Bamboo is a great choice for specimen planting or for screening, and it can be easy to grow if you know how to manage it. It fits in with most garden styles, and there are varieties of nearly every size and for every hardiness zone. Use it to add a modern os Asian vibe to any garden space that needs updating. Here are the basics on how to grow bamboo in your garden!
How to Grow Bamboo
Types of Bamboo
There are basically two types of bamboo. Running bamboo is the type you have been warned about that can take over your entire yard (and the next one) in a pretty darn short time, turning it into a tropical jungle. But with some tricks, you can grow it!
Clumping bamboo is a more well contained type of bamboo, and while it still spreads underground, it is much slower and controlled. This is a better choice for the casual gardener, or those with limited space but who still want to know how to plant and grow bamboo. Photo by ‘Adam Robinson Design’.
- Both types of bamboo have tropical varieties meant for warmer climates, and mountainous varieties hardy down to -15 degrees or more. Check your nursery tag.
- Choose a bamboo that has a mature height that fits in with the scale of the effect you desire. Screening bamboos can be taller, specimens can be shorter.
- Bamboo requires well drained soil.
- For the first two years in the ground, water your bamboo well. Fertilize once in the spring. If you are trying to prevent running bamboo from, well, running… don’t fertilize as often.
- Check on whether your variety prefers full sun, or some afternoon shade.
- Prune back to the ground old, dull culms every year. (Culms are the upright “blades” of bamboo.) Some gardeners prefer to prune off any branches that extend horizontally, so that all culms run vertically straight up for a graphic and striking effect. If you have culms flopping over, they probably require more water, less feritlizer. You can prune back the height to help them recover, or just prune them down altogether.
- Bamboo loves water. As long as the soil is well drained, you should keep it moist at all times. Photo by ‘Gardens at Night’.
How to Grow Running Bamboo
If you have found a species of running bamboo that you just have to try, you will have to contain the underground roots from spreading beyond your planting area. There are several ways to achieve this.
- You can transplant your nursery bamboo into a large pot, then plant the whole pot into the ground. Leave the collar of the pot above ground. Cover with mulch if you find it unsightly.
- Another option is to place a plastic or concrete barrier at least 12-18 inches below the soil. Bamboo are shallow rooted so this should prevent the bamboo from running away. You can prune back to the ground any culms that escape beyond the barrier.
- Finally, you can dig a 12 inch deep trench around the area you would like to contain the running bamboo too. Fill with sand, then several times a season, pull back the sand and prune back any roots that have poked through into the trench. Photo by ‘Integration Design Studio’.
How to Grow Clumping Bamboo
Clumping Bamboo is much less likely to run rampant across your property. Many varieties are quite polite, in fact. Make sure you check the size and space requirements of the variety you purchase. You can grow clumping bamboo in pots, or in the ground as a great backdrop to your garden. This type of bamboo also makes a fast growing privacy screen. Photo by ‘Residential Landscape Projects’.
Both types of bamboo can be grown successfully in containers. This is the lowest maintenance option, and can help maintain the health of the rest of your garden. Be sure to choose a bamboo container large enough to be in scale with the eventual height of your variety.
Bamboo is not the garden evil that urban legend portrays…as long as you tend to it’s needs. It can turn a ho hum yard into a stunning garden in a short time, with these bamboo growing tips and tricks. So now that you know how to grow bamboo and it’s care, are you brave enough to give it a try? Go check out our posts on Best Unexpected Plants to Grow In Containers, and Privacy with Plants!
Another “late to the party” reader. But I’m hoping someone can answer this for me. I have 8 acres, but live in the desert, Sonoran desert near Tucson. I want to grow bamboo in containers, is that possible and what type of bamboo should I get ?
I would say it is possible, but you should go to your nursery locally and ask for advice for varieties. At the very least, plant a clumping style bamboo, never let it dry out, and give it afternoon shade. Good luck!
I have a bamboo in a pot that looks like it hasn’t survived the winter. Is it worth trying to repot and feed it or should I just give up on it.
If you still don’t have any green growth, it might be time to let it go! While bamboo can be slow to start in the spring, I would think it would show some signs of growth by now! Anyone else have experience with sleepy bamboo?
