There are so many ways to plant bamboo that not one way can be said to be the “correct” way, but here are some basics that can guide you as you learn how to plant bamboo.
When to Plant Bamboo
Bamboo does have a yearly cycle, but whether this is important depends on the climate you live in.
Hot and Humid Summers: Early Spring or Late Fall
Why? Hot summers are hard on bamboo. After all, even established bamboo plants need shade. Imagine how heat and sun would affect a baby bamboo that has been dug up from a field, jostled around for a while, and has now ended up at your house. By planting the bamboo in the early spring you give it time to establish itself comfortably in the ground. If you missed the boat, don’t fear. Bamboo can also be planted in the late fall when the weather cools down. One thing to consider if you are trying to decide between spring and fall, is how much rain you get. Bamboo is a rain forest plant so it needs its water, if you get more rain in the spring then it would be best to plant it then. It’s also best to plant in the spring if you experience freezing in the winter.
Cold (freezing) Winters: Spring After the Last Frost
Why? Bamboo will have the best chance of survival if the roots can establish before the first freeze. The longer the better, but within two to three months your cold-hardy bamboo should be well established for the winter ahead. The less hardy the plant, the longer the time you should give it. New plants that will experience a freeze (and even old ones) should be well mulched and in some cases a frost blanket should be used.
Mild climate: (potentially) Year Round
Why? Most bamboo plants should be able to establish their roots easily at nearly any time without the danger of extreme heat or cold. One thing to be noted though, is that some “mild” areas do get fair amounts of frost (think coastal Oregon etc…). In these areas it’s best to plant bamboo when the danger of a hard frost is low. Cold tolerant varieties will be okay even if a frost does happen, but it’s better to be safe than sorry when you are spending money and time taking care of new plants. Late fall, winter and early spring are typically rainy in mild climates which is wonderful for bamboo. Late winter (dependent upon freezing) or spring may be the best time to plant running species as they have two growing seasons. The spring is the time when the culm (stem) of the running bamboo grows. The culm growth ends in the summer followed by rhizome growth which concludes in the fall. Clumping bamboo, on the other hand, doesn’t have distinct growing periods and can successfully grow any time of the year in mild climates.
If you’re wondering how far apart bamboo should be planted you may be surprised to find that it doesn’t really matter. Bamboo shouldn’t be crowed together, but it can be planted fairly close, so the best thing to do is evaluate your goals. If you just want a garden decoration giving running bamboo at least three feet and clumping varieties five feet is perfect. If you want to grow a hedge though, you should evaluate how quickly you want it to grow, running bamboo can be planted three feet apart and will result in a hedge within a couple of years. On the contrary, you can plant clumping bamboo three feet apart, but it will take a couple additional years to fill in. So, it all really comes down to what your goals are and how much money you want to spend to start with. Also, take into consideration what type of bamboo you need (or want) to use. Some people can’t (or don’t want to) use running bamboo to grow a hedge as it is harder to control and might end up in the neighbors’ lawn. If you decide on clumping varieties, know that they will take longer to grow together.
Although fairly hardy and notorious for its ability to grow in adverse conditions, bamboo does have some soil preferences. Bamboo prefers that its soil be full of nutrients, well aerated and that it drain well. Heavy clay soil that impedes draining can cause bamboo rhizomes to rot.. Generally speaking, bamboo also prefers a slightly acid soil (5.5-6.5). While most bamboo is somewhat hardy to variations in pH you may want to check your specific bamboo variety if your soil is outside these ranges. Some bamboo is so sensitive that it won’t survive in alkaline soil while other varieties will withstand it just fine.
Digging the hole
As a general rule you should dig a hole twice the size of the root mass of your plan. The soil should be worked well and for best results soil amendments should be made at this point. As a general rule most soil types will benefit from the addition of compost. For a heavy clay laden soil sand should be added to help with drainage and aeration. If the soil is lacking nutrients additional compost should also be added. Whatever your soil type be, when you’re done working it, the soil should be loose, as aerated as possible and full of nutrients.
