Bamboo flooring may be popular, but growing bamboo in your yard can give it an exotic twist. This leads a lot of people to wonder how to grow bamboo. After all, it can be a tricky plant to grow. This is especially true if you live in a climate that features intensely cold or hot temperatures. However, this is a relatively inexpensive plant that can add a special touch to your yard.
It may surprise you to know how to grow bamboo, but this is something you can learn in a few steps. We’re going to make it easy for you and outline every step you want to take from deciding which bamboo plant to get to setting up the perfect planting conditions, maintaining your plants, and much more. Let’s dive in and learn how to grow bamboo in this step-by-step guide.
Growing bamboo is gaining in popularity, especially in places where you get very mild winters without frost. This is a tropical plant that likes a lot of sunlight, water, and humidity to thrive, so it can be tricky to grow. Bamboo by Arneliese / CC BY-SA 2.0
How to Grow Bamboo – Part One
The first thing you have to do is prepare to get your plants. For example, you wouldn’t want Heavenly Bamboo since it’s a small indoor plant, but which type do you want? The key to success when you figure out how to grow bamboo is learning the big differences between the major types of bamboo. They come classified as climbing bamboo, reeds, or running bamboo. The main differences include:
- Clumping – This type of bamboo is nice if you have a smaller area to plant it in. It grows in very tight clusters that tend to stay in the same place you put them instead of spreading out and taking over big portions of your yard.
- Reeds – You’ll very rarely plant reeds in yards, so you won’t have to know how to grow bamboo of this type. Instead, you’ll deal with the other two types of bamboo.
- Running – This type of bamboo will send out rhizomes. This means that you have to keep a very close eye on it to prevent it from spreading out of control. It can quickly become invasive, and it can smother out your other plants just like mint can.
Match Bamboo Variety to Climate
Most bamboo varieties will do very well planted in tropical-type climates. However, you don’t have to wonder how to grow bamboo or if it’s possible if you live in a cooler climate. It’s totally possible, and you can get moderate success by planting hardier varieties. To match the bamboo variety to your climate, try:
- Cooler Climates – Bamboo will only really do moderately well if your cooler climate falls in zones five and six. This will be slightly tricker to maintain, but you could try planting the running bamboo variety called Pleioblastus viridistriatus. If you want to try a clumping type of bamboo in a cooler climate, try planting Fargesia dracocephala ‘Rufa”.
- Warmer Climates – People in warmer climates will have an easier time when they learn about how to grow bamboo because it’s closer to bamboo’s natural tropical habitat. For those that live in planting zones 7 to 10, one running bamboo type is Phyllostachys nigra, and two clumping bamboo types to try are Borinda boliana or Bambusa multiplex ‘Alphonse Karr’.
Choose a Nice Spot in Your Yard
Just like full sun annuals, bamboo requires direct, full sunlight to thrive. This is one of the most important aspects of how to grow bamboo that some people overlook when they’re looking for space in their yard to grow in. Ideally, any spot you pick out will get at least eight hours of sunlight a day. Double-check your bamboo species though because some tropical species need some shade during the afternoon hours.
Shade is a huge component for your bamboo during the winter months. If your bamboo gets a lot of direct sunlight combined with frost, this can lead to dehydration very quickly. So, if your climate gets frost during the cooler winter months, you want to plant your bamboo in a spot that gets partial shade. Keep them out of the direct sunlight to keep them healthy. If you don’t you’ll wonder how to grow bamboo when they fail to thrive.
Ideally, you can grow your bamboo in a nicely contained area, and raised planting beds work surprisingly well as long as you have walls that are a few feet high. The bamboo needs to be contained so it doesn’t spread throughout your yard. Bamboo by Fumi Yamazaki / CC BY 2.0
Amend Your Soil
Bamboo is very hardy when it comes to soil conditions, and it can thrive in many types of soil. This can take some of the stress away when it comes to learning how to grow bamboo. However, it does very well planted in marly or loam-based soils. You can improve your bamboo’s chances of thriving by amending the soil before you plant. You can do this by:
- Turn up the soil before working manure or garden compost in. This will inject more nutrients into your soil. Ideally, you’ll work your compost or manure into the bottom of the hole you dig for your bamboo plant so the roots sit directly on top of it.
