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Farmers discover the joys of growing bamboo in Ohio

By Doug Graves
Ohio Correspondent
MORROW, Ohio – Jerry Burton was a bamboo expert who shipped his product all across the country. 
Burton’s Bamboo Garden, located in Warren County, garnered lots of attention as it surprised the residents of this state that Burton could grow this tropical product in the unlikely place of Ohio.  
Jerry died last year at the age of 77, but his son, Zach, helped his father operate Burton’s Bamboo Garden from the time he could walk and has now taken the reins of this bamboo crop on 22 acres.
 “My father first planted bamboo in 1972,” Zach said. “From then on his passion for the plant never stopped. Twelve years later I was born into roughly 20 species of bamboo. Being born and raised with bamboo and the country’s leading expert on the plant, I too fell in love with it and it became second nature to me on how to best grow it and all the different characteristics of the many species.”
Folks throughout Ohio make reservations to tour the bamboo gardens, and most leave after purchasing a few bamboo plants.
The largest part of their business is growing and shipping bamboo to more than 20 U.S. and Canadian zoos to feed red pandas. Burton said these animals each consume about eight pounds of the plant a week.
 “Every Monday, I ship eight-pound bags of bamboo by FedEx to zoos such as Edmonton Valley Zoo in British Columbia, Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago and the Black Park Zoo in Des Moines,” he said. “Bamboo is extremely fast growing. We harvest it fresh every week, all year.”
 Jerry was an insurance agent at the time he learned about bamboo. His employment gave him the luxury, time and income to travel and research this plant.
 “Bamboo wasn’t very common in our climate at that time and I wanted to find out what would grow well here,” Jerry once said.
 The Burtons contacted the Ohio Department of Agriculture, but said the ODA knew nothing about bamboo.
 The Burtons experimented with the plant, planting 10 pots of different bamboo varieties.
 “There are 1,200 varieties of bamboo in the world and most won’t tolerate the winters here in southwest Ohio,” Zach said. “We discovered there are 24 varieties that will do well in Ohio’s climate. Here at our farm we carry 30 varieties, as some people like to push the envelope. Most people don’t realize there is more bamboo species growing in Central and South America than in Asia.”
 Growers interested in engaging this plant should know there are many other uses for bamboo other than as landscape appeal. Bamboo is used in flooring, clothing, as bricks and musical instruments. Bamboo also offers solutions to control carbon emissions for an ailing environment.
 According to the Burtons, bamboo is the fastest growing plant in the world. It’s a shallow growing plant and it will emit more oxygen than trees with all their leaves. With all its leaves bamboo is denser and bamboo doesn’t drop its leaves in the winter time. It’s also a great plant for erosion control.
 “Bamboo is ever green, it’s flowing, very peaceful, tranquil,” Zach said.
Burton’s Bamboo Gardens sells bamboo to gardeners who want bamboo as privacy fences. The farm’s niche, however, is selling to zoos and conservatories across the nation.
“The cold hardy varieties I grow can range in height from 15 to 35 feet,” Burton said. “Some varieties grow as tall as 100 feet. Unlike other exotic species, there’s little danger bamboo will invade broad areas. The long-lived grass only produces seed every 60 to 100 years. It’s propagated by cuttings.”
Farmers with extra acreage will love the plant for its appeal and shade it offers. But the family cautions against simply planting bamboo in a small yard. They recommend burying a barrier 22 inches deep or more around the plant or alongside a planting. The plant is known for spreading and taking over any premise because is spreads underground by rhizomes.
The Burton clan also cautions against planting it with the idea of harvesting it for furniture or flooring in most of the U.S. Bamboo grown north of the Mason-Dixon Line isn’t likely to develop cane walls thick enough. However, many types of bamboo can be harvested for the making of flutes, curtain rods, picture frames and other items.
The seven-acre lake that sits amid 22 acres of land at Burton’s Bamboo Garden offers sighting 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 wander the grounds as well. Emus and rheas are there as well, but reside in caged enclosures. But the waving groves of bamboo are the big draw of this huge garden
“Since 1972, we’ve grown 75 different species and have grown to be the biggest bamboo garden in the Midwest,” Zach said. “We offer tours where you can walk through the different groves and learn first hand how it grows and which is best for you.”
Burtons Bamboo Garden is located at 7352 Gheils Carroll Road in Morrow, Ohio. Tours are offered from spring through fall. For more information about this farm contact Zach Burton at 513-646-7687 or