Bamboo Guide: How to Grow, Plant & Maintain Bamboo
A plant known for its durability, versatility and distinctive appearance is Bamboo. It is frequently referred to as a Bamboo tree, but it is actually in the true grass family Poaceae. Adaptable and unique, it is characterized by its stately appearance, notably its distinguished woody stems and vivid green leaves. This evergreen plant is a popular addition in container gardens, outdoor gardens and perimeters in landscape design, having evolved over centuries into a favorite by many gardeners, in part, for its lush, supple and natural form.
Its prevalence has made this tropical plant recognizable and accessible to much of the world; however, for some owners, it is viewed as a nuisance due to its potentially invasive nature. Along with its decorative appeal, bamboo is also a sustainable resource bragging a variety of uses from furniture to flooring to bed sheets. This plentiful, economical and renewable plant provides our planet with food, housing, household items and decoration, making it a valuable commodity that is deeply rooted in the history of civilization. In this Bamboo Guide we will discuss the origins, parts, types and uses of the plant along with how to grow Bamboo in a container and garden.
Origins and Parts of Bamboo
According to records Bamboo was first noted and used in China’s Zhejiang Province over 7,000 years ago. Due to its flexible yet hardy structure, it was used for multiple purposes such as constructing weapons including bows, arrows and blow guns, as well as books, food, agricultural tools, traditional medicine and other household items. The plant’s functionality progressed to tree houses being built with it approximately 5,000 years ago in China. By 206 B.C. the Han Dynasty used it to make books and paper, and by 1368 the Ming Dynasty found it useful in making bedding and flooring. These discoveries of Bamboo’s usefulness are marked throughout history and continues today.
Bamboo is dissected into three parts: stem, stem base and stem petiole. The stem grows above ground and can be seen. It is straight, firm and cylinder-shaped with its length and width depending on the species. Each stem consists of nodes and internodes on the exterior with a cavity and wall on the interior. The stem base, which is underground, is a lower part of the stem and is made up of different sections. It connects to the root system and rhizome, the subterranean stem of the plant. The petiole is at the bottom of the stem, contains several sections and is usually solid.
Types of Bamboo
During the Chin Dynasty (265 to 420), the Chinese compiled a classification catalog of the plant, identifying more than 60 types of Bamboo. Currently, there are approximately 1,500 varieties throughout the world. It is the fastest growing plant in the world and is able to regenerate once it has been cut which further supports its status as a valuable resource. Bamboo has been identified throughout the world with the exception of areas with frigid climates. About 64% of the world’s bamboo supply grows in the southeast regions of Asia, 33% grows in Latin American countries, with the remaining percentage growing in other areas such as Africa and North America.
There are two distinct classifications of Bamboo distinguished by their growth patterns in nature:
Clumping Bamboo grows in compact mounds or clumps of grass and is often seen in tropical areas. It is slow to spread throughout a space and is considered a viable option for gardeners or property owners desiring a bamboo plant requiring lower maintenance and/or less of a threat to dominate a space. Examples of Clumpers that thrive in warmer climates are: Chinese Goddess, Hedge Bamboo and Silverstripe. Types of Clumpers that are able to survive colder climates are: Chinese Mountain, Umbrella Bamboo and Yellow Grove Bamboo.
Running Bamboo, as the name indicates, is more likely to spread if not controlled or contained. The rhizome, which is connected to the root, travels quickly underground and shoots up new plants along its path. They are often considered an annoyance in a garden or yard due to their invasive nature. Many Bamboo Guides would not advise growing this type of Bamboo for the novice or occasional gardener. Prevention and regular maintenance of it is required to avoid domination of a space. Examples of Running Bamboo that prosper in warmer climates are: Giant Japanese Timber, Black Bamboo and Red Margin. Types of Runners that can withstand colder climates are: Golden Grove, Black Bamboo and Kuma Bamboo.
Growing Bamboo in the Ground
Some gardeners are intimidated to grow Bamboo because it is often perceived as exotic and difficult to grow, but, by choosing the right species and providing the right care, it can be a stunning addition to a garden or landscape design. It can be grown to accent a small area, harvest and eat as well as provide a privacy screen from unwanted views. As with any plant, preparation is key, including researching the specific plant, overall design and estimated costs to be incurred.
The following is a checklist of questions to pose before investing time, labor and money to introduce Bamboo into your space:
- What type of Bamboo works for this specific climate and environment?
- What is the overall look or design to be achieved?
- Where is the plant going to be placed?
- What amount of maintenance is required for this Bamboo?
- Has the location and appropriate amount of space been assigned for the plant?
- What is the purpose of this plant?
Once the type, purpose and location have been identified, the Bamboo can be planted. A hole that is at least twice the size of the rootball should be dug to accommodate the plant. As the plant is placed in the hole, the roots should be gently spread to quickly establish a root system in the ground. The remaining space should be immediately filled with soil and water. The first few weeks after planting should involve weekly manual watering and shade if possible; this time period is vital to the establishment of the plant. After the initial period, Bamboo requires at least one inch of water either manually or by rainfall every week. Exposure to sun will ensure rapid growth; the ideal soil is slightly acidic and drained but moist. These conditions not only support the growth of the plant but allow it to thrive.
Fallen leaves should not be removed if possible. They serve to protect the root system as well as providing valuable nutrients once decomposed. Covering the area around the plant with mulch is also suggested to add further protection and maintain moisture. Providing fertilizer or compost at least annually is also recommended. The care and maintenance of Bamboo are relatively less than many other plants but still yields a lush, unique ornamental to a property.
