How to Grow Bamboo in Your Backyard
Bamboo Backyard Privacy Shield
What is bamboo?
Bamboos are some of the fastest-growing plants in the world. Although bamboo may look like a tree, it is actually classified as a grass.
There are close to 1,500 species of bamboo. The woody varieties are most common—they are characterized by hollow woody-walled stems with ringed joints from which grow clumps of long narrow leaves.
Certain species of bamboo can reach heights of nearly 100 feet. In ideal conditions, some types of bamboo can grow as much as four feet in one day.
Bamboo is found in temperate, semi-tropical, and tropical regions of the world.
Bamboo in History
In China, bamboo is a symbol of moral integrity and good character.
In India, bamboo is a symbol of friendship.
Bamboo is the national plant of the Caribbean island of St. Lucia.
In the creation mythology of several Asian cultures, humanity emerged from a bamboo stem.
How to get started?
Bamboo is easy to grow, simple to maintain, and grows quickly. It makes an excellent privacy shield or privacy hedge, and since it grows so quickly your landscape plan will be realized in as little as a year. Once bamboo reaches its maximum height, it stops growing UP and starts growing OUT (becoming bushy).
You should buy your bamboo from a local nursery that specializes in bamboo. (Use the internet to find one near you.) The nursery will have a dozen or more varieties for you to choose from, and the staff can advise you on what is the right type of bamboo for your yard. From there you can make a final choice based on looks.
I choose “Baby Buddha” bamboo because I loved the fat green rings. Also since I live in a subdivision with small backyard, I liked that it only grew to a maximum of 12 feet tall. I live in Orlando, Florida, and this variety was suitable for a semi-tropical region. (If there is a hard freeze, which sometimes happens in Orlando, it will lose its leaves, but it will quickly grow back the next spring.)
You will buy the bamboo in pots, ready to be transplanted. Choose plants two to three feet tall. They grow fast so there is no need to spend the extra money for a tall one.
Baby Buddha bamboo
What kind of bamboo should you choose?
are two types of bamboo, clumping bamboo and running bamboo. Unless you have acres that you wish to fill, you will probably want clumping bamboo.
Each year bamboo sends up new shoots, one to three per plant. Clumping bamboo is non-invasive. Clumping bamboo sends up shoots in a circle around the initial plant. This keeps the plant where you want it. If a shoot comes up “out of bounds” just kick it over while it is still young and tender, and it will not grow. The canes will grow taller and larger in diameter each year. Mine have been growing for six years—I stated off with skinny canes, but I now have nice fat canes.
Running bamboo is invasive. It sends runners under the ground and the bamboo shoots can pop us two or three feet away from the original plant. If you choose running bamboo you could keep it contained by a natural barrier like a lake or a pond or by a wide asphalt road. Another barrier is a swath of grass five or more feet wide that is mowed frequently.
Clumping bamboos do best in semi-tropical and tropical areas; running bamboo does best in the temperate zone.
How to plant your bamboo?
Transplant the bamboo plants from the nursery anywhere from four to ten feet apart. When planted no more than six feet apart, you can expect a solid hedge in one growing season. By the end of summer, you will have a tall thick green border of towering canes that bend in the breeze. The flexibility of the canes will be a nice advantage over a tree if there is a hurricane.
The hole you dig for the plant should be no deeper than he depth of the pot. Bamboo is a grass, and like the grass of your lawn, it prefers to be near the surface.
Put a two-inch thick layer of mulch around each plant. You can create your own blend of mulch by mixing together 1 part dried leaves and 1 part organic compost. This will protecti the plant in the early stages of growth, as well as provide the plant with nutrients.
Since bamboo has shallow roots it is susceptible to wind damage. I have planted mine along a brick fence that is about 5 ½ feet high. This protects the plants from wind damage. There hasn’t been a hurricane where I live since I first planted my bamboo so I can’t speak from personal experience. After a hurricane hits, I’ll let you know.
Clumping bamboo varieties that grow best in temperate zones prefer some light shade. However, the clumping varieties most suited for semi-tropical/tropical zones prefer full sun.
What kind of soil and fertilizer is best?
Bamboo is not too fussy about soil. So long as your soil is not soggy, your bamboo should do fine. The best soil for bamboo should be slightly acid and loamy. Loam is a type of soil composed of sand, silt (granular particles smaller than a grain of sand, but, larger than clay particles) and clay, in the proportion of 40%,40%, 20%, respectively. Since Florida soil is often sandy, it is perfect for bamboo.
The best fertilizer is an organic fertilizer that is high in nitrogen. (Half rotted horse or cow manure is an excellent choice.) A high-nitrogen lawn fertilizer also works well.
Apply fertilizer when you first plant your bamboo. Thereafter, fertilize once in the summer and again in the early spring.
Bamboo sheds some of its leaves in the winter, and this forms a natural mulch and fertilizer. Now that my plants are well established, I don’t bother applying fertilizer anymore.
Water droplets on bamboo
How much water does bamboo need?
Water well, but do not overwater. Do not let the soil become soggy. You should water every other day when you first plant your bamboo. I found that once my plants were established, the twice-a- week schedule for the lawn sprinklers did the trick in winter. During the summer, I do not water at all since it rains almost every day in Orlando, and we seldom go more than two or three days without rain.
The Basic Instructions for Growing Bamboo
Well-drained, slightly acidic, loamy
Compost or lawn fertilizer
Everyday at first, then every 2-3 days
Never let the soil become soggy
Can bamboo grow indoors?
Bamboo can be grown in pots indoors, but it can get tricky. You will need a sunny location and since bamboo likes its air humid, you will have to mist the plant daily. Also bamboo grows quickly, and it will need to be repotted into ever larger pots as it grows.(Make sure you use a pot that widens at the top or you will not be able to remove the bamboo to repot it.) You will also need a sunny location.
“Lucky Bamboo” that you can buy in the plant section of big box stores is often grown indoors. However, it is actually a member of the lily family. I bought one thinking it was bamboo, and it has grown very well next to a sunny window. When it gets too tall or bulky for the space, I just cut it back.
Uses of bamboo
Bamboo is a very popular in the home and it has many uses.
Food (bamboo shoots)
Traditional Chinese medicine
Made into a fabric for clothing or bedding (It’s super soft.)
Kitchen items (Cutting boards, bowls, trays, even these darling reusable straws I found on amazon)
And a gazillion more things
I'm curious ...
Do you grow bamboo?
© 2014 Catherine Giordano