Bamboo FAQ

Bamboo FAQ
How do you identify bamboo?   There are a number of ways to ID different bamboos but one of the best is by looking at their shoots. With most plants a positive ID is made by looking at their flowers. Since bamboo flowers so infrequently this is not practical. The vast majority of the bamboos I grow are in the Phyllostachys genus. These all shoot in the spring and each species has shoots with a distinct look. They also shoot at different times during the spring so this also helps in identifying a particular species. The earliest shooting Phyllostachys I have is P.violescens.  The next to shoot is Moso bamboo.

Robert Young shoot

P.v.Robert Young shoot

Here are some things you will need to know to help ID a bamboo.First, where are you located? How tall/big around is the bamboo? Are the canes entirely green or do they have some color? What size are the leaves? Are the leaves variegated? Are the canes smooth or rough? Do the canes grow spread out or close together in a clumtp? If it’s spring and you have shoots, these are very helpful in identifying bamboo species.

Which bamboo is right for me?   It all depends on what you want to do with the bamboo and where you live. Some bamboos are best for screens while others are ideal for specimen or display plants. Although most are very cold hardy you will need an extra cold hardy species if you live in a cold climate. When requesting information let me know your location and what your plans are for the bamboo. The best way to contact me is thru email.

Clumping and running bamboo, what can I grow?   Most clumpers are tropical or sub-tropical while most cold hardy bamboos are runners. The few cold hardy clumpers can’t take the southern heat and only thrive in northern climates. I grow mostly runners along with a few clumpers that I place in the greenhouse every winter. Clumpers stay in nice tight clumps while runners can be very invasive. It’s not this simple and you can find out more here. It is possible to control the spread of runners. Take a look here for information on controlling running bamboo.

How many plants do I need to start a grove of bamboo?   You can start a grove of giant bamboo with a single plant. For a screen along your property I recommend planting approximately every 5 feet. Most species will fill in nicely in about 3 years planted this distance. You can plant as close as you want if you are in a hurry or spread them out further to save money.
What is a “field specimen”?   These are large plants with big rootballs that are wrapped in burlap. Depending on the species these can be 10 to 25 feet tall with rootballs 12 to 24 inches in diameter. These are often used to form an instant screen or grove.

How do I control running bamboos?   Bamboo rhizomes will not cross water, such as a pond or continuously flowing stream. You can also place underground barriers in it’s path to control it’s spread or grow it in containers. None of my bamboos have crossed a 10 foot paved driveway. We also have hard packed dirt roads throughout our property seperating different groves of bamboo. If the dirt road is well traveled the bamboo will not cross it. Here is more detailed information on controlling bamboo.

How far apart should I space plants?   In general about every 5 feet. However, you can plant closer or further depending on your budget and how fast you want a screen. If you simply want a grove to admire and walk through you can start with one plant, or perhaps 3, planted in a single area. With regular watering and fertilizing the grove will about double in size each year. More plants will make your grove bigger to start with.

Help, my bamboo is out of control and taking over, what can I do?  Running bamboos can be agressive and very invasive in some cases. To control your running bamboo you need to know a little about it’s habits. You can find info about running bamboo and how to control it here.

Can I grow bamboo in a very cold climate?  Yes, you can! Most all of the bamboos I sell are cold hardy down to about zero and several are hardy to well below zero. You can find pictures and descriptions of the more cold hardy species here. This means they will stay green and leafy down to those temperatures. Once the grove is well established it can survive even colder temperatures. It may suffer top kill but the roots can survive and send up new canes in the spring. Planting in a protected area and mulching heavily will help.

Is Lucky bamboo really bamboo?   No! This popular plant is not a true bamboo, it’s not even related! It is a type of tropical house plant called Dracena. It does look a little like bamboo, but it’s not. If you do a search for “Lucky Bamboo” you can find lots of information on the web.

