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Bamboo FAQ

How do I identify different bamboos?

With most plants the best way to make a positive ID is to examine the flower. Because bamboo flowers so infrequently this is not practical.  For this reason new shoots are often used to ID bamboo.  Cold hardy bamboos (in the Northern Hemisphere) all shoot in the spring and their shoots have a distinct look. Because bamboos also send up shoots at different times this is also helpful in identifying the species.  My earliest shooting bamboo is P. violescens.

Other ways to ID bamboo include the culm size and color, leaf size and color, texture of the canes (smooth or rough) and how much or little the bamboo spreads.

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 landscaping and beautifying. Several types of bamboo make ideal container plants. Although most bamboos are very cold hardy, you will need an extra cold hardy species if you live in a cold climate.

Runners or clumpers, which 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. Most clumpers are tropical or subtropical while most cold hardy bamboos are runners. It is possible to control the spread of runners. 

How many plants do I need to start a bamboo grove?

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.

How can running bamboo be controlled?

Bamboo rhizomes will not cross water, such as a pond or continuously flowing stream. You can also place underground barriers in its path to control its 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 separating different groves of bamboo. If the dirt road is well traveled the bamboo will not cross it. 

Help! My bamboo is out of control. What can I do?

Running bamboos can be aggressive and very invasive in some cases. To control your running bamboo you need to know a little about it’s habits. Check out this page on controlling bamboo. If you don’t want to read all of that you can cut it to the ground make sure to not let any sprouts grow for THREE YEARS

Can I grow bamboo in a cold climate?

Yes, you can! Most all of the bamboos here in the united states are cold hardy down to about 0°F, and several are hardy to well below 0°F . 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.

Can I grow bamboo from seed?

Yes! (if you can find bamboo seed.) Bamboo occasionally produces beautiful flowers. These flowers make seeds. The catch is that it can sometimes take 100 years for bamboo to flower. This means that bamboo seeds are rare. Most of the time bamboo reproduces by sending out shoots, so it doesn’t necessarily need seeds to reproduce.  Although seeds are more common in countries such as China, Japan, India, etc. they 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. I once bought 1000 seeds of Moso bamboo I found on Ebay, from China.  I managed to get about 600 plants to sprout and survive to container size.  I had a bamboo nursery at the time and sold them all over a few years time. So in short: Yes it is possible to grow bamboo from seeds but you have to find the seeds.

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 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 extend anywhere 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 in the shade?

Most of the larger bamboos need at least a few hours of sun, and will grow well in full sun.  Some bamboos will grow with just a little sun or dappled sunlight. Giant Leaf bamboo will grow in full shade.