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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.
Call us at 503-647-2700 or email if you need assistance or advice for anything bamboo related :  Members of our experienced staff are available do consultations, installations, maintenance, bamboo removal, and barrier installations in and around the Portland area.

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.

Although most people have a place in mind as to where they want to plant their bamboo, one should keep in mind that most large bamboos (Phyllostachys) do best with 5 or more hours of direct sunlight. They must be given ample water, fertilizer, and protection from competitive weeds. They will benefit from a windscreen and light shade when first planted as well. This is especially true of smaller plants. Fargesia, Thamnocalamus and Sasa do well with light to moderate shade. In fact the Fargesia and most Thamnocalamus are happier with some shade during the hottest part of the day. Fargesia and Thamnocalamus are the hardiest of the clump type bamboos. They can be planted without fear of spreading. See this link for a photo of the Clumping type rhizome. Most other hardy bamboos can spread by their underground rhizomes and this must be taken into account when planting them. We recommend annual root pruning as the first option for control. Also, barrier of 60 mil by 30 inch deep, HDPE (high density polyethylene) can be used for rhizome control. For helpful information and photographs about controlling and maintaining bamboo see: control methods

-one of the most fascinating things about bamboo is the exuberant growth of the new shoots each spring. For the bamboo grower, this is the equivalent of a colorful spring flower. Some bamboos can only be identified by the color and shape of their new shoots. Each year we hope for larger and more numerous shoots.  Some types are edible as well, and large enough to provide a reliable vegetable crop each spring.

New shoots on P. edulis Moso

          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. 
          This is especially impressive when watching Timber Bamboo new shoots grow over a foot per day, from ground level up to 50 feet in the spring season. New shoots literally SPRING out of the ground! They need to be attached to a large grove to produce this caliber of growth.  (see image on right) When starting from a new planting or small plant division you can expect to see new shoots grow only slightly taller than the previous years canes.  If the bamboo is fresh dug out of the ground, the new shoots will likely be short and bushy the first year, until the plant gets established in a new area. The bamboo we sell are well rooted so you can expect to see strong new growth in the first season.  If you purchase plants in the summer or fall, likely most of the growth will occur underground as the rhizomes spread outward. Once the new bamboo is well rooted in the ground, the shoots will be significantly larger than previous canes, usually gaining 3-5 feet of height each year.  See this link to for a photo illustration of the growth rate for new shoots from a large grove of Moso growing at Bamboo Garden.  Clumping Bamboo grow in the same manner but the canes are much smaller and only spread a couple inches out from the base of the plant each season.

Planting Your New Bamboo
Taking the care to plant correctly is very important for optimal growth and health.

Use garden compost or manure to work into the soil around your new bamboo planting. This is best done as you are digging the hole for the initial planting -work the new compost into the bottom of the hole to increase drainage, place the bamboo in the hole so that the top of the root-mass is level with the top of the soil.  Make sure the hole is 1.5 to 2 times as wide as the bamboo root-mass.  Mix the remaining compost in with the local soil when back filling the hole. This will provide a nutrient boost and improve the drainage in the soil around the bamboo roots. Put a 2-3 inch layer of compost over the top of the bamboo. Water the new planting thoroughly. We sell a blended organic compost, from Teufel Soil Products that has all the essential nutrients including active microbes, worm castings, kelp meal, and composted manure and bark shavings. We have been using this product for several years and it has been consistent in quality and has produced great results for our bamboo. We also sell an organic fertilizer (read below for more info).

Most bamboos are happiest in a moderately acidic loamy soil. If your soil is very heavy you can add organic material. It can be dug into the soil where the bamboo is to be planted, but you can also mulch very heavily and let the earthworms do the work, building a berm of nutritious soil (this also helps with bamboo control). Spread two or more inches of mulch in the area around the bamboo, and where you want the bamboo to grow. Bamboo is a forest plant and does best if a mulch is kept over the roots and rhizomes. It is best not to rake or sweep up the bamboo leaves from under the plant, as they keep the soil soft, and moist, and recycle silica and other natural chemicals necessary to the bamboo. A low-growing shade-tolerant groundcover plant that will allow the leaves to fall through to form a mulch without being visible will work if you find the dry leaf mulch objectionable. Almost any organic material is a good mulch. Grass is one of the best, as it is high in nitrogen and silica. Home made or commercial compost is great. Hay is a good mulch too but hay and manure are often a source of weed seeds, so that can be a problem. Any kind of manure is good, if it isn't too hot. Limited amounts of very hot manures like chicken are OK if used with care. At our nursery we use a large amount of chipped trees from tree pruning services. This can harbor pathogens that can affect some trees or shrubs, but the bamboo loves it.

Planting small starts

When planting smaller size starts (1 or 2 gallon),  it is important to protect them from overexposure to the hot sun, especially Fargesia and other shade loving bamboo. This is most important in the summer and when the chosen site has concrete, or near a wall that could reflect light and heat on to the plant. In such a potentially hot spot, it may be best to use a larger more well established bamboo (5 gallon or larger), and/or plant in the spring or fall.

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.

Timing and winter protection

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.

Many different types of fertilizer work well for bamboo.  In general, apply a high nitrogen grass or lawn fertilizer once in early spring and again in the summer, to match the two main growth seasons of bamboo. If using more mild, organic fertilizers (which we recommend), apply at a higher rate, so that the bamboo gets enough nitrogen. Follow application directions specific to the type of fertilizer you use to determine how much to apply. This can be usually be found on the fertilizer label.
If you want a healthy, attractive, and vigorous bamboo, you should fertilize 2 to 3 times per year.

  • We use a timed release (3-4 month), lawn fertilizer that is high in nitrogen for our bamboo in 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.


New! 100% Organic Fertilizer for bamboo. We were excited to offer this fertilizer as it is fully organic and available at a reasonable price.


Edible bamboo shoots!



Controlling the spread of bamboo
See this link for an overview of control methods

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 pruning trench 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.

King of Spades
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)

Learn more about Bamboo thinning, removing, and Grove Maintenance
Learn more about Controlling Bamboo Rhizomes

Growing Bamboo in Containers 
Bamboo is an excellent container plant. It provides an upright, evergreen screen for many applications.
We have developed a specialized container for growing bamboo called the
Sugi Bamboo Planters as our flagship offering. They provide containment for up to 10 years before the bamboo needs to be transplanted. Other options include galvanized metal stock tanks, cedar boxes, and large fabric pots (Root Pouch). 
The following are key points to consider for long term health and maintenance:
Expected height/culm diameter - Restricted root space = restricted height & smaller culm diameter. In general, the expected height would be 1/2 to 3/4 of the maximum height. For example, Black Bamboo (a Running Bamboo) can grow over 30 feet tall in the ground but often won't top 15 feet when grown in a container. Clumping Bamboo will often achieve 10 feet in a planter, as opposed to 12 to 15 feet in the ground. Clumping Bamboo are shade loving

 Hardiness - Bamboo grown in containers are less hardy than if grown in the ground. Container bamboos, especially those that are not well adapted to hot sun and cold winters, require more care in placement, as they can be damaged if the pot overheats or freezes. A bamboo hardy to 0 F in the ground may suffer cold damage at 10F when grown in a container. The larger the container, the more cold hardy your bamboo will be.

Watering - We recommend watering your containers when the top of the soil appears dry, until water comes out the drainage holes at the bottom. Always monitor your plants for signs of dehydration such as curling leaves. We often water our bamboo every day during extreme heat, but in normal weather, we water 2 to 3 times per week during the summer, or during extended dry periods. 1 to 2 gallons of water per session is usually sufficient, but this amount increases if the container is larger or the bamboo is root bound.  

Soil/Fertilizing – Bamboo is happiest in a neutral to slightly acidic, well draining but moisture retentive potting soil. We recommend fertilizing 3x per growing season (Spring - Summer) with a high nitrogen grass fertilizer, for example: 20-5-10 (NPK) with added iron. We also offer an 8-2-2 organic Bamboo Fertilizer (this is a custom blend we have developed at Bamboo Garden) for mixing in with the potting soil. Always follow package directions in regards to how much & how often to apply. 

Re-potting/Dividing - Depending on the size of container, you will need to re-pot or divide every 5-10 years to maintain optimal health & vigor of the bamboo. With our Sugi Bamboo Planters, bamboo can grow well for up to 10 years. If not maintained, root bound bamboos may escape or even break their container. Repotting/dividing is best done in the springtime. “Dividing” basically means cutting the bamboo root-mass in half and re-potting the divisions into separate containers.  Smaller divisions can be made at this time as well. With our Sugi Bamboo Planters, the bottom can be detached so that the bamboo can be pushed out from beneath which is a big advantage for ease of transplanting.

Containers - We recommend using our Sugi Bamboo Planter because it offers good insulation from heat and cold, and ease of maintenance because of the trapezoidal shape and Bamboo Barrier lining. If metal stock tanks are used for bamboo, we recommend insulating the inside with Bamboo Barrier. Metal stock should have extra drain holes (1/2” diameter and ~2 per square foot) as well to provide adequate drainage. We suggest placing any container on brick footings to avoid the eventual blocking of the drainage holes or degradation of the container.

Bamboo Barrier - Bamboo rhizomes can adhere to porous surfaces, such as wood or clay. Therefore, we recommend lining any container with Bamboo Barrier to help when removing your bamboo and increase the life of the planter. Bamboo Barrier also provides additional insulation from heat and cold. 
We sell decorative Sugi Bamboo Planters See more info...
The bamboo inside the planters are Semiarundinaria fastuosa 'Viridis'



Photo Noah Bell, Bamboo Garden
Classic spring leaf fall, P. edulis Moso

Yellowing and falling leaves

In the spring there is considerable yellowing of the leaves, followed by leaf drop. Some species do this more than others (Phyllostachys aureaP. 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.

Staking tall plants

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.


Pruning Bamboo

Maintenance pruning for large running bamboo

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.

For Screens or Hedges

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.

Legging up

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.

Groundcover Bamboos

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.

 (click on link) Bamboo inquiries: General questions and answers from our customers.
Lots of good information about growing bamboo!

Bamboo Pests
see link for information about bamboo pests.

It looks like bamboo, but it ain't  see
Imposters: Not bamboos at all
also see
From Terra Viridis Nursery

Plants Commonly Mistaken for Bamboo