Mandy, Plants

Planting & Maintaining Bamboo Guide

The fashion for bamboo continues and with good reason – it’s easy to care for, looks good in a variety of styles and gives a tropical, oriental look to gardens. 

Bamboos are split into two groups – running and clumping. 

Be aware of height – bamboo will lose its natural graceful shape and movement if pruned back.

After planting, top-dress with a high nitrogen fertiliser, then use a balanced fertiliser such as Growmore during the growing season.

Running Bamboos

Running, or spreading bamboo which includes the popular Phyllostachys aurea and P. nigra (golden/fishpole and black bamboo) is usually best suited to a larger plot due to it’s spreading nature.

Most running varieties range from 4-8 metres tall or more and tend to spread by rhizomes.

Barrier fabrics are available if you would like to contain your bamboo in a specific area. 

Planting in containers is another option – Phyllostachys is often planted in troughs to create a feature piece. Bare in mind, they will need regular watering because they are thirsty plants. 

Running bamboos include: Arundinaria, Bashania, Chimonobambusa, Clavinodum, Hibanobambusa, Indocalamus, Phyllostachys, Pleioblastus, Pseudosasa, Sasa, Sasaella, Sasamorpha, Semiarundinaria, Sinobambusa, and Yushania.

Containing a Running Bamboo

New plants can be restricted within a physical barrier to prevent them spreading.

Dig a trench at least 60cm deep, ideally 1.2m deep and line it with paving slabs, corrugated iron sheets or specialised root barrier fabric (not weed suppressant fabric or butyl pond liner).

Fabric ends should be overlapped by at least 30cm and bonded with mastic. The barrier should stick up at least 7.5cm above soil level, to prevent rhizomes from arching over the top. The rootball should sit 3cm lower than it did below soil level.

Clumping Bamboo For Smaller Gardens

There are alternatives that are not so tall or invasive – clumping bamboos. They still have rhizomes but they are short and stay close to the main plant, so it’s still wise to put a physical barrier in the planting hole.

Smaller varieties are suitable for growing in large pots – half barrel size – and need plenty of water or the foliage will die off and look raggy.

Fargesia varieties are excellent for the smaller garden – they are graceful, delicate and move in the breeze.

Best varieties are F. ‘Jiuzhaigou 1’ (red bamboo, Jiu and Red Panda): The young green canes turn red/purple, then orange-brown, giving a multicoloured effect. Grows up to 3m high with a 2m spread, less in pots. It will stand some shade but needs regular watering. Avoid cold, drying winds, as it is susceptible to wind burn. Hardy to -25ºC.

  1. F. robusta ‘Pingwu’: This reaches 4-5m but only has a spread of 1.5-2m, both less in a large container. Culms start off yellow and red, sheaths fade to almost white. It keeps its foliage even during harsh winters – it is hardy to -17ºC.

Other clump-forming bamboos: Bambusa, Chusquea, Dendrocalamus, Drepanostachyum, Himalayacalamus, Schizostachyum, Shibataea, and Thamnocalamus.

Mandy at PrimroseMandy Watson is a freelance journalist who runs www.mandycanudigit.com.

A plantaholic with roots firmly planted in working-class NE England, she aims to make gardening more accessible to the often excluded – the less able, the hard-up or beginners.

Advocate of gardening for better mental health.

See all of Mandy’s posts.

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