- If you want to turn your soil more loam-based, you’ll mix five parts of topsoil with two parts of sand, one part of clay, and two parts silt. This will loosen up the soil and help it retain water while ensuring it doesn’t get too heavy or dense.
- You want to avoid planting your bamboo in areas that have soggy or rocky soil. If the soil is relatively impermeable, you want to avoid this as well when you learn how to grow bamboo.
Prepare for the Wind
Generally speaking, your bamboo will have an extremely shallow root system on it. Yet, the bamboo still grows very fast and tall. This makes it very easy for strong winds to come through and damage your newly planted bamboo. So, it’s a good idea to erect a wind barrier to prevent damage.
One of the best things you can do when you’re learning how to grow bamboo is to position it to grow behind your trees or garden hedges like boxwood. If you don’t have trees or hedges around your property, you may end up building a privacy fence around the perimeter to stop the wind and allow your bamboo to grow with their shallow roots.
Stop the Bamboo from Spreading
The final preparation step you take when you’re learning how to grow bamboo is take steps to prevent it from spreading. If you plant to put running bamboo in, you’ll have to put up a barrier around it to prevent it from taking off and invading other areas of your yard.
Once you pick out the area you want to confine your bamboo plants to, you should install barriers. You can make these barriers out of concrete or sheet metal. The barriers should fall between three and four feet deep at a minimum. This seems like overkill, but bamboo can wreak havoc on your yard if you don’t keep it in check.
How to Grow Bamboo – Part Two
When you get prepared to have this plant in your yard, you’re ready to move onto part two of how to grow bamboo. This is the planting stage, and it spans out over several months if you decide that you want to start your bamboo from seed. For this tutorial, we’re going to assume you want to use seeds.
Plant During Spring
Bamboo requires very quick access to frost-free, warm temperatures since it grows so quickly once you get it planted. You should sow your seeds after the final frost recedes in your planting zones to get the best results when you’re figuring out how to grow bamboo.
- To start your bamboo from seeds, you want to start very early in the spring months. This will give your young bamboo plants time to establish themselves by the time summer rolls around. If you plant to get established seedlings and transplant them, you have more freedom because they’re good to go at any part of the spring months.
- Don’t plant your bamboo in the early fall months, especially if you live in a climate that gets frost and colder temperatures in the winter months. The plants require a few months to harden before drying, cold winds come through or they’ll get damaged.
- If you live in a climate that is extremely hot and humid and routinely reaches temperatures 100 degrees F (38 degrees C), you’ll want to plant your bamboo very early in the spring. This will help them establish themselves before summer’s intense heat comes along.
Prepare Your Seeds
When you’re learning how to grow bamboo, you’ll find out that you have to clean and dry your bamboo seeds for one to two hours in the sun. You will break the seeds out of their dormancy after this brief lay in the sun by soaking them in clean water for 6 to 12 hours. You’ll keep the seeds in the clean water right up to 10 to 20 minutes before you plant them.
It can take up to 25 days for your seeds to sprout, so don’t give up on them if they don’t show right away. Once they sprout, you have to baby them along until they’re ready to transplant. Sprouts by Kim Knoch / CC BY 2.0
Plant the Seeds
Next, you’ll plant your soaked seeds in seedling containers. If you started your bamboo from seeds, you’ll have better chances of success if you stick your seedlings in plastic pellets meant to encourage seedling growth with a nice mix of soil. To plant your bamboo seeds:
- Mix eight parts topsoil with one part rice husks or find wood chips and one part ashes. Fill your seedling containers with this mix after you filter it through a wire mesh to remove any debris or stones. You can get these ingredients and the filter from your local garden center.
- You want to leave the soil fairly loose when you fill the containers to give the seedlings room to push through, so resist the urge to tamp the soil down into the seedling containers.
- Make very small holes that are one to two inches deep in the center of every seedling compartment of your tray. Make sure you only drop a single seedling into each hole before gently backfilling them with a loose layer of additional soil.