There are many options for compost including bark, wood chips, sawdust, composted manure, peat moss, worm castings, kelp, and leaf litter, to name a few. If you suspect your soil is heavily lacking in certain nutrients it might be a good idea to buy a pre-made compost that has essential nutrients calculated into it.
If you don’t want to add nutrients directly to the soil when planting, mulch can be an easier option. Mulch adds nutrients to the soil when earthworms break down the mulch materials into castings which benefit the plant. Mulch is also important in protecting your plant from weather extremes and helping to trap water for the plant. So, regardless of whether you did or didn’t work compost into your soil, mulch should still be considered important! Mulch options include lawn clippings, composted manure, leaves, bark, wood chips, straw, and other yard “debris”. Pretty much as long as it’s not hot, it can be used as a mulch. Mulch carefully around small plants to avoid breakage. More established plants can take anywhere from a few inches to a few feet of mulch-typically, the more the merrier.
It’s not necessary (or even helpful) to fertilize newly planted bamboo. If you have aerated the soil well, integrated compost in it and mulched the top, you’ve done what you need to do for a healthy plant. For now, just worry about giving it the water it needs and plan on fertilizing (if you desire to do so) the following winter or spring after the last hard frost.
Like many plants, bamboo should be watered as soon as it’s planted and frequently there after. Newly planted bamboo should be watered at least twice a week throughout the growing season (more in the summer heat) until the plant is established (3 months-ish). As long as the soil is well aerated and not just clay, there isn’t a danger of over watering your plant, so don’t worry about that! If you buy your plant locally make sure you ask how often you should be watering your new plant. This is the best way to get accurate information tailored for your climate.
As you well know by now, there are many types of bamboo varieties and with those varieties come different sunlight requirements. Hopefully, if you’ve already purchased the plant and brought it home, you already are knowledgeable as to the plant’s sunlight requirements. Typically speaking, most bamboo varieties will prefer an environment with partial shade, although some do need up to eight hours of sun! As mentioned earlier, newly planted baby bamboo, even that which is sun tolerant, will need shade during the heat of the day until they are more established. If needed, shade coverings can be found at most stores with a garden department.
Installing Barriers for Running Bamboo
If your heart is set on a running bamboo variety never fear. Bamboo rhizomes are fairly shallow, so it is possible to put a barrier in the ground before planting that will keep the bamboo from spreading uncontrollably. Be aware that not all barriers work. Rock and cement barriers, for example, may have crack and crevices in which the rhizomes can grow into/through. Arguably the best and most popular barrier is a high density polyethylene. Most people who chose to use a barrier will want a full barrier that closes (in other words a complete circle/square around your plants) so that’s what will be presented here. High density polyethylene barriers come in different thicknesses, but typically you will know which to get per the manufactures instructions. You will also need to get a stainless steal clamp to clamp the barrier together. Your first step is planting your bamboo and allowing it to establish for 2-3 months (yes you did read that right). Next, determine where you want your bamboo to expand to and dig your trench along this border to a depth of 28″. If you find rhizomes at this point cut them back. Note that barriers should be kept at least one foot away from fences. Install the barrier and fasten it with stainless steal clamps per manufacturer instructions. Fill the dirt back in leaving at least 2″ of barrier above ground to direct the rhizomes up. For best results always use at least five inches of mulch when using barriers as this helps direct the rhizomes. Note that when using a barrier you will need to trim the rhizomes that try to grow over the top of it in the fall each year. To do this, you may have to remove small amounts of the mulch. Also keep an eye out for any rhizomes that may end outside of the barrier and trim them back accordingly. If you keep up on your trimming you should be able to keep running bamboo where you want it! While this is a lot of information, growing bamboo is really quiet simple! If you’re looking for more in-depth information about any of these topics check out our plant care page!