Bamboo not a hollow business

David Pfeiffer, owner of Island Bamboo, does a little pruning on some bamboo at his home Thursday. - Stephen Mercer
David Pfeiffer, owner of Island Bamboo, does a little pruning on some bamboo at his home Thursday.
— image credit: Stephen Mercer

Tucked away at the end of a long dirt road in Clinton lies a home with some unusual trees dotting the landscape.

Jet black and golden-brown stemmed bamboo trees share space with thickly leaved trees and long dirt beds where skinny trees have just begun to take shape. Some bamboo plants have stems that climb straight into the air, while a few others curve into a c-like formation.

In total, more than 40 species of bamboo trees grow at David Pfeiffer’s home.

A quarter-acre nursery behind his home contains a wide range of bamboo trees for retail sales.

In front of his home, several large bamboo trees show people an exotic, Asian look they might want to recreate at home.

Pfeiffer’s prices range from $15 for a common bamboo tree in a 1-gallon container to $350 for a mature and rare bamboo tree in a 20-gallon container.

All of the trees fall under two classifications: clumpers and runners.

Clumpers tend to grown thin stems and sprout small, thickly layered leaves all over the tree. Runners spread branches and leaves as the stems grow higher. Each year new stems grow taller than the previous ones and spread branches.

Because of the roots, or rhizomes, the runners need more grooming or they can spread all over a yard.

And that’s a problem.

Rapidly growing roots tops the concerns among people who want to buy a bamboo tree, said Steve Gerow, who works at Bayview Farm and Garden.

But there’s a solution. Pfeiffer said cutting the roots yearly, or winding a plastic barrier around the base of the tree, can prevent the roots from spreading. After digging a trench and filling it with grass and leaves, people can easily pull out the roots to prevent spreading as well.

Pfeiffer has run Island Bamboo at his home near Cultus Bay Road for three years. Customers mainly buy bamboo for accent planting, private screening and to create a particular landscape theme, he said.

Accent planting is buying a particular variety of bamboo with an unusual characteristic for a certain location.

The dense leaves of the clumper bamboo also provide privacy from walkers or drivers on a nearby road.

For a particular theme, such as an Asian garden, bamboo trees are popular.

The highest demand on Whidbey Island is for the black bamboo trees. Those types of trees can vary from a green- and black-colored bamboo tree, to a Kanes ebony black bamboo tree. Demand for the Vivax tree continues to gain popularity on the island because it grows quickly.

People like clumping bamboo for how the thickly-leaved tree looks in a garden. Additionally, the small roots ensure that clumping bamboo will not invade the rest of the property.

Eighty percent of Pfeiffer’s business comes from South Whidbey residents; Coupeville provides the other 20 percent of his sales.

The seed for his business was planted 15 years ago when Pfeiffer began growing bamboo trees.

“This business grew out of a hobby and a love of bamboo,” he said.

Much of the business comes from referrals from nurseries throughout South Whidbey.

Gerow, of Bayview Farm and Garden, said he refers customers to Island Bamboo if the customer wants an exotic plant they do not carry.

Kirk’s Nursery and Garden refers customers as well, Pfeiffer said.

He said the business became steady about a year and a half ago. Pfeiffer estimates he’s invested about $15,000 into inventory, growing beds, top soil and other materials.

He buys many of his trees from wholesalers in places such as Portland, Ore. and Anacortes. He also grows bamboo trees on his land.

Pfeiffer spends evenings, mornings and weekends either with customers or caring for his bamboo. He also does landscapes consultations and occasionally plants bamboo on job sites.

Island Bamboo is a part-time job for Pfeiffer. He spends most of his days serving as director of Coupeville’s Cedar Program, an alternative education program.

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