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How to Grow Bamboo

By: Kealia Reynolds How to

Wondering how to grow bamboo? Though this plant can be difficult to grow in extreme climates (it doesn’t do well in extreme heat or cold), it’s a relatively inexpensive plant that can add beauty to your garden once fully grown. Keep reading to learn about the different types of bamboo, how to grow this plant, and care tips once bamboo reaches maturity.

Types of bamboo

Bamboo is a versatile evergreen perennial that is one of the fastest-growing plants in the world. Before learning how to grow bamboo, familiarize yourself with two of the most common forms: clumping bamboo and running bamboo.

Clumping bamboo

This type of bamboo grows in tight clusters and stays where it’s planted, rarely spreading out over large areas. We recommend clumping bamboo if you want a well-behaved bamboo that won’t spread.

Running bamboo

Running bamboo is considered an invasive plant and spreads like crazy if not maintained properly. It propagates by sending out underground runners, called rhizomes, which send up new shoots through the soil. Rhizomes can travel more than 100 feet before sprouting.

Yellow Groove Bamboo Phyllostachys aurea

How to grow bamboo

Most bamboo will reach a mature height within five or six years. Clumping bamboo will gain about one to two feet of height per year and running types gain about three to five feet per year. The height and spread rate will vary depending on the bamboo species and climate. Check the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map to determine which types of bamboo will thrive in your area.

If you’re starting your bamboo plants from seeds, start in early spring so that the plants have enough time to establish themselves by summer. Avoid planting bamboo in the fall: bamboo needs time to harden before faced with cold and dry winds. Sow seeds after the final frost of the season for best results. Bamboo in containers can be grown any time of the year.

How to grow bamboo from seeds

  1. Before planting, clean and dry the seeds in the sun.
  2. After the seeds have dried, soak them in clean water for six to 12 hours to break them out of dormancy.
  3. Drain the water 10 to 20 minutes before you sow the seeds.
  4. Plant seeds in soil-filled, plastic pallets meant for seeding growth. Fill the seedling containers with topsoil and leave the soil fairly loose.
  5. Make small holes one to two inches deep in the center of each seedling compartment.
  6. Drop one seed in each hole and cover with topsoil.
  7. Moisten the soil immediately and remember to water the plants daily.
  8. Transplant the seedlings after three to four months into small pots or poly bags. Most species of bamboo will not be strong enough to transplant any earlier than this since the rhizomes wouldn’t have formed.

How to grow bamboo from cuttings

  1. Cut several 10-inch bamboo cuttings that have at least two nodes (the end joint of a bamboo segment) and two internodes (the segments between the nodes) at a 45-degree angle.
  2. Dip the bamboo ends in melted wax and place each cutting in water, leaving them in a well-lit location for several weeks.
  3. Change the water every other day.
  4. Move the cuttings to a pot as soon as the bamboo has 2-inch roots.
  5. Fill the pot with potting mix and plant the bamboo cutting into the soil.
  6. You can support the bamboo until it reaches maturity by securing a thin stick to the cutting with a piece of string.

How to grow bamboo from rhizomes

The best time to propagate bamboo from existing rhizomes is just before spring. Hardy varieties should be divided in March or early April while tropical ones should be divided in May or early June.

  1. Cut bamboo rhizomes into segments, leaving two or three growth buds on each.
  2. Lay the rhizomes horizontally over a pot or container with the buds facing up.
  3. Spread a three-inch layer of soil over the rhizomes and water thoroughly. Keep the soil moist, but don’t overwater the rhizome cuttings or they will rot.
  4. Place the container in a spot that receives partial light and shade.
  5. Your rhizomes should take four to six weeks to grow.

How to grow bamboo in containers

Bamboo can be grown in containers, but they require more care since they’re more sensitive to heat and cold, strong winds, and dehydration. When growing bamboo in containers, use well draining potting soil and make sure the container has good drainage at the bottom. The bamboo will need to be repotted or divided every two to five years (this is best done in the spring). If not, most bamboo will break their confinement and the culm (cane) size will be restricted.

Transplant bamboo to your yard once they reach 16 to 20 inches in height. Remove them from their pots or containers and place them directly into the ground. The hole you transplant the bamboo into should be twice as wide as the bamboo root mass.

