Some people think bamboo is a mysterious plant, and whether that’s true or not, its exotic beauty holds undeniable appeal for gardeners. Once believed to be among the most primitive of forest grasses, modern DNA testing has found that bamboo is actually a highly evolved plant species. Besides green, bamboo can be found in lovely shades of gold, burgundy, blue and yellow, and some have variegated leaves of gold and white.
With more than 1,200 known species, there’s a bamboo suitable for almost any garden condition, from low light to full sun. Yet because there are so many different species, it’s difficult to discuss bamboo plant care rules that apply to all types.
For instance, outdoor bamboo has a reputation for being highly invasive, yet many varieties don’t spread at all. Also, some bamboo plants flower only once in a hundred years, while other species bloom annually. However, there are some general bamboo plant care rules which can help you to successfully grow this magnificent plant.
Most bamboo plants grow best in a moderately acidic loamy soil. If your soil is very heavy you can add organic material, either by digging it in where the bamboo is to be planted, or applying a thick layer as mulch around the bamboo, and letting the earthworms work it into the soil.
The larger species of bamboo does best in full sun, but smaller species tolerate light to moderate shade, especially during the hottest part of the day. All newly planted bamboo must be given ample water, fertilizer and protection from weeds, and should be provided with a windscreen and light shade.
Bamboo does best when mulch is kept over the roots and rhizomes. It’s best not to rake up the bamboo leaves from under the plant, as they keep the soil moist and supply necessary natural chemicals. If you find the leaves displeasing, a low shade-tolerant groundcover will work as mulch, as will organic materials like compost, hay and grass.
Bamboo can be planted any time of the year in mild climates. In colder areas they should be planted outdoors early enough to become established and survive their first winter. A heavy layer of mulch will also help them live through the winter.
In spring, there’s considerable yellowing of the leaves, followed by leaf drop. This is not cause for alarm, because bamboos are evergreen and renew their leaves each spring.
How much water to give your bamboo
Newly planted bamboo needs frequent and liberal watering, about twice a week in mild weather and more often during hot or windy weather. Lack of sufficient water is the leading cause of poor growth for new bamboo plants, and can even kill them. Once a bamboo plant has matured, it will survive with much less irrigation, but until then, water and fertilize adequately to achieve optimum growth.
Controlling the spread of bamboo
Most hardy bamboo can spread by their underground rhizomes, which must be taken into account at planting time. For most situations a barrier of 30 inches deep will work. It’s important to avoid loose soil or air pockets next to the barrier or the bamboo may go deeper than you want and perhaps go under the barrier.
Staking tall plants
Very tall and slender bamboos may need to be staked to prevent wind from uprooting them, or damaging newly formed roots.
Indoor bamboo plant care
Bamboo plants can be grown indoors quite easily. Bamboos, like other houseplants, require well-drained and nutrient-rich soil, sufficient light, adequate humidity and fertilizer. Feed with a high-nitrogen solution such as 30-10-10 or a balanced fertilizer such as triple-16.
Bamboo is a fast grower though, so it’s important to use a container with adequate room for the root ball. All types of bamboo will eventually become pot-bound and need to be potted up.
Don’t be afraid to prune your bamboo. It is tolerant and forgiving, and regular thinning and pruning will keep the plant looking its best. Remove ugly or withered culms by cutting off at soil level. And if the bamboo reaches your ceiling, it won’t suffer from being “topped.”
With just a little care and attention, bamboo plants have an amazing ability to thrive and delight. Regarded as a symbol of longevity, wisdom, and strength by many cultures, bamboo has an appeal few other plants can match. I hope these bamboo plant care tips will help you enjoy continued success with your bamboo.
What is often referred to as Lucky Bamboo, Chinese Bamboo or Curly Bamboo, isn’t bamboo at all, and is not even a grass. Those small green stems sold in vases with water and some rocks or marbles are actually a common houseplant of the Dracaena family. None of the bamboo plant care tips in this article will apply to Lucky Bamboo.