What to do with a lot of slim Bamboo? WREATHS!

Grapevine WreathI do have  a little wreath making experience, as I use all the canes from my two grape plants to make wreaths every year.  This year, with a good amount of grape vine canes, I decided to concentrate my efforts on making one very large, 7 ft, grapevine wreath.  It looks like I will be needing another years’ worth of canes to flesh it out.  See photo at left.  Turned out well and I have had quite a few comments on it.  This wreath is lit at night and has a big lit star, pentagram style, in the middle.  Now, where to store the rest of the year?????

But back to the Bamboo…  I have learned that making wreaths envolves a bit of engineering.  Evergreen and holly wreaths are usually made onto a wire ring, sometimes a double ring, and wired to this foundation.  The individual ‘live’ elements are wired, passively, to this frame with florist’s wire.  This technique may even work with grape canes, but is not necessary.  With grape you just lay out the canes in a hoop like a large bundle, then take a longer cane and wrap them all up tight. But….with bamboo, you are working with a ‘pre-stressed’ material.  It is famously strong and resiliant, a straight cane wants to stay that way!  A curved cane wants to stay that way!  This means that you either have to have a rigid wire structure to ‘tie’ or wrap the canes to or an ‘outer’ structure to nest the canes in until they can be bound together.  I tried both.

(I thought with an Internet search I would find at least ONE site that told me how to use bamboo canes to make wreaths.  But, can you believe it….NOT ONE!  So here is the place where you will find out how to make bamboo wreaths, as I have done the time consuming R and D for you!  The next time you do an Internet search on ‘Bamboo Wreaths’, hopefully this blog post will show up.)

fargesia rufa clump

fargesia rufa – stick marks = 1 ft

I have a few cultivars of bamboo on this property, but the one that is the star of this post is fargesia rufa.  (The photo to the left is the actual clump that I harvested to make wreaths.)  A so-called clumper, this bamboo develops into a large clump after it has passed it’s ‘is this where I am supposed to grow?’ phase.  Bamboo are notarious for putting on very slow growth until this phase, it may be 3 to 5 years before your bamboo says “watch for my growth spurt now!”  And you look back and it has doubled and doubled again.  Fargesia rufa is listed at getting about 8 ft tall and 8ft wide.  But how long this takes is not noted.  My now 7 year old originally gallon size plants did nothing for about 4 years, then the growth spurt came.  I think 6 inch ‘creep’ per year is about right.  This now means that the clump gets 12″ wider in diameter every year, now.  Hmmmmm.  That 3 ft wide at the base plant is now almost doubling in diameter each year.  So I decide to cut one of my clumps all out and see what develops the next year.  (This was more viable than buying the house next door.) With all these little finger and thinner thickness canes, what to do?  This cultivar has canes that are pretty flexible when green but dry very rigid.  I use the straight ones in the garden for stakes and markers, but this quantity was more than I could use in years.  Some were straight, some were slightly curved, what to do, what to do?  Wreaths!

Technique #1:

Wreath 'Form'I knew that working with these little guys was like working with straight springs.  This meant that I would need a device to hold them in place as I built the wreath.  It had to be something that I put them in, and held them in place until the finished product could be wrapped tight.  Two days later, as I wandered the yard, I had it!  An old galvanized wash tub that was shallow, round and was about the right diamenter.  Just wind the canes into the tub, wire them in place, then pull the wreath of canes out and do Half Made wreath in tubthe final wrap of string or wire.  The wires to hold the wreath together temporarily were removed after the permanent wrap was done.  Voila!

After you have a nice amount of canes in the tub, which you will know when they start to spring out into the air and into your face, wrap the 4 temporary wires as tight as you can around the round bundle.  Then lift the wreath out.  Lay on a flat work surface and prepare to do the final wrap.  I used recycled Finished Wreathnylon twisted twine left from my farming days for the first few.  You could also use gray florist wire that is about $2 per 1/4 lb.

I made a little shuttle from plywood to wrap the cord onto.  Those of you who have done rugs, tapestries or webbed crab pots will know the how and why of this simple little device.  Here’s two more kinds of needle shuttles.  (These are the kind I used in Homer, AK to web King Crab pots, but that’s another story.  The sharp end is designed to allow dropping the shuttle without the twine unwrapping.) Wrap the shuttle full of the twine.  Tie a loop in the start end and begin by wrapping the twine around and tying tight.  Proceed wrapping in a spiral fashion until you have the entire circle wrapped.  ShuttleCut the twine from the shuttle and tie tight to the loop you made at the beginning.  Remove the wires that were used to hold it all together in the tub.

Now you have your finished wreath.  You can trim off pieces that are sticking out that you do not want.  You may want a more wild look or a refined look, but don’t be in a big hurry to ‘clean up’ your wreath, as you may change you mind the next day.

After making  few wreaths using this technique, I had another ‘brain wave’ and decided to reverse the process using a single heavy wire bent into a circle and then just wrap the canes onto this wire.  See Technique #2 below.

Technique #2:

Tools of this tradeThis method only works with canes that are very slim, 1/4 inch thick,  and not too long, but still have to be at least 30 inches.  While farming on Orcas Island I used a season extending method using plastic film Row Covers held up by wire hoops every 4 feet.  I still have about 500 of these #10 galvanized wire hoops and thought what a great size and weight for a wreath support!  some of the other tools I used are shown to the left.  A partially finished ‘bare’ wreath is shown with, from left, shuttlecock, garden shears, wire clippers, needlenose pliers with cutters, and on the right, hog ring pliars with three hog rings.  I call a bare wreath one made with canes that had ALL the leaves stripped off before assembly.

Basement 'Wreath Mines'The wires were already mostly rounded and were about 64 inches long.  I bent a little loop into each end, hooked the ends together and clinched tight.  Now I had a nice circle to wrap my wreath on.  Now is where your imagination comes into play.  Depending on the quantity of leaves left on the canes, you can make a really bushy wreath or a very bare wreath, or something in between.  I found that having at least 20 canes is needed to make a wreath that is worthwhile.  Leave all the leaves and stems on for a bushy effect, strip the lower branches and leaves for a more grape vine type effect.  The leaves will dry out pretty quickly when brought indoors, but can be stripped or sheared off when dry.

Finished Bare Bamboo WreathsWith your hoop in your left hand, start by inserting the top, thin, end of the first cane through and then wrap the rest of the cane around the wire.  I use the little wire loop that exists when joining the wire into the hoop for the first cane.  You wrap the canes around the wire in the same direction every time, but start each one in a different place on the wire.  The natural tension of the bamboo will hold it in place.  Hard to explain, easy to do.  The butt end of the bamboo cane needs to be long enough to do the final wrap to hold it in place on the wire.  I have found that hog rings, or short wire twist ties,  clinched here and there to hold the stray butt ends a bonus of strength.  Some cane ends will stick out, leave these and trim off or clinch when finished. I have hog rings and the special pliars that you clinch them with left from a truck seat recover job.  The beauty of these are the leverage you get for making a real tight fastening.

Technique #2 appears to now be my preferred method.  You know when to stop for the desired effect and can come back to any built wreath and add more canes.

Now the wreath bases can be used indoors or out.  They can be decorated anyway you wish or be used plain.  I estimate that they will last at least as long as grape vine wreaths under the same weather conditions.  After the wreaths are dry, they will turn a light mocha color and the canes will be permanently bent to shape.  Store dry and cool; bring out year after year!

Dried Wreath

Dried Wreath

(Update on the dried result:  I took the picture at the left on March 6, 2013.  My wreath stock was left in the basement to dry for about 2 and a half months.  As you can see the leaves on this wreath are still green, and they not only stayed green they are stuck tight!  This wreath can now be trimmed up and shaped. Click image to get an enlarged version.)

(Update on cultivars for wreath making: I also have tested ‘Crookstem Bamboo,’ Phyllostachys aureosulcata ‘Alata’ and found that the canes that are thin enough to wrap into wreaths have a tendancy to break at the crooked joints.  I have ‘Umbrella Bamboo,’ Fargesia murieliae and found that the small canes are soft and weak and the larger canes are stiff and rigid.  I think canes that are at least 2 years old for this use are best.)

(Update on 1/29/13—  I have now been using the Fargesia murieliae for strong and fat garden stakes.  These canes are now about 15 feet tall.  You cannot bend these canes, they are stiff and strong.  I have also used them for curtain pulls.

Bamboo Curtain PullMost of the drapes in this house are hand pull and never had pulls.  I cut this cultivar into lengths of about 32 inches; leave a joint and a half inch of cane on each end.  Drill a pilot hole into the fat end through the joint.  Thread an eye bolt into the hole.  Attach this end to the first ring of a curtain panel with a hog ring, or a short piece of copper wire.  Done.  Seems to go with every decor and curtain type, sort of asian/industrial/chic.  Green now, will dry to deep tan.  Great texture.)

Dennis’til next time,
Dennis George
Highland Garden House B & B
501 E. Highland Ave.
Mount Vernon, WA 98273
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5 Responses to What to do with a lot of slim Bamboo? WREATHS!

  1. Ronnie says:

    Been growing tropical bamboo for 10 years. I live in Florida now but originally from Long Island NY. Originally I planned to have greenhouse, propagate and sell bamboo but life got into the way. Military family with and now have 5 grandchildren. My son a Marine who just got back from deployment and son in law a Captain in Army so busy with helping my daughter when hubby is deployed I took floral design and staring making wreaths.using grapevine wreaths. My husband lost his job and I didn’t have the money to buy my wreaths or supplies I needed. Silk flowers Etc. I looked at my bamboo and I said WhyNot??? Funny, I googled trying to find anyone who made wreaths from bamboo. This was before you posted!!! I since have made plenty of bamboo wreaths and sold them as well. Very time consuming.! I learned to make my own flowers out of seed pods. So happy I found your blog and love your sense of humor. Your wreaths are beautiful and you have inspired me to continue. I was lacking a bit on motivation, but seeing this I’m ready to make some more. I just want to thank you for taking the time and posting this. I’m thinking of using the sheaths’ of bamboo and dying them to make flowers. (I tried painting but it chips off!!) Was picking them one day up because like you said they grow before you know it and I had them all over and it was a mess. Well as I was holding them in my hand that “LIGHT BULB” went off. I said. HMMMMMMMM!!!! So today I will try!! Thanks again. Ronnie.

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