Black bamboo Phyllostachys nigra

Planting and watering

  • Though bamboo can do well in many types of soil, it does best in loamy or marly soils with a neutral pH of 7. To provide the soil with additional nutrients, work garden compost into the bottom of the transplant hole so that the bamboo roots sit on top of it.
  • Bamboo should be spaced three to five feet apart to form a dense screen. Clumping bamboo can be placed within one to two feet of each other since these varieties won’t spread out as much. Faster spreading types should be planted farther apart.
  • If you wish to grow a full size bamboo grove, planting at wider intervals is recommended (roughly 5–20 feet apart).
  • Most large bamboos do best with five or more hours of direct sunlight. Smaller bamboo species do well with light to moderate shade. They should be given ample water, fertilizer, and protection from competitive weeds.
  • Though established bamboo plants can tolerate drought, they look best with regular irrigation. For best growth, water bamboo frequently, soaking the soil around the plant to at least a foot deep.

Fertilizing

Bamboo should be fertilized in the spring, followed by a second, balanced fertilized in the summer. When feeding bamboo in the spring, use a high-nitrogen, synthetic fertilizer, such as one with a 21-5-6 ratio, because bamboo needs abundant nitrogen to support its spring growth spurt. When feeding bamboo in the summer, use a balanced fertilizer, such as a 10-10-10 formula, applied at a rate of one pound per 100 square feet to give the plant the same amount of nitrogen as in the spring.

How to contain bamboo

Since bamboo can grow extremely fast, it’s helpful to know how to contain them. Here are three methods that can help you contain bamboo.

  1. Consider using purpose-made bamboo root barriers or another impenetrable material like hard plastic to block bamboo growth. Set the vertical barrier around the edge of the planting hole and make sure at least two to three inches of the material are above ground.
  2. Surround the bamboo plant with a shallow trench and prune off any extending rhizomes as they enter the trench.
  3. Cut the bamboo stalks—This is just as effective as the previous methods, but is more labor intensive. Insert a spade down to its full length around the plant, severing the rhizomes and isolating unwanted parts from the main plant.

How to care for bamboo

Now that you know how to grow bamboo, follow these tips to ensure your bamboo stays healthy all year long.

  • Water bamboo regularly—Bamboo seeds and young shoots should be watered daily. After bamboo plants have reached maturity, water them twice a week during mild weather and three to four times a week during hot or windy weather.
  • Spread mulch around bamboo plantsOrganic mulch like grass clippings keeps bamboo growth in check.
  • Protect bamboo in winter—Since bamboo is a warm weather plant, take extra precautions during winter to prevent the plant’s roots from freezing. Apply a thick layer of mulch to safeguard the root systems or construct a temporary barrier to shield your bamboo from harsh winds.
  • Use a fertilizer high in nitrogen—Nitrogen fertilizer promotes strong, green plant growth. Apply once in the early spring and once in the summer.
  • Thin and prune your bamboo as necessary—As bamboo spreads, you might need to prune the plant to prevent stalks from crowding into one another and cutting off nutrient supplies. Remove old, unattractive branches at least once a year.
  • Prepare for wind—Bamboo has a shallow root system and can easily get damaged by strong winds. The easiest way to protect your bamboo is to position them behind garden hedges or trees.
  • Protect bamboo against pests—Bamboo is resistant to most pests and diseases, so you’ll only need to apply pesticide or fungicide after an issue occurs. If your bamboo does become affected, quarantine new plants and spray them with a fungicide before transplanting them.

Umbrella bamboo Fargesia murielae

A few bamboo varieties we love

The bamboo varieties you plant will depend on how cold or warm your climate gets. Here are a few bamboo varieties we recommend.

Yellow Groove bamboo (Phyllostachys aurea)

Native to the Zhejiang Province of China, this running bamboo has a distinctive yellow stripe in the culm. It’s one of the hardiest bamboo varieties and is typically used as ornamental decoration. This variety is ideal for container plantings.

Black bamboo (Phyllostachys nigra)

This running bamboo can grow up to 16 feet tall and is used as a natural windbreaker and for erosion control. Another benefit of black bamboo is that it’s completely deer-resistant. Though it’s native to the Hunan Province in China, it’s widely cultivated around the globe.

Umbrella bamboo (Fargesia murielae)

This large, clumping bamboo is considered one of the most beautiful bamboos in cultivation. Its name references the graceful weeping habit of the plant. It does best in USDA hardiness zones 5–9.

Hedge bamboo (Bambusa multiplex ‘Silverstripe’)

Silverstripe bamboo is identified by a thin, narrow silver stripe along the length of the bottom few internodes. This variety provides a dense screen and can buffer wind, block sound, and tolerate winter temperatures that dip into the high teens.

Kuma Zasa bamboo (Sasa veitchii)

This dwarf bamboo plant has deep green leaves that turn colors in the fall. It thrives in moist woodlands and shady gardens and can be used as ground cover at the base of trees or isolated as an individual plant.

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