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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.
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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.
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.
$10 per 3 cubic foot bale ($8 each when purchased in packages of 5 or
more bales). 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.
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 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.
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.
$16.00 per 50lb bag ($.32 per lb)
This fertilizer is derived from chicken manure and has a well balanced nutritional content of 4-3-2 (4-nitrogen 3-phosphorus 2-potassium, the basic elements necessary for plant health). Mix with local soil around bamboo growing area, as directed on the package under the "trees and shrubs" category. This fertilizer is mild and will not burn young plants, but will give your bamboo an extra boost of energy to maintain optimal health. We recommend this for use around your home, instead of synthetic lawn fertilizer. It is safe to use in your vegetable garden and around pets and kids.
Edible bamboo shoots!
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. $110.00
Learn more about Bamboo thinning, removing, and Grove Maintenance
Learn more about Controlling Bamboo Rhizomes
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 30"
cedar planters which
provides a decent home for most bamboos for about 4-6 years before they need to
We sell decorative, 30 inch square cedar planters for $85.
New on middle and right, 60" x 20" rectangular cedar planters, $175.
The bamboo inside the planters on right 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.
For dwarf bamboo we recommend cutting it to the ground each
spring, so that the plant is rejuvenated. It will look much nicer when the new
growth emerges, and it will be kept shorter and more dense. Dwarf bamboos are
also often trimmed later in the season to keep them shorter and more uniform in
height. In very cold climates such as zones 4 or 5 dwarf bamboos may have their
tops freeze back in the winter and still be good for landscaping. Just mow them
as you should do in places where they don’t freeze back.
(click on link) Bamboo inquiries: General questions and answers from our customers.
Lots of good information about growing bamboo!
see link for information about bamboo pests.