- Once they all get planted, water them immediately. You should water them each day to keep the soil very moist. Place the trays in an area that gets partial shade and let them grow.
Transplant the Seedlings
The next part on how to grow bamboo is to transplant the seedlings after three to four months. Even though your bamboo will grow quickly once it establishes, young seedlings aren’t strong enough to survive transplanting until three to four months later. Once they are, you can transplant them into separate, small pots or poly bags. These pots or bags should contain a mixture of three parts soil, two parts manure, and one part sand.
- The seedlings will start to germinate between 10 and 25 days. The leaves will be extremely fragile for several weeks, so water them with care.
- Your seedlings have to grow for three to four months before they produce a step or rhizome that is capable of producing new, healthy sprouts. At this point, the plants are strong enough to survive transplanting.
Pro Tip – If you decide to transplant bamboo seedlings instead of growing them from seed, this is the most important part of how to grow bamboo. Pay close attention to it.
Space Your Bamboo Plants Three to Five Feet Apart
When you transplant your bamboo in your yard, you have to space them plants at least three to five feet apart. This will allow you to create a dense privacy screen of bamboo. This space requirement goes double for any type of running bamboo.
Keep your bamboo seedlings in their poly bags or pots until they reach between 16 and 20-inches tall. Once they get here, carefully remove them from the bags or pots and put them directly into the ground. You want to dig the hole twice as wide as your bamboo mass is.
If you’re working with clumping bamboo instead of running bamboo, you can put them one to two feet apart since they tend to stay where you put them and not spread out. Clumping bamboo will grow between one and two feet tall a year. Running bamboo grows between three and five feet a year and spreads out three to five feet wide every year. Keep this in mind when you’re learning how to grow bamboo to ensure you don’t crowd your new seedlings.
If you don’t space your bamboo far enough apart, they can easily get overcrowded and pull the nutrients from each other. This can result in them competing and some plants dying from lack of nutrients. How far you space them apart will depend on your type of bamboo. Bamboo by Dan / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
How to Grow Bamboo – Part Three
When you get your bamboo in the ground, the next phase of how to grow bamboo is learning the daily and long-term care needs of the plants. Most of these things are relatively straightforward and easy to remember once you learn them.
Most bamboo species require a lot of water in a consistent state. However, it’s a delicate balance because you don’t want the shallow root system to sit for an extended time in pools of water or they can start to rot. For young shoots and bamboo seeds, you’ll water them every day during dry and mild weather. You can switch this to twice a week in mild weather and three to four times a week in windy or hot weather once your plants establish themselves in your yard.
Mulch Around the Bamboo
The next step on how to grow bamboo is to spread mulch. Adding a layer of organic mulch to your yard will help keep the bamboo’s growth in check. It can also protect the bamboo from certain threats that can cause it to die. Grass clippings are a great organic mulch for bamboo since they have high levels of silica and nitrogen. Hay and compost can work well, as do a lot of other forms of untreated or organic mulch. Spread several inches of mulch around the base of your bamboo, without getting tight to the stems.
Protect Your Bamboo During the Winter Months
Bamboo is original from a tropical region of the world, so it’s a warm weather plant. So, you want to take more precautions to protect your plant during winter during this stage of how to grow bamboo. The goal is to prevent the root system from completely freezing because this can kill your plant.
When the temperatures dip below the freezing point, you want to apply an extra-thick layer of mulch around the bamboo to protect the roots. If you know you’re going to deal with harsh, cold winds, you should shield your bamboo by putting up a temporary barrier. If your bamboo looks silver or dry, this is a sign that it has a cold injury, and this could kill your plant.
Fertilize with a Product with High Nitrogen Content
We recommend using organic fertilizers if you can when you work out how to grow bamboo. Higher nitrogen content gives you greener, stronger bamboo growth, and this is what you want with all of your plants. Put fertilizer on your bamboo one time in the early spring and reapply it again in the summer. This lines up with the main growth seasons that bamboo has. If you have a mild or organic fertilizer, it’s possible to apply them once a month throughout the spring and summer months into the early fall.
