|Frequently Asked Questions about bamboo (information collected from different sources)
The following are questions that our customers ask on a regular basis about many bamboo related topics. Growing tips, maintaining, fertilizing, watering, growth habits, etc.
What’s the difference between running bamboo and clumping bamboo?
Clumping bamboo (such as Fargesia) spread very slowly. They have roots that in the underground turn upward and become canes immediately, as opposed to the running types which can travel several feet outward, producing canes along the way each season. This causes clumping bamboo to gradually expand outward at a modest and predictable pace. They are considered non-invasive and are very easy to maintain.
Running bamboo (such as Phyllostachys) spread at moderate to fast paces. They have rhizomes that don’t usually turn up and become canes. Instead, as they push through the soil the lateral buds produce either canes or new rhizomes perpendicular to the parent rhizome. Because of this dual growth system runners are able to cover more ground per year than clumpers. Mature plants spread 3 to 5 feet on average, (most will also increase 3-5 feet in height per year as well). In some extreme cases runners can spread over 15 feet in a season.
How does bamboo grow?
Simply stated, bamboo grows UP in the spring and OUT in the summer and fall.
Bamboo is a grass, and as such, grows much the same way your lawn grasses grow, just on a much larger scale. Basically, the bamboo increases its height and diameter by putting up new, larger canes each growing season until it hits its max height for the area it’s planted in. The new shoots grow to their full height in about 2-3 months. The shooting period for most species is April though June.
Older canes will never increase in height, but will simply put on a new crop of leaves each year. Individual canes can live for 10+ years, unless they get shaded out or are somehow compromised. This is why thinning a bamboo becomes important once the bamboo has become established. A mature bamboo has a mixture of canes with different size and age.
Outside of the shooting season, in the summer and fall for most types, most of the growth occurs underground where it is not visible. The bamboo is hard at work though, pumping water to support all the leaves, and expanding the root mass for next seasons new shoots.
How fast does bamboo grow in height?
This is a difficult question because there are many different types of bamboo and different climates. It depends on if they’re runners or clumpers, how old they are, and where they are planted.
Temperate clumpers, like Fargesia, average about 1-3 feet in height per year.
Taller running types, like Phyllostachys, usually grow 3-5 feet in height per year.
Older, more established plants, usually at least 3 years in the ground, will grow faster than newly planted ones.
Placement and care will influence how fast and tall a bamboo will grow. The temperate clumpers grow best in partial shade.
How big will my bamboo get?
That depends on the species you plant, the amount of care it gets, and where you plant it. For example, sun-loving bamboo such as Phyllostachys, planted in a sunny country will grow larger than the same bamboo planted country with moderate climate.
In general, bamboo will get as big as it can depending on how much space it has to grow, kind of like a goldfish in a goldfish bowl. If you want the bamboo to reach its full height, you need to be prepared to donate the space, an area at least 30 feet in circumference. Bamboo can grow to conform to whatever space it is given; a long narrow planter, will produce a long, narrow screen, of moderate height, but most likely not full height.
Is bamboo evergreen?
Yes. : That depends on the species and the climate. Most bamboo are naturally evergreen.
Will bamboo go under the sidewalk / road / … ?
Usually the clumpers won’t, but the runners will if they use up the available space that is easily accessible.
Can bamboo grow indoors?
Most bamboo doesn’t like the dry air indoor environments provide, hence Fargesia is not suitable for indoor use.
Does bamboo shed a lot?
Bamboo will drop a few leaves gradually throughout the season, but never all at once like deciduous trees. Some bamboo will have major shedding seasons, and otherwise not drop as many leaves. Fargesia murielae, for example, does a major shedding in the Fall as it prepares for the coming winter by dropping about 30% of its foliage.
How deep do the roots go?
Bamboo roots are thin and fibrous (think big grass roots) and can go down 2-3 feet. The rhizomes, which is the part that actually spreads, usually stay fairly shallow, less than 12 inches. This makes them easy to locate and prune if done on an annual basis.
Will bamboo grow well in containers?
Most Fargesia will make a nice container plant, with a fountain shaped plume of foliage. Fargesia will need afternoon shade, or the leaves will burn. Use well draining potting soil and make sure the container has good drainage at the bottom.
In a container, bamboo won’t grow as tall, usually about 1/2 to 3/4 of its max height. It will also require more watering in the summer than if it was in the ground. We often water our bamboo as much as once a day during extreme heat, but in more reasonable weather we water usually every 2-3 days. The bamboo will also be less hardy.
You will also need to divide or transplant the bamboo regularly in order to keep it from getting too root-bound. Fargesia can grow as long as 6 years in a container approximately 20 gallons
What size container does bamboo need?
The bigger the better. If you are planning to use planter boxes, 18×18 inches and 18 inches deep is the smallest you should go. Bamboo can be grown in smaller pots temporarily. Also keep in mind that bamboo can blow over fairly easily, so avoid vase-shaped containers and use caution when placing a tall bamboo in a windy area.
What time of year is a good time to plant bamboo?
Generally Spring is best, March through June. Fall is also a good option, September through the end of October. A well rooted bamboo can be planted in the Summer, as long as it is watered regularly. Avoid planting fresh dug bamboo in the summer.
If you live in a mild climate you can pretty much plant year round, barring severe weather, as long as you supply the bamboo with enough water in the summer and a layer of mulch for insulation in the Winter.
How much space do I need to give bamboo to grow in?
It depends on how big you want the bamboo to grow.
Dedicate at least 3 feet by 3 feet for the Fargesia (12 feet circumference), to get reasonably close to mature height. The more space the better.
Bamboo can grow to conform to whatever space it is given; a long narrow planter, will produce a long, narrow screen, of moderate height, but most likely not full height.
