease or pests. For most plant afflictions there are treatments and for others, well, better luck next planting.

Fungus

The older woody part of the bamboo stem (known in botanical circles as culm) as sometimes susceptible to unsightly fungus growth, particularly in humid conditions. Fortunately, it looks worse than it is. For the most part, the fungus is seen in ringlike patterns on the stem but doesn't harm the plant. If you find it cosmetically distasteful, there are copper-based treatments that can be applied to get rid of the fungus.

Viruses

The most common virus is the Bamboo Mosaic Potex Virus, known to horticulturalists as BaMV. The virus doesn't spread easily from plant to plant but rather from tools that are used on infected plants and then used on healthy ones. Sometimes, spots will develop on bamboo leaves, but most of the time the disease is undetectable. It is capable of killing the plant, along with a number of other known viruses that are relatively rare. Most suppliers will test their plants to make certain they aren't diseased before they sell them.

Mold

Any dense bamboo plants are susceptible to mould. Once the mould occurs, aphids and ants make matters worse. Aphids secrete a sticky, sweet substance that the ants stumble through while hunting down the aphids, moving the mould to other parts of the tree. A power-washing of the mouldy areas usually takes care of the problem.

Scale

Scale isn't a fungus or virus; it is a swarm of tiny sucking insects with a near-impervious back. They can either be removed by hand or treated with an insecticide that actually gets into the bamboo. When they eat the insecticide, they die but still cling to the tree, so the best way to get rid of scale, again, is power washing the tree.

Bamboo mealybug

First discovered in 2002 in Florida, this critter can cause serious damage to bamboo shoots but won't kill the entire plant. The biggest clue they're on your bamboo is a milky white substance on the tips of new shoots. But before becoming alarmed, that is also often associated with new shoots without mealybugs. They like to hide underneath the leaves, so look there before unleashing its arch enemy, the Crypt (or Mealybug destroyer). The crypt will eat all the live mealybugs it can get hold of, but it won't stick around once its prey has been eaten, so they move on. However, mealybug eggs may hatch later, so it may be necessary to bring back the crypt more than once.

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