Prune and Thin as Needed
As your bamboo starts to spread out, you’ll want to make time to thin it out. Doing so can help prevent the plant’s stalks from cutting off nutrient supplies and crowding each other. To prevent running bamboo from spreading and you didn’t put up a barrier, it’s essential that you cut new shoots off at the ground level with a sharp pair of pruning shears. Cut them as soon as the new shoots appear to prevent them from spreading to areas you don’t want it growing.
Once a year, make a point to remove any unattractive, old branches from your plants. Trim them back until they look neat and tidy. If you want it to grow back, you can cut it just above the node. This is important when you’re learning how to grow bamboo so you don’t accidentally cut too much.
You will have to take steps to maintain your bamboo as part of how to grow bamboo. Make a point to thin and prune it as needed, at least once a year. Doing so can keep everything looking neat and the bamboo healthy. Bamboo by Andrew Chen / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Protect Against Disease and Pests
Luckily, bamboo is very hardy once it gets established, and it’s resistant to most diseases and pests. This means that you only have to apply fungicide or pesticide once you notice a problem developing. Some bamboo species do have a problem with red spider mites, scale insects, and rust. Mites will only be a problem for new shoots since adult bamboo is hardy.
However, you do want to keep an eye on your plants. If you think if fungi or pests are threatening your bamboo, spray them with fungicide or miticide and quarantine them before you transplant them. This can help ensure that it doesn’t spread to your healthy plants.
Consider Harvesting Bamboo
Did you know that you can use fresh bamboo for food as part of a cheap meal plan? If you want to add them to your diet, make sure you harvest the young shoots a few months after you plant them. It’s best when you use it fresh, but it’s also possible to freeze it for long-term storage. Fresh bamboo will offer you a sweet flavor with a crisp texture. It’s a great source of fiber, and it’s very close to an onion when you look at the nutritional benefits.
General Care Tips
Learning how to grow bamboo is only one part of the process, and you want to know a few general care tips to keep it healthy. They include but are not limited to:
- Both clumping and running bamboo have tropical varieties that do best in warm climates. They also both have mountainous varieties available, and these types are hardy down to -15 degrees F. You should check the nursery tag before you pick them out.
- Bamboo needs to go in a very well-draining soil to prevent the roots from sitting in pools of water and rotting.
- Pick out a type of bamboo that has a mature height that matches the scale to help you achieve your desired effect. Specimen bamboo can be shorter while screening bamboo can be taller.
- Check and see how much sun your bamboo prefers as some varieties like full sun while others like partial shade.
- For the first two years after you plant your bamboo, water them well. Fertilize them once in the spring for a nutrient boost. If you have running bamboo and you’re wondering how to grow bamboo without letting them spread, skip the fertilizer.
- Bamboo adores a steady stream of water since they’re tropical plants. You want to keep the soil as moist as you can while making sure it still drains well. This will keep your bamboo happy and thriving.
- Trim and prune back any dull, old stalks every year. Aim for the upright blades of your bamboo. Some people like to trim away any branches that grow horizontally to ensure each one runs vertically to give you a striking and graphic effect. If you have branches that flop over, your bamboo most likely needs less fertilizer and more water. Prune their height back to help them come back stronger, or you can trim them down to the ground level.
Many types of bamboo will spread to other yard or garden beds because they’re invasive. If you learn how to grow bamboo of this type, make sure you take steps to contain it. If not, the plant will spread. You also want to plant it away from areas that could be damaged if your bamboo manages to invade them.
Bamboo can also be very difficult to remove once it establishes. You most likely won’t be able to use a natural method to get rid of it. Instead, you’ll need chemical herbicides. This is why you should be 100% sure that you want it in your yard before you learn how to grow bamboo and plant it.
Now you know how to plant bamboo. This is a striking and wonderful plant to add to your yard, but it does require a lot of care until it establishes. If you follow this quick guide, you should be able to start your bamboo from seeds and transplant them out in your yard. Take steps to contain it and keep it trimmed and neat, and it can easily form a focal point in your yard.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.