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Bamboo FAQ

How do you identify bamboo?

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.
Here are some things you will need to know to help ID a bamboo. 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 do I need?

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.

Can I grow both running and clumping bamboos?

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. How to control running bamboo.

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.

How does bamboo grow?

Bamboo produces new shoots in the spring that will become new canes (culms). A significant percentage of new shoots won’t make it. They will get a few inches tall and stop growing. The new bamboo canes will grow for a couple of months until they reach their maximum height and diameter. This means a cane that is going to be 4 inches in diameter will come out of the ground that big around and grow up to 60 feet or mores in about 8 weeks. They will never grow taller or larger than they are after that spurt of growth in one spring. Each cane may live for up to ten years. The bamboo grove changes leaves in the spring with new leaves slowly replacing old ones.
Bamboo grows from a network of rhizomes. Although some people call these roots they are actually a type of modified, underground stem. Culms and roots grow from the rhizomes. When you see a grove of bamboo it is much like one large plant. In the spring new culms (canes) sprout from this network of rhizomes. The sprouts, or shoots, come out of the ground full sized (diameter) and reach their maximum height within a couple of months. When the grove of bamboo is still young, “full size” may only be a few feet tall. Once the grove has matured and has a large number of canes, then “full size” can be a cane several inches in diameter and 25 to 70 feet tall! (depending on the species) It’s easy to see why bamboo is often said to be the fastest growing plant. Some shoots can grow as much as 2 feet or more in 24 hours. Each individual culm (cane) will live from 5 to 10 years.
There are more than 1400 species of bamboo. The bamboo family is roughly divided into two groups according to their rhizomes. Sympodial (clumping species), and monopodial(running). Almost all of the clumpers are tropical or sub-tropical although a few such as Fargesias, are extremely cold hardy. Many runners are hardy down to -10 degrees F. or lower. Hardy means that they will stay green and leafy down to the rated temperature. Living in Alabama, zone 7b, all the bamboos I grow are the running type(monopodial). About 100 miles south of me several of the clumping varieties grow well. I’ve grown a few over the years but they always die from a hard frost within a few years.

How does running bamboo spread.

Bamboo grows very differently from most plants. You may have noticed that bamboo grows in clumps or groves. It is sometimes called a “colony” plant. The two basic types of bamboo are runners and clumpers and there are hundreds of each in all sizes and colors. Most (not all) clumpers are sub-tropical to tropical and most (but not all) runners are cold hardy. I grow cold hardy runners.

The plants I sold were divisions from a grove of bamboo. The bamboo grove has an underground system of rhizomes that cover an area like a net, just a few inches below the ground. I dig a piece of rhizome that has a small cane growing from it. When this “division” is planted it’s canes will not grow but the rhizome will start spreading underground, branching and growing many feet the first year, in late summer and fall. In the spring the buds on the underground rhizomes come up and grow into new canes in a matter of weeks. With a new division of bamboo the new cane will be about the same size as the old ones.  As the grove gets more canes (each cane lives for several years) with more leaves it puts up more and bigger canes (called culms) each spring and in just a few years, with a little care the bamboo will be putting up giant canes, several inches in diameter and 50 to 60 feet tall. They will come out of the ground and grow to full size in the spring and never grow any taller. This is why bamboo is called the fastest growing plant in the world. The largest cold hardy bamboo is called Moso and it can get up to 7 inches in diameter and 70+ feet tall. Pretty amazing plant.

How bamboo spreads – After the new shoots come up in the spring and grow into mature canes the entire grove is thriving and feeding the rhizome system which stores the nutrients and will use them for the next years canes. In late summer and fall the rhizomes start growing and can extend from a few feet to 30 feet or more depending on the species and enviromental conditions. A well cared for bamboo grove will about double in size most years so it will cover a large area quickly, if not controlled.

Bamboo is different – Many plants play a crucial role in different societies. Bamboo has literally been a matter of life and death in many cultures, both east and west, for thousands of years and there are countless examples of bamboo uses.