Routine observation of the leaves and stems is advised; if yellowing occurs or an ample amount of leaves is falling, the health of the plant may be declining. Examining the nutrient value and moisture of the soil is imperative to establish the cause of the problem. Once adjustments have been made, the plant should return to its original state.
In terms of spreading, the clumping Bamboo is easier to maintain than the running Bamboo. With the latter type, prevention and regular maintenance is required to minimize invasion of other spaces. Barriers can be installed and checked regularly to ensure no breakage has occurred. Pruning the plant can also be helpful as well as removing old branches to eliminate future growth.
Bamboo Growing Tips
- Keep the soil free draining and not constantly boggy, or to dry
- Ideally plant bamboo in the spring, just before the energy stored in the rhizomes is used to develop new canes
- Before planting, dig manure or compost into the hole and water thoroughly helping to give your bamboo the best start possible
- In spring, cut back spindly or ailing canes to ground level
Growing Bamboo in a Container
The option of growing Bamboo in a container is ideal for the gardener who is concerned with the plant’s propensity to spread and invade into unwanted space. Contained Bamboo can be used to accent outdoor or indoor space and is relatively easy to maintain. Both running and clumping Bamboo can be grown in a container, although due its rapid spreading rate, running Bamboo may need to be repotted sooner than its clumping relative.
An essential step in guaranteeing the health of Bamboo is the correction selection of a container. Bamboo needs sufficient room for its root system; otherwise, the plant will deteriorate and possibly die. The safer choice is a larger container no smaller than 10 gallons with the ideal ranging from 20 to 25 gallons. Bamboo can be transplanted and should be if it appears to be outgrowing its container or looks unhealthy, but the original pot should also provide ample space for the root system to flourish.
Caring for Bamboo in a container is relatively simple. Ensuring the quality and moisture of the soil is crucial and placing it in an area that receives regular sunlight will produce a healthy, attractive plant. During cooler months, the plant may require additional mulching or wrapping to protect the root. If the weather drops below 40-50 degrees Fahrenheit, the plant may need to be transferred to an inside space until the temperature increases. Accommodating Bamboo during extreme weather conditions will serve to prolong the life of the plant and maintain its verdant appearance.
We have rounded up some commonly asked questions when it comes to buying, planting and growing bamboo.
Can you grow bamboo in containers and pots?
Most bamboo is perfect for being grown in large pots and containers, it is important to ensure the soil is well drained and not left constantly soggy. Bamboo grown in pots may not grow as tall or as busy as if it was planted in the ground due to restricting the root growth and ball.
Which bamboo should I use as a screen and hedge?
Semiarundinaria fastuosa Viridis is ideal with its tall dense shoots, other types such as Phyllostachys aurea, Phyllostachys aurea ‘Koi’ and Phyllostachys aurea ‘Holochrysa’ are all also ideal.
What gap should I leave between each bamboo plant for screen?
Generally a good compromise is three to five feet apart for smaller running bamboo and four to six feet apart for larger running species.
The Significance of Bamboo
Since its inception Bamboo has contributed to the welfare and livelihood of various cultures along with providing a decorative touch to its surroundings. Due to its prevalence, affordability and durability it entertains a popularity throughout the world. As this Bamboo Guide has indicated, its versatility offers a multitude of uses from tools to food to furniture inside and outside the home, making it one of the widely used plants. This striking evergreen can be grown in a variety of environments, and with preparation and maintenance, can yield a welcome addition to any space. Its adaptability continues into the yard or garden providing privacy, fencing and other uses. One of its most appealing benefits is its renewable properties, a mark of its insurance for future necessity. Bamboo has survived for thousands of years, contributing to civilization by accommodating the needs and tastes of people elevating it to its much deserved elite status.
Uses for Bamboo
The array of treatments for this multipurpose plant appear to be limited only by one’s imagination. Since its introduction by China, it has been transformed and adapted to suit our needs and tastes due to its robust, stable frame. As a material, it can be used inside and outside the home with little maintenance or worry. It is also antibacterial, wicks away moisture, causes few if any allergies and is breathable. The following are some uses for Bamboo:
Food: Bamboo shoots have been a consistently popular ingredient in Chinese cooking for thousands of years. They are low in saturated fat and high in fiber, riboflavin and potassium, allowing for weight loss and health maintenance. It is also the staple food for pandas who ingest approximately 85 pounds of it daily; these lovers of Bamboo do not discriminate, eating every part of the plant.
Agricultural Tools: Along with its strength, Bamboo is flexible and resistant to a number of pests and diseases that plague vegetation. It has been used for irrigation pipes, animal pens, fencing and trellis poles along with many other applications. Due to the cheaper cost, diversity of use and availability, Bamboo is often considered a farmer’s best tool.
Musical Instruments: The hollow, cylinder-shaped stem lends itself to a selection of musical instruments, most notably the flute, drum and saxophone. It is also used in the making of stamping pipes, jaw harps and other instruments in various areas around the world.
Furniture and Housing Material: Bamboo is an obvious choice for furniture and furnishings requiring a strong and sturdy framework including sofas, chairs, bed frames, armoires and chests. It is also attractive and flexible enough for smaller pieces such as picture frames, baskets and jewelry. In the construction of a house, this plant is used for floors, walls and ceilings. Bamboo flooring continues to be a highly sought-after addition to many homes, hotels, and businesses. As a sustainable resource that can withstand the wear and tear of daily human activity without losing its natural, striking appearance, Bamboo is only gaining popularity around the globe. Its longevity and durability make it a sound choice in the manufacturing of many structures.
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- “Ten Ways Bamboo can Make You Healthier”. (2008). bamboogrove.com.
- Rhoades, Heather. “Caring for Bamboo in Your Garden”. (2015). gardeningknowhow.com.
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