How to Grow and Care for Bamboo

There is an art to growing bamboo.

Bamboo Forest
Photo: Miguel Michán/Getty Images

Bamboo ( Bambusa vulgaris ) is an evergreen perennial that grows in running and clumping formations. Running bamboo spreads faster than the clumping variety, making it highly invasive in environments where the growth goes unchecked. Native to Asia, this tropical and sub-tropical plant has several cultivar varieties.

The thick stems grow vertically in loose clumps but do not contain any thorns. Relatively strong, the common bamboo has yellow stems, or culms, with dark green foliage that emerges new in the spring. The continuous foliage and quick growth rate make common bamboo an excellent option as a privacy hedge. Raw bamboo culms and leaves contain toxins, but there are specific varieties considered non-toxic to pets and people .

Plant Attributes

Plant Attributes
Common Name: Common Bamboo, Golden Bamboo, Fishpole Bamboo
Botanical Name: Bambusa vulgaris
Family: Poaceae
Plant Type: Perennial, Rhizome, Tree, Shrub
Mature Size: 15-60 ft. tall, 10-25 ft. wide, 1–2 in. diameter
Sun Exposure: Full, Partial
Soil Type: Moist but Well-drained, Rich, Sandy
Soil pH: Acidic (6.0 to 6.5)
Bloom Time: Variable
Hardiness Zones: Zones 6-10 (USDA)
Native Area: Asia, South America

Bamboo Care

Plant container-grown bamboos any time of year. The more crowded a bamboo is in the container, the faster it will grow when planted outside. Clumping bamboo often requires a barrier or garden stakes on one side to help the plant adjust to the desired shape as it grows in an enlarging circle. Use this variety away from fences or sidewalks and maintain its invasive spread by breaking off new shoots when the growth exceeds its space.

Large expanses of concrete or asphalt won't prevent the spread of running bamboo, but it isn't difficult to contain them—provided you understand how they grow. Rhizomes are shallow and spread sideways, not down. To prevent the horizontal spread of bamboo, block, cut, or surround the rhizomes with a trench.

Bamboo needs consistent watering and fertilizer while establishing and growing. Keep the soil moist but well-drained, and amend it with rich, fertile nutrients if required.

Light

Common bamboo needs daily sun exposure to grow to its fullest potential. Provide plants with at least six hours of sunlight daily in moderately warm areas. In areas with harsher summer climates, the partial shade will provide bamboo with some relief from the afternoon sun. Bamboo grows well in environments with ample light and humidity.

Soil

Bamboo thrives in moist, well-drained soil but will tolerate most soil types as long as it is not soggy or too dry. Use a slightly acid soil pH and balance the soil's nutrients with fertilizer if necessary. If growing bamboo in containers, use potting soil with organic compost, such as mushrooms.

Water

Water bamboo frequently and deeply for best growth, soaking the soil around the plant to at least one foot deep. Established plants tolerate considerable drought but look best with regular irrigation. If grown indoors, use a spray bottle to help amplify the humidity surrounding the bamboo.

Temperature and Humidity

Native to tropical and sub-tropical environments, bamboo grows best in humid areas with moist soil. Common bamboo grows naturally near river banks and open ground and tolerates various climate conditions. Depending on the variety, bamboo will defoliate during the dry season and grow near foliage during the rainy season or spring. Optimal temperatures range from 65°F to 90°F, but as a cold-hearty plant, bamboo can tolerate temperatures near 10°F.

Fertilizer

Feed in-ground plants monthly, from March to October, with a high-nitrogen fertilizer or lawn fertilizer. Using a balanced fertilizer throughout the growing season helps plants to provide nutrients to the roots and keeps the bamboo healthy. Cut back on water and fertilizer to restrict the size and spread of an established bamboo.

Types of Bamboo

There is a diverse variety of bamboo to grow in gardens or containers. Depending on your space availability and growing environment, some species are better suited for different conditions. Here are only a few of the available selections:

  • 'Buddha's Belly' ( Bambusa ventricosa) : This plant grows well indoors, reaching about five to 15 feet tall. It is adaptable to various conditions, and the culms grow in a unique, zigzagging formation.
  • 'Chilean Bamboo' ( Chusquea culeou ): Native to Latin America, this species has solid culms that grow up to 13 feet. This variety's solid stems make it an excellent option for a privacy screen or to use as a focal point in your garden.
  • 'Broad-leaf Bamboo' ( Sasa ): A tropical, running bamboo species with highly resilient growth. This plant tolerates shady environments.
  • 'Blue Bamboo' ( Himalayacalamus hookerianus ): This evergreen, clump-forming bamboo has slender and elegant culms, each containing a hint of red or purple coloring on top of its blue stems that mature to gold.

Pruning

Prune bamboo any time during the year, but doing so in late winter helps prevent accidentally removing emerging shoots during the growing season. Much of the pruning needed for bamboo plants is to maintain shape and appearance. Start by removing older, dead, or unsightly culms with a saw or sharp garden shears. Remove these unwanted culms to the ground, or cut above the node if you are pruning for appearance.

