At Bamboo Goods, we talk about all sorts of useful and fun products made from bamboo. But for this article, we thought we’d take a look at actually growing bamboo yourself, in your garden or yard.
First, let’s look at a few bamboo facts…
Did you know bamboo is classed as a type of grass and not a tree? I know, it’s true! Weird, huh?
Native species of bamboo are found across 5 continents – Asia, North America, South America, Africa, and Australia. I’ll bet when you think of bamboo, countries like China and Japan spring to mind. But did you know there are over 500 native species of bamboo in the Americas alone?
The tallest bamboo plants can grow to a huge 40 m high, and the smallest a mere inch or two.
Bamboo is also officially the fastest-growing plant. But don’t let that scare you. In this article, we’ll take a realistic look at how you can grow bamboo in your outdoor space – no matter how big or small.
Want some more facts about bamboo? Check out our Why Bamboo page.
Why Grow Bamboo in Your Garden?
So why on earth would you want to grow bamboo in your garden? We’ve already learned that it grows faster than weeds, and can be much, much bigger.
But, bamboo can make a fantastic visual addition to your yard — it’s useful too.
Bamboo for Screening and Privacy
Do you love your privacy? If so, finding interesting ways to make your outdoor haven a little more secluded is surely high on your list of priorities.
There are other ways of screening but bamboo plants come top of the list for ease and convenience.
For example, adding a trellis to the top of barrier fencing can work nicely. But then you have the job of finding and growing plants to cover the trellis – it takes time and isn’t always foolproof. Live bamboo creates an instant screen. It’s evergreen too.
Use Bamboo to Separate Your Space into Areas
Have you ever thought of dividing your garden into separate areas?
Have you dreamed of an adult chill zone hidden from the sandpit and play area? Imagine being able to leave the remains of the kids’ playtime exactly where they are. Not feeling the need to jump up and tidy everything away immediately….
If you can’t see it, it doesn’t exist.
(At least until after you’ve had a chance to relax and recharge your batteries).
Having different areas of your garden for different functions is a great way to give everyone their own space. And, using strategically placed bamboo plants, is an easy way to achieve that.
To Create a Japanese Garden
If your fantasy is to relax in the calm serenity of a Japanese-style garden, you already know that growing bamboo is a must.
Imagine bamboo structures, a bridge, a traditional fountain. The sound of running water and your homegrown bamboo gently swaying and rustling in the breeze.
To Give Your Yard a Tropical Feel
Or maybe you love the chilled-out vibe of the Caribbean?
Picture your garden cocktail bar surrounded by bamboo plants. A little sunshine, your favorite Bob Marley track… and you’ll be instantly transported to an island paradise.
Great. Let’s take a look at what you need to know to start growing bamboo in your outdoor space.
Different Types of Bamboo
I’ll bet if you’ve already Googled ‘growing bamboo’ you’ve read some scary stories. Tales of bamboo invading neighbors' yards, taking over whole gardens, and covering huge areas in no time.
Now I’m not saying that these stories aren’t true. But selecting the right type of bamboo for your outdoor space can avoid these types of problems. Let’s find out more about that.
What’s the Difference Between Clumping Bamboo and Running Bamboo?
Running bamboo is the serial offender that gets so much bad press.
If you’re a keen gardener you may have come up against Couch Grass – it’s a perennial grass that runs stems underground known as rhizomes. Couch Grass forms dense root networks and spreads through gardens like wildfire.
So think couch grass on steroids and that’s running bamboo! It’s fantastic for covering large areas – but even then it needs to be kept in check as the rhizomes will run in every direction.
Easy and super-fast growing, this is normally the cheapest type of bamboo plant to buy. But if you don’t make the right preparations, running bamboo can be costly down the line.
Running bamboo’s more chilled-out cousin is clumping bamboo. Rather than rhizomes running out in every direction, clumping bamboo grows its roots more like lawn and meadow grasses. Yep – you guessed it – in clumps!
Even though this type of bamboo is much less invasive than the running type, it still loves to grow and will need some space to spread out.
Popular varieties of clumping bamboo include Chusquea and Bambusa.
Think About Where You Live
There are hundreds of different varieties of bamboo. What you’re able to buy will depend on where you are in the world.
Some bamboo nurseries, such as Bamboo Sourcery, in Sebastopol, California, recommend buying your bamboo from a local supplier rather than online. Local growers will most likely grow plants best suited to their own environment too.
Take Scottish Bamboo for example. They specialize in bamboo suitable for a specific climate. Based in Aberdeenshire in the North East of Scotland the company stocks only hardy bamboo plants that thrive in cool climates.
If you live in a windy area, or you want to use your bamboo as a type of windbreak, be sure to consider that too. Only a few varieties are able to thrive in windy conditions. A couple of clumping varieties that are happy in a stiff breeze are Bambusa Chungii and Chusquea Gigantea.
Don’t make your decision before you speak to a local supplier or two and see what advice they have for you.
Where to Grow Bamboo in Your Garden
In the Ground
Do you have plenty of space? Cool, then growing bamboo in the ground could definitely be for you.
But before you go ahead and dig that hole, think about how big you want your bamboo plant to be.
Even clumping varieties can get out of hand if left unchecked, so think about installing a vertical root barrier from the start. To make it easy to monitor you could also think about building a raised bed and lining that with a barrier.
Here’s a short video from The Palm Centre explaining how to install a basic root barrier:
If you’re planning on using running bamboo as a border, installing a root barrier from the start is essential. Check out this step-by-step guide from Garden & Bloom: Installing a Bamboo Barrier Tutorial.
In a Planter or Container
Are you short on space but love the look of bamboo? Want an easy way to manage your bamboo that won’t run away from you?
Using a planter, container or pot is a perfect alternative to growing bamboo in the ground.
How to Care for Bamboo in Your Garden
Bamboo likes fertile soil. Soil should be medium to lightweight and able to drain easily. Adding compost, or soil improver to clay or heavy soils is recommended.
Bamboo likes plenty of water but doesn’t like being waterlogged. Water your plants often in the growing season, but ensure roots are not sat in water for long periods.
Feeding your bamboo with a good-quality slow-release fertilizer, twice a year, is an easy way to give it all the nutrients it needs to thrive.
Your bamboo plant will eventually need pruning back. There are different methods of doing this. Here’s a video from Graham at the National Garden Scheme showing us how to repot a bamboo plant that’s outgrown its space:
Pros and Cons of Growing Bamboo
OK, let’s do a quick recap. What are the pros and cons of growing bamboo at home?
- It’s easy to grow
- Grows quickly
- Adds height to your garden
- Makes effective screening
- Creates an exotic feel
- Interesting to look at all year round
- There are lots of varieties to choose from
- You can make your own bamboo stakes for gardening
- You need to choose a type and variety with care
- Plants need plenty of space
- Containers or planters can become heavy and difficult to move over time
- If left to its own devices, running bamboo can cause problems
- You may need to install a vertical root barrier
References and Continued Reading
I found these guides tremendously helpful and you surely will too.