I would never plant bamboo anywhere at any time ever again. It started with one clump root thrown in a corner. Then it went everywhere it wanted. Through concrete, under the deck and on to the other side. It took three years to finally kill the stuff.
Clumping bamboo would fix that, you must have planted running bamboo… Wish you had read this article first, that must have been a nightmare!
Hi I want to grow elephant or timber bamboo in containers to block neighbors second story windows. How large should containers be? Can I grow this in northern California?
The way I understand it, these are giant bamboos, and I don’t think they would be a good choice for containers. I did find this forum thread for you, hope it helps! http://forums.gardenweb.com/discussions/1738029/what-large-bamboo-will-grow-in-large-containers
Can it grow in acidic soil under cedar trees?
I know these post are old, but I just stumbled on them. I am wondering if you have any suggestions on where to purchase bamboo. Is it better to find some at a nursery? Or can I order seeds off the web? Looking for clumping bamboo in central Texas.
I would go to your local nursery to make sure you are getting a clumping bamboo that works well in your zone and area! Good luck!
Can I keep it in large containers all the time?
You can! The bamboo will grow to the size of the container…
I live in Northern Michigan, what kind of bamboo would growgood here ?? Thank you
I would contact The Michigan Bamboo Co in Holly, Mi… you can Google them, local nurseries would have the best recommendations for your local area!
I would love to plant a bamboo hedge along a chain link fence. Full sun all day long in deep south Texas (Zone 9). Would Clumping Bamboo be a good variety to try? We live in a 1/2 acre lot and would like more privacy. Am I going in the right direction? Thanks so much.
I would definitely stick with clumping bamboo!
Hi I have been growing what we call here in Indiana Lucky Bamboo, most grow it in a vase of water with colorful rocks, but out of direct light while in water, I personally have several growing in pots of dirt in my house. Would it be ok to plat outside in pots?
I don’t know much about it, but generally plants that are brought up in a nursery for indoor growing are not conditioned for outdoors…
We are looking for a natural screen for our balcony and are considering bamboo. The balcony faces east and the side where the screen will be gets sun until about 2-3pm. We live in Germany so the bamboo should be hardy. They will be planted in containers, but these shouldnt be very massive as our balcony is “free standing” (so no support underneath). Our desired height is about 1.5 meters. Do you believe bamboo is the correct choice? If so, what type?
We recently moved into a house where bamboo trees were taking over the backyard. I had cut some of them down before deciding I wanted to make them Work for me. Is there a way to contain them since they’re already planted? Also is there a way to stop the ones I don’t want to grow anymore from growing?
Unfortunately, this is the problem with bamboo, if they aren’t contained from the start, it is tough getting control… You can try cutting through there rhizome with a sharp pace or shovel, then removing the bamboo that has gotten out of hand. Use a physical barrier that runs at least 18 inches under the surface to further contain it, like concrete (there are a couple of suggestions in the article). You can use herbicides on bamboo, but since they are connected under ground,and herbicides travel through the root systems, you run the risk of killing it back too far, or not enough. It is hard work getting bamboo under control, but its so cool when you do get it there, and congrats on deciding to work with the great plants you inherited!
my friend has this same problem at her house. she had to pay a lawn/landscape service ALOT to fix it. cause even once they removed as much as possible, they put special sheeting to block new growth cause it is fiesty!
Can’t expansion for the runner type be contained simply by mowing? My grandfather had a bamboo fence when I was a kid and I always thought that was how he kept in under control.
Runners can keep going underground and will keep spreading and could get out of control.
I have been growing what we call Chinese fishing pole bamboo, as a screen, hedge, what have you, and it is easily grown here, in Jamaica, at the seaside
I’m sure it is easily grown there in Jamaica! Thanks for sharing Jeremy!
Thank you for this article. It is very helpful.
I would like to plant bamboo along a wall as a screen. We are going to build a raised flower bed to plant the bamboo in to prevent it from spreading. The wall is 2 metres high. How big should the container be for the bamboo to grow the height of the wall?
Can you tell me what type of bamboo you are thinking of planting? In general, the larger the container, the larger the bamboo will grow, but all varieties are different…
I have a bamboo plant in a small glass container house warming present but it’s grown quite big in just rocks and water want to plant outside this article said not to water too much but like I said mine has grown in just water what do u suggest plz