Our customers, like our Bamboo Garden team, have an insatiable curiosity about bamboo.
And curious minds want to know: how do you grow bamboo?
Growing bamboo is simple. We’ll teach you how to successfully plant, grow, and maintain healthy bamboo. Remember that our team is available to answer any and all bamboo questions via phone or at our North Plains nursery.
Customizing your bamboo placement allows you to manipulate the plant for a multitude of purposes, whether it’s to build a peaceful oasis or provide a bit more privacy. Here are a few ways to place and space your bamboo.
Bamboo should be spaced 3-5 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. 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. If you prefer 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). Most bamboo will not suffer from being planted nearly back to back, but their growth rate may be slowed.
Starting from a small size, most bamboo will reach mature height within five or six years. As a very general rule, clumping bamboo gains about 1-2 feet of height per year and the running types gain about 3-5 feet per year, spreading 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.
Although most people have an idea of where they want to plant their bamboo, one should keep in mind that most large bamboos (Phyllostachys) do best with five 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. 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, a barrier of 60 millimeters by 30 inches deep, HDPE (high density polyethylene) can be used for rhizome control.
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 the ground and reach their full height in approximately two to three months.
A young bamboo that is about 8 feet tall with four canes, for example, may produce three additional new shoots in the spring that grow to 10 feet within two months. Next spring, those seven canes will produce about five to ten new shoots that could reach 15 feet. Fast forward four years: the same plant is now sixty 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 required 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.
When starting from a new planting or small plant division you can expect to see new shoots grow only slightly taller than the previous year’s canes. If the bamboo is freshly dug out of the ground, the new shoots will likely be short and bushy the first year until the plant is 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.
Barely peaking out of the soil. Can you spot the new shoots?
After nearly a month of rainy weather, the shoots have only grown about 12 inches, but the are impressive diameter. This is about the last chance to harvest edible shoots before they get too large and fibrous.
A couple days of warm weather has boosted the shoot growth rate slightly. It looks like we will have a good year for Moso shoots.
Generally warmer weather, growth rate increases to about 6 inches per day. Culm sheaths are peeling away near the base to reveal green canes. Young Moso canes are covered with a velvet-soft layer of microscopic hairs to protect itself from pests.
Growing at full rate during a week of sunny weather, the new shoots are now to 20 feet.
Now fully extended and entering early summer, the new shoots to 30 feet in height begin unfolding their branches and unfurling their leaves.
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 as you are digging the hole for the initial planting. Work the new compost into the bottom of the hole to increase drainage, placing 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 backfilling 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.
Most bamboo are happiest in a moderately acidic loamy soil. If your soil is very heavy, you can add organic material. The material can be dug into the soil where you intend to plant the bamboo, but you can also mulch very heavily and let the earthworms do the work, building a berm of nutritious soil (which also helps with bamboo control). Bamboo is a forest plant and does best if a mulch is kept over the roots and rhizomes. Spread two or more inches of mulch in the area around the bamboo and where you want the bamboo to grow.
It is best not to rake or sweep up the bamboo leaves from under the plant, as they keep the soil soft and moist. Leaves also recycle silica and other natural chemicals necessary to the bamboo. Almost any organic material is a good mulch. 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 dry leaf mulch objectionable. Grass is one of the best organic mulch materials as it is high in nitrogen and silica. Homemade or commercial compost is also great. At our nursery we use a large amount of chipped trees from tree pruning services. This can harbor pathogens that may affect some trees or shrubs, but the bamboo loves it.
*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.
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).
Restricted root space = restricted height and 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.
Bamboo grown in containers is 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℉ in the ground may suffer cold damage at 10℉ when grown in a container. The larger the container, the more hardy your bamboo will be.
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, like 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.
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: 20-5-10 (NPK) with added iron, for example. 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.
Depending on the size of the container, you will need to repot or divide every 5-10 years to maintain optimal health and vigor of the bamboo. With our Sugi Bamboo Planters, bamboo can grow well for up to 10 years. If not maintained, root bound bamboo may escape or even break their container. Repotting/dividing is best done in the springtime. “Dividing” 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.
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 rhizomes can adhere to porous surfaces, such as wood or clay. Therefore, we recommend lining any container with a 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.
When planting smaller sized bamboo starts (1 or 2 gallon), it is important to protect them from overexposure to the sun, especially Fargesia and other shade-loving bamboo. This is most important during summer and when the chosen site has concrete or is near a wall that could reflect light and heat on to the plant. In 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.
Bamboo can be planted at any time of the year in areas with mild climates similar to the maritime Pacific Northwest. In colder parts of the world, bamboo should be planted outdoors early enough to acclimate and to harden off sufficiently for surviving their first winter. If the bamboo is planted late in the year or in a cold climate, one should mulch the plant heavily and provide extra protection from any cold and drying winds.
Even in very cold climates, an established bamboo grove with a heavy layer of leaves covering the ground will have soft and friable soil during periods when the surrounding soil is frozen hard. In very hot climates, where summers routinely reach over 100 degrees, it is best to wait until fall or spring to plant bamboo, unless it can be planted in a shady, sun-protected area.
Many types of fertilizer work well for bamboo. In general, apply a high nitrogen grass or lawn fertilizer once in early spring (shooting season is February through April), 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. You can usually find directions on the fertilizer label. If you want healthy, attractive, and vigorous bamboo, you should fertilize two to three 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. Fertilizer that reads 21-5-6, for example, is 21% nitrogen, 5% phosphorus, and 6% potassium. In general, bamboo can utilize half a pound of nitrogen per 100 square feet (two applications per year). In other words, if you have a grove that is 10 feet x 10 feet, and apply 2 pounds of 21-5-6, the amount of actual nitrogen available to the plant is .42 pounds (2lbs x .21 = .42 lbs). That’s plenty of nitrogen. You would need to apply 10 pounds of organic 4-3-2 to feed the bamboo .4 pounds of actual nitrogen. Sound confusing? Don’t worry, bamboo is not a finicky feeder. There is a lot of margin for experimentation and error.
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.
We recommend annual root pruning as the first option for control. A bamboo barrier of 60 mil thickness by 30 inch deep, HDPE (high density polyethylene) can be used for rhizome control. With the exception of very light soil, the bamboo rhizomes are usually in the top few inches of soil. However, when the rhizome encounters an obstruction it will turn and sometimes 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 or perhaps under the barrier.
When filling the hole after placing the barrier, tightly compact the soil next to the barrier. Any amendments must be added only in the top foot of soil. 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.
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, 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 lose 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.
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 five gallons, we advise watering with more than one gallon. 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.
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.
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.
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 and 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.