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A Family-Owned Ohio Bamboo Farm

Story written by Karen Weir-Jimerson

If you were blindfolded, dropped into Jerry and Zach Burton’s bamboo farm, and had to guess where you were, Cincinnati, Ohio, would probably not be on the list. 

Burton’s Bamboo Garden is a 30-year-old family-owned business run by the father-and-son team. They sell bamboo, offer tours, and do professional bamboo garden installations. The largest part of their business is growing and shipping bamboo to more than 20 U.S. and Canadian zoos to feed red pandas. These animals each consume about 8 pounds of the plant a week.

“Every Monday, I ship 8-pound bags of bamboo by FedEx to zoos such as Edmonton Valley Zoo in British Columbia, Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, and the Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines,” says Jerry. In fact, he ships fresh-cut bamboo to 20 zoos all over the U.S. and Canada.

“Bamboo is extremely fast growing,” he says. “We harvest it fresh every week, all year.” He runs the panda chow operation of the family business. 

The beautiful landscape of Burton’s Bamboo Garden includes a 7-acre lake that sits amid 22 acres of land. Zach is in charge of the tours, which he conducts steadily from spring through fall. Visitors will find a variety of exotic birds wandering the property. Black-shouldered peacocks and peahens hunt for insects in the bamboo during the day and roost in the trees each night. Phoenix chickens (native to China and revered for their long tail feathers that can reach 10 to 12 feet) wander the grounds, as well. Emus and rheas are long-legged exotics (native to Australia and South America, respectively), and they reside in caged enclosures. The most exotic bird is Clarice, a cassowary that is a New Guinea native. 

The waving groves of bamboo are the big draw of the garden. Bamboo isn’t a common landscape item in the Midwest. There are more than 50 species of bamboo that Jerry has collected and nurtured. Most of the bamboo that grows in the garden is native to China.

If you know anything about bamboo, you’ve probably heard of its tendency to travel. “There are two kinds of bamboo,” says Jerry. “The clumping kind doesn’t spread, but it doesn’t tolerate cold weather,” he says. “The running kind thrives in Ohio’s cold weather,” because it’s from the cold areas of China.

Keep It Contained

The hardy, running-type of bamboo often gets a bad rap because, if left unchecked, it can become invasive. Really invasive. “You have to use deep-root underground bamboo barrier,” says Jerry. “This will keep the bamboo where you want it.”

The 24-inch guards are sunk 22 inches into the ground so the roots can’t spread. There’s a 2-inch lip above the ground to keep the bamboo from “jumping the fence.” Jerry recommends using bamboo guards for all bamboo plants not grown in containers. 

Jerry’s bamboo odyssey started in 1978, when he got his first bamboo plant. He was smitten with the plant immediately and joined the Bamboo Society, purchasing different varieties at its auctions. Now, his landscape is full of the bamboo he loves. “It’s tall, it’s willowy, it’s strong, it’s mythic,” he says.

Grow Your Own Bamboo

Bamboo buyers can pick from tall species or dwarf varieties.

Tall bamboo such as ‘Spectabilis’ (Phyllostachys aureosulcata) grows to 30 feet tall and is ideal for fast-growing privacy fencing. Low-growing bamboo makes beautiful ground covers. Try the dwarf variety ‘Albo Striata‘ (Hakonechloa macra) with two-tone leaves.

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