Depending on the bamboo variety, running bamboo species must block the plant's surrounding area to avoid unwanted spread. A continuous polypropylene plastic sheet around the perimeter of the planting helps to block the space but remember to keep a two-inch lip aboveground to stop runners. Never place plastic under roots, as they need excellent drainage. Continuously drying the soil, extending 10 to 20 feet beyond the planting bed, impedes runners.

Another effective pruning solution is to periodically insert a spade to its full length around the plant, severing the rhizomes and isolating unwanted parts from the main plant. Break off new shoots that rise from the isolated rhizomes, so they are unlikely to resprout. Surrounding the plant with an 18-inch deep and one-foot wide trend can provide an opening to remove any emerging rhizomes. Fill the trench with loose mulch or sand, then use a spading fork several times a year to search the trench for roving rhizomes and easily sever.

Propagating Bamboo

The best time to propagate bamboo from existing clumps is just before growth begins in the spring. Here is how to propagate bamboo by dividing culms or rhizome cuttings:

  1. During March or April (for hardy varieties) or May or early June (for tropical varieties), roots with at least three culms are divided using a sharp pruning shear or spade. Do not cut or spread the rootball, which will kill the canes.
  2. Cut back the tops to balance the loss of roots and rhizomes. Don't worry if the foliage wilts because new growth will emerge from the missing culms.
  3. If propagating from a clumping bamboo species, cut the rhizome with a garden spade from the root ball. Running bamboo will have a foot-long rhizome with roots and buds.
  4. After removing the section of bamboo from cuttings or the root ball, plant the new divisions in rich soil filled with organic material. Continue watering and maintain a moist, well-drained growing environment.

How to Grow Bamboo From Seed

Growing bamboo from seeds is challenging but possible in the right conditions. Here is how to grow bamboo from seeds:

  1. Bamboo seeds need humidity to grow, so create a greenhouse if you do not own one. Start with a seed tray, bamboo seeds, pellets, and a container large enough to enclose the tray—creating a greenhouse atmosphere.
  2. Fill each spot in the seed starting tray with a pellet and add water to cover it, filling the individual containers about halfway. Use clean water and let the pellets soak until expanding. Remove excess water.
  3. Fill a container with clean water and submerge the bamboo seeds for up to 24 hours. Keep the seeds in a warm area.
  4. Use a pencil or fingers to create a hole in each pellet, which will plant one seed in each area. Make sure the seeds are completely covered. Place in a room with indirect sunlight and keep pellets moist. Continue care until sprouts reach the greenhouse container's top, then transplant them into a larger container to grow until it's time to move the plant outdoors.

Potting and Repotting Bamboo

When growing bamboo in a container, it might be necessary to repot the plant once it outgrows its current space. As an aggressive spreader, bamboo—especially running bamboo—can quickly overgrow if not maintained.

Start with a sturdy, well-draining container with similar depth and width. Fill the container with rich potting soil, enough to cover the top of the root ball. Transplant the root ball in the new container, but do not pack the plant too deeply, as this can cause rot. Leave air pockets in the soil and water thoroughly. Depending on your preferences, continue repotting bamboo or gently dive the rhizomes to maintain shape and appearance.

Overwintering

After establishing growth, bamboo plants are relatively cold-hardy in USDA Zones 6-10. Planting bamboo in the spring is best to allow culms to emerge and take root before experiencing colder conditions. Adding mulch to the plant during its first winter season is recommended when planted outdoors. If using a container to grow bamboo, move the plant indoors before the first frost.

Common Pests & Plant Diseases

Scale, mealybugs, and aphids occasionally appear on bamboo but seldom do any harm. Spray with insecticidal soap or summer oil if these pests excrete honeydew in bothersome amounts. Mites can cause yellow streaking or disfigurement of leaves, which insecticidal soap can also control.

Root rot can occur in bamboo plants that do not have adequate circulation or wet growing environments. This soil-borne disease causes roots to appear darker or slimy. Use a sharp knife to remove damaged or mushy roots and prevent spreading by eliminating the culms above. Water the plant's base in the morning to prevent foliage from developing a fungus.

Common Problems With Bamboo

Bamboo plants are relatively free from problems and only require some maintenance. Your bamboo plant might need more water, soil nutrients, or sun exposure.

Curling Leaves

Adequate watering balance is one of the most challenging parts of caring for bamboo plants. Curling leaves signify underwatering. Without any other changes, changing the watering schedule is all that's needed to resolve this issue. Water plants once or twice a week at the plant's base, but different conditions, like container plants and harsh summer heat, might require watering more often.

Drooping Leaves

Bamboo plants require a lot of nitrogen-rich fertilizer. Use organic compost at the beginning of the growing season in the spring and again in mid to late summer. Extra feeding can help revive the thinning plant when the foliage looks unhealthy. Brown leaves can signify too much fertilizer, so don't overfeed bamboo.

Leaves Turning Brown

Too much direct or harsh sunlight can cause bamboo plants' leaves to turn brown. Overwatering and underwatering can also cause an imbalance in soil nutrients, creating brown leaves. If possible, move bamboo to an area with indirect or filtered sunlight.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles