Growing and Maintaining Bamboo
Growing bamboo successfully is a simple and rewarding task and can be accomplished in most situations. Please read the guide below for an outline of the most important points.
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Placement, Spacing, Growth Rate
Bamboo should be spaced 3 to 5 feet apart to form a dense screen. The
faster spreading types can be planted farther apart, if you are willing to wait
a little longer for the screen to fill out. OR, if you want an immediate screen,
some types can be planted very close together as long as they have some space to
spread in width. Consult with us about details. We are here to make sure you
have all your questions answered and can make an educated decision. Most bamboo
will not suffer from being planted nearly back to back, but their growth rate
may be slowed. If you wish to make a full size
bamboo grove with less emphasis on dense screening, planting at
wider intervals is recommended (5- 10 feet apart, or even 20 feet in
some cases) Starting from a small size, most bamboo will reach mature height
within five or six years. As a very general rule, Clumping bamboo gain about 1-2
feet of height per year and the Running types gain about 3-5 feet per year, and spread outward at the same rate. Height
and spread rate is variable depending on the species and climate. Feel free to contact us to discuss details about your
project. See link for photos of Clumping
Bamboo Growth Rate.
SHOOT GROWTH RATE
Bamboo is a giant
grass and achieves new heights every year by sending up new and larger shoots
each spring. Usually starting between April and June, the new shoots
emerge from ground and reach their full height in 2 to 3 months. For
example, a young bamboo that is about 8 feet tall with 4 canes, may produce 3
additional new shoots in the spring that grow to 10 feet, within two months
time. Next spring those 7 canes will produce about 5 to 10 new shoots that could
reach 15 feet. Fast forward 4 years: the same plant is now 60 canes strong
and up to 30 feet tall. Because the canes are connected by rhizome, it is
functioning as a single plant. Now it has the energy needed to produce larger
and more numerous new shoots each spring that grow from the ground up to 35 feet
in two months.
Planting Your New Bamboo
If you have a moment, watch this stop motion video made by one of our customers. She is planting CLUMPING BAMBOO (Fargesia robusta) as a very narrow screen between her and her neighbors. Taller Running Bamboo would not be appropriate for this location because the rhizomes can spread under the fence and concrete. Clumping Bamboo still need to be root pruned to control spread, but the are much slower, easier to manage, and predict where the pruning needs to be done. Root prune twice per year for Running Bamboo and once every two years for Clumping Bamboo. One can also install an open sided barrier along the property line to block the bamboo from growing under the fence.
This video was created by one of our customers. They do a great job of applying everything they learned from us about installing rhizome barrier in an open sided configuration, and planting the bamboo with the right blend of top soil. They have VERY rocky soil as well, so this job was particularly difficult. This is a great video, it covers all the basics. Thank you Eric, for the nice compliments about our nursery.
Bamboos can be planted at any time of the year in areas with mild climates
such as we have in the maritime Pacific Northwest. In colder parts of the
world they should be planted outdoors early enough to become established
and to harden off sufficiently to survive their first winter. If the bamboo
is planted late in the year, one should mulch the plant heavily and provide
extra protection from any cold and drying winds. In colder climates where
bamboos may be marginal, successful growers usually protect their bamboos
through the winter with a heavy mulch. Even in very cold climates in an
established bamboo grove with a heavy layer of bamboo leaves covering the
ground, the soil will be soft and friable during periods when the surrounding
soils are frozen hard and deep. In very hot climates, where summers routinely
get over 100 degrees, it is best to wait until Fall or Spring to plant bamboo,
unless it can be given a shady area or some kind of protection from the sun.
We use a timed release (3-4 month), lawn fertilizer that is high in nitrogen for our
containers. 21-5-6 is the
N-P-K formulation (that stands for Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium,
which are the basic elements of plant food). The exact number formulation is
not important. The higher the number, the greater the concentration of each
element. For example, fertilizer that reads 21-5-6, is 21% nitrogen,
5% Phosphorus, and 6% Potassium. In general, bamboo can
utilize half a pound of nitrogen per 100 sq feet (two applications per
year). In other words, if you have a grove that is 10' x 10', and apply 2
lb. of 21-5-6, the amount of actual nitrogen available to the plant is .42
lbs (2lbs x .21 = .42 lbs), which is plenty. You would need to apply 10 lbs
of organic 4-3-2 to feed the bamboo .4 lbs of actual nitrogen. Sound
confusing? Not to worry bamboo is not a finicky feeder. There is lot of
margin for experimentation and error.
Our bamboo groves in the field are fertilized with an
organic fertilizer (see below for brand) which is much less
concentrated (4-3-2), but we apply it at a higher rate so that the amount of
nitrogen available to the plant is about the same as a higher concentrate
synthetic fertilizer. Organic fertilizer is a better choice for improving
the long term health of the soil and the bamboo.
1 pound of 21-5-6 synthetic fertilizer, is equal in nitrogen to about 5 pounds of 4-3-2 organic fertilizer.
Fertilizing is generally done in the spring, before the shooting season
(usually Feb through April), and again in the summer.
To further improve the soil, provide a 2-3 inch layer of compost or aged manure around the base of the plant, and outward where you want it to spread, for a natural source of plant food, and good medium for the bamboo to spread into. You can control the direction of your bamboo spreading habit by providing it with rich, fertile soil.
100% Organic Fertilizer for bamboo. We were excited to offer this fertilizer as
it is fully organic and available at a reasonable price.
We recommend annual root pruning as the first option for control. Also,
barrier of 60 mil thickness by 30 inch deep, HDPE
(high density polyethylene) can be used for rhizome control.
If you plan to install a barrier to control the spread of running bamboos, it
is important to install it properly to ensure its effectiveness. In other than very light soils, the bamboo rhizomes are usually
in the top few inches of soil. However when the rhizome encounters an obstruction
it will turn, and sometimes it will go down. It is important to avoid loose
soil or air pockets next to the barrier or the bamboo may go deeper than
you want and perhaps go under the barrier. When filling the hole after
placing the barrier, tightly compact the soil next to the barrier. Any
soil amendments must be added only in the top foot or so. You mustn't encourage
deep rhizome growth if you want to contain the bamboo. If the bamboo planting
can be surrounded by a shallow trench 8 to 10 inches deep, this can be
a cheaper and easier method to control its spread. See link for
technique. You just need to check
a couple of times in the late summer and fall to see if any rhizomes have
tried to cross the trench, and cut them off. Checking for spreading rhizomes
is very important. It must be done each fall, whether you are
using barrier or a trench.
We now sell the King of Spades root cutting shovel (13" blade, long handle): an excellent, professional grade tool, for cutting rhizomes and digging bamboo. We have been using this shovel for many years at the nursery, highly recommended. (click link for pricing)
people ask us if bamboo can be grown in containers. The short answer is yes.
However, there are a few key points to consider. Every two to five years they
will need to be repotted or divided. The Black Bamboo on the right, has burst
through the thin plastic nursery container
(click on photo for larger image).
Repotting or dividing is best done in the springtime. If
over grown and root bound, most bamboos can escape or even break their
confinement. Tight spaces, including pots and barriers, will restrict the culm
size. For example, Phyllostachys
nigra can grow over 30 feet tall in
the ground but will often not top 15 feet when grown in a container. The larger
the space, the larger bamboo will grow. Bamboo in containers require more care
because they are much more susceptible to environmental stress. They are more
sensitive to heat and cold, strong winds tip them over, and the restricted root
space allows them to dehydrate quickly. A well established bamboo in a container
should be watered 3 to 5 times per week during the summer, ensuring that the pot
drains well. In containers bamboos, especially those that
are not well adapted to hot sun, require more care in placement as they can be
damaged if the pot overheats. During winter, container bamboos are susceptible
to freezing and if not protected may die. Bamboo in containers is not nearly as
hardy as the same bamboo would be in the ground. Bamboo can be a fine container
plant if its needs are met. We recommend using wood planters or containers that
have some insulation for the root mass. If you use metal feed troughs,
make sure they have adequate drainage and use only very hardy plants. We sell
cedar planters which provides a decent home
for most bamboos for about 6-8 years before they need to
We sell decorative cedar planters See more info...
New on right, 50"x 20" rectangular cedar planters lined with rhizome barrier, $245.
The bamboo inside the planters on middle are P. iridescens in the 20 gallon size.
Photo © Noah Bell, Bamboo Garden
Classic spring leaf fall, P. edulis Moso
Click on photo for larger image.
In the spring there is considerable yellowing of the leaves, followed by leaf drop. Some species do this more than others (Phyllostachys aurea, P. eduis Moso, see image on right, Fargesia murielae in the fall) This is natural and should not cause concern, as bamboos are evergreen and naturally renew their leaves in the spring. They should loose their leaves gradually as they are replaced by fresh new ones. In the spring on a healthy bamboo there should be a mixture of green leaves, yellow leaves and newly unfurling leaves.
When planting bamboo over 15 feet tall, it may need to be staked
or guyed for the first year of growth or until well anchored by their root mass.
This will prevent strong wind from uprooting them, or damaging new shoots and
culms. Tall bamboo plants are best guyed with a rope tied to the same point on
the culms, anywhere from about one third to halfway up the culm. Use three or
four guy lines depending upon how much wind you expect. We recommend four ropes,
one on each point of the compass. Drive two foot stakes one and one half feet
into the ground at least 6 feet from the bamboo. Wood and bamboo stakes work
well. If supporting very large bamboo, metal stakes are recommended. A useful
method for supporting long, tall screens is to put a sturdy post at each end of
the screen and run a strong line between the two posts. Each bamboo can be
loosely tied off the main line. A fence can serve the same purpose for bamboo
about 15 feet tall.
Photo © Noah Bell, Bamboo Garden
Turn on the sprinkler on a hot summer day, rainbow on the bamboo grove.
Newly planted bamboos need frequent and liberal watering. Twice a week
during mild weather, and three to four times per week during hot or windy
weather. Make sure that each plant under
5 gallon pot size gets at least ½ gallon of water. For plants over
5 gallon size more than 1 gallon is advised. Once a bamboo has reached
the desired size, it can survive with much less irrigation. But until then
you must water and fertilize copiously to achieve optimum growth. Lack
of sufficient water especially during hot or windy weather is the leading
cause of failure or poor growth of new bamboo plants. Watering newly planted
bamboos every day, or for longer than a few minutes can cause excess leaf
drop. Well-established bamboos are rather tolerant of flooding, but newly
planted bamboos can suffer from too much as well as too little water. Make sure
the area drains well and doesn't tend to collect pools of ground water
for long periods of time (more than 24 hours). Installing a simple drip
system with a timing unit is a cost effective and efficient way to
assure the watering needs are met, while minimizing the chance of
overwatering. Where possible, use overhead or sprinkler systems to
irrigate a wider area and encourage more rhizome growth, if you want the
bamboo to spread into a large grove.
Bamboo, like other plants, requires some pruning to maintain
its attractiveness. Individual bamboo culms live about 10-15 years, but a full
grove producing many new canes each year can live for several decades. Once each
year you should remove older, unattractive culms and cut off any dead or
unattractive branches. You can prune most bamboo without fear of damaging it.
Just trim so it looks attractive. Make cuts just above a node, so as not to
leave a stub that will die back and look unsightly. If you cut back the top, you
may want to also shorten some of the side branches so the plant will look more
balanced, not leaving long branches at the top.
See this link for photos and descriptions of the
thinning process for a bamboo grove:
Thinning Clumping Bamboo
Clumping Bamboo can be pruned to maintain upright growth, or
thinned to maintain an airy appearance. If the plant gets too wide, just clip
some of the outer canes back to ground level. See this page
for a photo illustrated
guide to pruning clumping bamboo.
Bamboo may be trimmed in topiary fashion. You may top the culms,
remove some lower branches, and shorten some side branches and remove others.
Any culms or branches cut do not grow back longer but only grow more leaves. The
photo on the right is a Phyllostachys aureosulcata 'Aureocaulis', pruned
to about 6 feet tall, highlighting the bright yellow canes and dark green
foliage. It is a very unusual design, but it works in this space. Click on photo
for larger image.
Bamboo may also be cut to form a hedge as one might do with boxwood or other traditional hedge plants if one wishes. This is best done after the new culms grow to full height in the spring or summer. (Most of the new growth on a bamboo plant happens at the same time of the year, usually late spring or early summer for temperate bamboos.) There should need be only one major pruning, with only minor touch up at other times of the year. If you want to control the size or height of your bamboo, and retain the natural look of the bamboo, this can be done by removing new shoots that are significantly larger in diameter than the culms that are the desired height. These shoots will be replaced by smaller diameter culms that will not grow so tall. This can be safely done with a plant that has been well established, not a newly planted bamboo.
For display of colorful bamboos such as Phyllostachys nigra,
Phyllostachys bambusoides ‘Castillonis’ and Phyllostachys vivax ‘Aureocaulis’
you can enhance the beauty by removing smaller culms and cutting off lower
branches so that the beauty of the culms is visible.
These low-growing (up to 5 feet) spreading bamboo cover large areas and have wonderful foliage. If looking ragged, they can be clear-cut at the end of the winter (before the onset of new growth) using a mower or shears. This rejuvenates them and when the new growth emerges the plants will look much fresher, plus they will remain shorter and more dense. They can be lightly trimmed after their shooting to retain their uniform short stature. In very cold climates (zones 4 through 6) groundcover bamboo are often deciduous and may die back to ground level, but the plants still shoot freely in the following spring if well insulated with mulch through the winter.