Can I grow bamboo from seed?   Yes, if you can find bamboo seed! Bamboo only flowers and makes seed on rare occassions. In some cases it may be 100 years or more between flowerings. Because of this it is not common to find bamboo seed available. Although seeds are more common in countries such as China, Japan, India, etc. these are not usually available in the United States because all live bamboo plants and seeds must go through a two year quarantine when imported here. We were able to obtain Moso Bamboo seed a couple of years ago and currently offer unique clones from that seed. With my groves of P.angusta and P.viridis flowering I hope to be lucky enough to collect seed from these species. Time will tell!


Is bamboo the fastest growing plant in the world?  Perhaps.I suppose there may be faster growing plants but it’s hard to imagine once you see new shoots come up in the spring. These can grow 24 to 36 inches or more in a 24 hour period. When bamboo shoots emerge from the ground in the spring they reach full size in just a couple of months time. This includes the giants. It is extraordinary to see a 4 to 5 inch diameter shoot burst from the ground and reach full height (60 feet or more) in just a few weeks. You can easily see the change in height each day. However, once a new culm (cane) reaches full size and leafs out it never grows any higher although it may live up to ten years or more. This means you can prune bamboo at the end of spring and not have to worry about pruning again until new shoots emerge the following year. The above facts often cause some confusion. If you plant a 2 gallon specimen of one of the giant bamboos, it will not send up full size canes the first spring. The bamboo has to form a grove and build up reserves over a few seasons, sending up larger and larger canes each spring. When the grove has reached a large enough size it will send up full size (giant) canes each spring.

Do I need to dig a really big hole to plant my bamboo?   Many growers and gardeners tell you to dig a hole twice the size of the rootball. Recent research and practical experience has shown this is not necessary. In fact this can often cause some plants to become rootbound as the roots travel around the hole, staying in the backfill and taking their time about penetrating the surrounding soil. I’ve found that a hole just slightly larger than the rootball works best. If the soil is hard, or heavy with clay, use a pick to break up the sides of the hole to give a place for the roots to move outward.

Do I need to fertilize my bamboo?   Fertilizing regularly (about 3 times a year at least) is probably the best way to get your bamboo to grow faster and bigger. I grow a lot of bamboo and it’s easy to see the difference between the groves that are fertilized regularly and those that aren’t. The first couple of years of a new planting is really crucial. I try to put down a couple of inches of composted horse manure in a circle around the new planting and cover with mulch. If you can’t get compost then use a commercial fertilizer like 8-8-8 or 10-10-10. The best times to fertilize are in late winter, late spring, and mid summer and fall. I also try to water when we have a dry spell, it really helps to produce more and larger shoots in the spring. The best (and safest) way to fertilize is to place the fetilizer/manure/mulch on top of the soil after backfilling. I’ve done this with hundreds of plants (not just bamboo) and am always amazed at the results. So, although you don’t “need” to fertilize your bamboo you will be much happier with it’s growth if you do.

When is the best time to plant bamboo?   Bamboo can be planted most anytime you can dig a hole. This means most anytime here in the southeast but not until the ground has thawed in colder climates. The very best time is probably very early spring. By planting then you will get to see new growth right away as new canes will emerge between early spring and summer. If planted after the bamboos have sent up new canes you wont’ see much happening. However, the bamboo will be growing lots of roots and in mid to late summer the rhizomes will start spreading. These will extent anwhere from a few feet to many feet out from the original planting. These rhizomes will store energy from the bamboo canes and leaves. New canes will come from buds on the rhizomes.

Can I grow bamboo is a swampy or wet area?   Many people believe that bamboo likes to grow in wet areas but for the most part this is not true. The majority of bamboos will not survive if the roots stay wet. However, they will do very well if planted next to water or a wet area. Bamboo loves water, it just doesn’t like to have wet feet.

Can I grow bamboo in the shade?  Most bamboos prefer a few hours to full sun. Many will grow in partial sun/shade but the giants really like a lot of sun. A few species will grow in almost full shade. At least one bamboo (Giant Leaf Bamboo) will grow in full shade. I have a couple groves of this planted under trees where there is no direct sun.