Bamboo is a green-fingered connoisseur’s go-to plant, especially when creating a garden that boasts a somewhat tropical appeal.
Its striking appearance means it’s often used as a specimen plant, to add interest to an otherwise subtle border, or as an attractive screen.
If you wish to introduce bamboo to your garden, it’s important to learn a few tips and tricks, many of which are very straightforward…
First things first, what is bamboo?
Bamboo originates from the grass family (also known as Poaceae). Species are native to a number of continents, excluding Europe, with most of today’s cultivated plants coming from China, South or Central America, and Japan.
Originally, bamboo was found in the lowland plains and mountainous regions of Asia, where temperatures can drop to a chilling -30 degree Celsius. This is one of the reasons bamboos are extremely hardy and as such, ideal plants for European and North American climates.
Asides from generic species, there are a number of tropical species in existence, which are native to Africa, Australia and tropical parts of Asia. These particular bamboo plants necessitate frost-free conditions in order to thrive in home gardens. If grown in the correct environment, they are often amongst the most spectacular specimens in the world.
What are the main different types of bamboo?
The main differences between the various types of bamboo come down to the plants’ root systems. This is something home gardeners should take note of, especially if you wish to choose a specie that is perfectly suited to your home climate and environment.
Almost all bamboos boast either a running root system (leptomorph system) or a clumping root system (pachymorph system). The differences relate to the botany of the plant.
All bamboo root systems house both rhizomes and roots – rhizomes are underground stems with nodes, where new shoots grow. Running or clumping forms of root will develop dependent on the size of the space between the nodes on the rhizome (known as the internodes). Clumping forms will have short internodes and the stems will be close to each other whereas running forms have much longer internodes.
When picking a bamboo plant, choose the version that is the most suitable to the space you have available. Where space is an issue, a bamboo plant’s growth can be kept in check, especially if you feed them sparingly post planting.
What growing conditions are best for Bamboo plants?
Depending on the specie you choose, the degree of sun or shade your plant requires may vary. Certain species are able to tolerate cooler climates, whilst others require much warmer climates. This is why it’s important to do your research before buying a bamboo plant.
On top of this, there are some common features relating to all bamboo plants, including the fact they’re extremely hardy plants. Because of this, they’re easy to maintain. They’re also able to withstand a certain degree of neglect.
When planting bamboo for the first time, there is little need to worry about the soil you use, as bamboos thrive is a variety of different soil types and this choice shouldn’t affect the health of the plant – regardless of whether you choose a heavy clay or a softer soil.
However, while bamboo require plenty of watering during the growing season, they’re unable to tolerate poorly drained soil at other times. To help prevent waterlogging, you can add gravel, grit or other materials to the soil.
How to plant bamboo plants
When planting bamboo, location is key!
These plants can grow both tall and wide and this is an important factor to consider if you wish to prevent the bamboo’s size from interfering with existing features, including paths or boundaries. If you’re concerned about this, it’s wise to install a barrier of sorts to restrict the spread of the plant.
This is especially the case if using running species (and clumping species if space is tight). An easy way to avoid space issues is to invest in and install a series of purpose-made bamboo root barriers. These are available from most garden centres or from online bamboo retailers. Hard plastics and off cuts of paving can also do the same job when positioned vertically around the planting hole.
Another way to avoid over spread of your plant is to build a shallow trench (45cm deep should suffice) around the bamboo plants. Simply prune off any extending rhizomes as they enter the trench.
When to plant bamboo
Spring is the best time to plant Bamboo – this allows the plant a lengthy growing season to settle in. If buying from a nursery, you’ll discover the bamboos are heavily pot bound. In some cases, the only way to remove the pot is with a knife.
If so, you’ll need to soak the roots before planting. The next step requires you to dig a hole one and a half times the depth and twice the size of the roots. For best results, add drainage material and organic fertiliser or manure to the base of the planting hole. Once planted, water well and mulch with manure, compost or leaf mould.
How to maintain bamboo plants
Maintaining bamboo is not particularly hard; this is one of the reasons bamboo is such a popular plant. Continue watering well for the first two years and the more you feed and water a bamboo plant, the more it will grow. Fertilisers to avoid include anything seaweed based, as bamboos are salt intolerant.
Routine bamboo maintenance
Only a little effort is required to keep your bamboo plant looking its best. Simply remove any dead, weak or damaged canes in spring, using scissors or secateurs to cut them to ground level.
At this time, you should also remove any debris sitting at the base of clumps while reducing some of the foliage from the bottom of the canes, to create a tidy effect.
You should also regularly moisten dry areas without saturating the plant, as bamboo plants enjoy moist yet well-drained conditions.
To encourage healthy, strong growth, it’s important to prune your bamboo plant on a regular basis, by removing damaged, weak or old culms. If you’re unsure of how to identify these, look for culms brandishing a dull colour and cut from the base. This will encourage more light and air into the plant’s centre, which will in turn help it to flourish. Pruning a number of the side branches will also help to ease congestion. For a striking effect, remove all branches at low levels.
A bamboo plant for everyone
There are bamboo species suited to almost all environments and climates. These include Chimonobambusa (prefers a shady spot), Bashania, Pseudosasa, or Sasaella (all can withstand exposed areas and therefore act as great windbreakers), Phyllostachys (direct sunlight) and Pseudosasa and Indocalamus (ideal for low maintenance gardens).
Giving plenty of thought to which one is best suited to your outdoor space can therefore mean your bamboo thrives.
If you wish to grow bamboo plants indoors or in containers, you’ll need a plant pot that measures at least 45cm in diameter and in depth. When planting your new bamboo, add water retaining gel and controlled release fertiliser pellets to the compost.
During the summer months, water your bamboo regularly and consistently feed it with a liquid feed. When winter arrives, reduce watering and stop feeding without allowing the plant to dry out. In extremely cold weather, move the plant to a frost-free conditions or insulate the container with bubble wrap.
To encourage new growth, it’s important to separate the bamboo every couple of years. You can do this by using a saw to cut through the rootball, preserving only the younger rhizomes and canes.
Although many myths suggest bamboo plants die post flowering, this is not always the case. However, flowering can promote browning of the foliage with the development of feathery, lengthy, grass-like blooms. Although these blooms can weaken a clump, there are a few tips and tricks that may result in a full recovery.
These are as follows:
If you spot the odd flowering shoot, it’s wise to cut this immediately as this will prevent more from forming
If the entire clump begins to flower, allow it to do so, whilst continuing to feed and water the bamboo plant. When spring arrives, cut the clump down to ground level and feed with a high quality nitrogen fertiliser, such as a spring lawn feed. This will promote new green growth.
Although it may appear that there is plenty to consider when planting bamboo, much of the process is relatively straight forward. With a little effort, you can enjoy a plant that is ideal for breaking up outdoor spaces and providing you with a little privacy.
If you’ve been particularly successful in you efforts to grow bamboo in your outdoor spaces we’d love to hear from you.