You can maintain bamboo in a smaller area, for example, a runner contained within a 3×5 foot planter, but it can be tricky to keep the bamboo healthy after 4 or 5 years. Transplanting or dividing every 3-5 years is recommended for small containers or planters. Bamboo in a small area will grow shorter, with thinner canes, than if they are given more space to spread. Irrigation is critical for bamboo that has been in the same container for 3-5 years.
How deep should you plant bamboo?
No deeper than it is in the pot already; bamboo needs to be shallow to be healthy. When done digging the hole, till in loose, loamy soil, wood chips, potting soil, or compost in the bottom to promote good drainage and encourage deep rooting. Apply a thin layer of loose mulch over the top of the bamboo when done planting.
What kind of soil does bamboo like?
Loose, well-draining, If you’re keeping the bamboo in containers, any regular potting mix will do.
Can I plant bamboo in a boggy area that has standing water in the winter?
Most bamboo would perish, but some can grow in seasonally boggy soils that are wet in the winter and dry in the summer (or vice-versa) such a the (running) Phyllostachys atrovaginata,
Can I plant bamboo by my pool/pond?
Yes, there is no risk with clumping types like Fargesia
(but if you plant a runner you should put barrier between the pool and the bamboo, as well as edging the plant, because bamboo will actively seek water and so can damage the pool in some cases)
Which bamboo make the densest screens?
All Fargesia will grow in tight clusters, creating dense screens of foliage.
I want to try growing bamboo from seed. Where can I get some?
Bamboo is a very unusual plant in that most species don’t set seed all that often. Phyllostachys aurea, for example, is on a 50-year flowering cycle, and Fargesia all seem to be on 100 to 120-year flowering cycles. There are even some bamboo that have not been seen flowering in China’s 3000+ years of recorded history. Also, when they set seed, the seed isn’t always viable. For these reasons bamboo seed from specific species is usually not available.
Young seedlings are very sensitive for 2-3 years before they finally stabilize; until then they do best in a controlled environment, such as a heated greenhouse, in order to flourish and grow on to a size that can be planted out in the elements.
When do you fertilize?
Bamboo is dormant in the winter, so the best time to fertilize is in the spring and summer. Fertilizing isn’t usually necessary if the bamboo is in the ground, but often will promote larger growth with greener foliage. If the bamboo is in a container, it may need to be fed more often to maintain good appearance. The application rate depends on the type of fertilizer used.
What kind of fertilizer do you use?
For bamboo in the ground, organic fertilizer is a good option. Composts will break down into a layer of rich topsoil which provides the bamboo a premium growing area and a source of food. For a commercial fertilizer; the formulation is not critical but bamboo will respond well to high nitrogen. Follow the application rate specified on the fertilizer package. Over-fertilizing bamboo is difficult to do, but excessive amounts of nitrogen can lead to aphid problems or weakened canes.
Are bamboo drought tolerant?
Clumpers are more drought tolerant than runners because they root fairly deep, but runners have higher tolerance of dry, hot air.
Bamboo planted in dry climates needs to be watered regularly for the first 3-4 years until it becomes well rooted.
How much water does bamboo require?
Ideally, about an inch a week, the same as a law (in 1-3 applications per week). In many climates, after the bamboo has been in the ground for 3-5 years, water is no longer necessary for survival. Keep in mind, bamboo that doesn’t get a regular watering during the summer won’t look as good as bamboo that does.
What kinds of pests and diseases can bamboo get?
Bamboo is usually pest-free. However some species are prone to aphids => they are no real threat to the plant, and usually more cosmetic issue than anything else.
How do I get rid of bamboo?
Fargesia isn’t complicated to remove, in contrary to the running varieties such as Phyllostachys.
You can simply dig it out (with a heavy-duty shovel). Or another method is to cut the bamboo to the ground, and continue to remove all new growth as soon as it comes up. This eventually starves the bamboo out, but can take as long as three years to complete.
Is bamboo edible?
Fargesia does not have edible new shoots. (All the Phyllostachys, for example, are edible, although some of them have a bitter or stringent after taste when eaten raw)
Can I prune bamboo?
Yes. Bamboo canes will not grow any taller once they are topped, so it is a once-a-year process of cutting the younger canes after they leaf out. Cut the cane just above the node. Because bamboo cannot regain the lost height, it will get bushier in response to the pruning. Just be sure to leave some branches on the cane, otherwise the individual cane will die back to ground level.
Is bamboo harmful to pets?
No. Animals will often chew on it, but the leaves are actually rather nutritious and totally non-toxic (which is why, if you have horses, goats, cows, or sheep, you can use bamboo for a nutritious winter forage crop). Lucky Bamboo (indoor-bamboo, growing in water and rocks), which isn’t a bamboo at all but a member of the lily family, IS toxic to pets and should be kept out of their reach.
Will bamboo break in the wind?
It is rare for the canes to actually break on account of the wind. Most bamboo just bend in bad weather and then pop back upright.
Why is my bamboo leaning?
Small diameter canes will lean more, pulled down by the weight of the foliage. Bamboo in shade leans quite a bit looking for light. Snow, ice, and to a lesser extent, rain, can weigh down canes. Sometimes younger canes will have trouble coming back upright after a heavy snow load is dumped on them. Newly planted bamboo, during the first three years of life in a new location, will often produce smaller, weepier canes as it is getting established.
Which Clumping Bamboos are fully sun tolerant?
Fargesia are shade loving plants, but there are a few that can tolerate more sun than others such as Fargesia robusta, Fargesia Scabrida, and Fargesia Rufa.
Is there a black cold hardy clumping bamboo?
There are several bamboo that have dark canes and are clumping that are cold-hardy, but they don’t get very big (unlike Phyllostachys nigra but which is a runner).