Reasons to Grow Bamboo

Small courtyard garden with ornamental bamboos

Recently, I was doing a landscape consultation for a family whose neighbor had lots of bamboo along their common fence. My client was baffled because he had heard that bamboo was very invasive, but none of it was creeping over to his side of the fence. He thought it should never be planted because of its ability to spread wildly.

That can be true, but my client's neighbor had planted "clumping" bamboo rather than a "running" kind.

Bamboo is a giant woody grass. It needs sun, well-drained soil and a little bit of fertilizer once a year. Because bamboo is evergreen, it sheds year round just like evergreen magnolias, but it grows so much faster. Clumping bamboo is considered tropical bamboo, while running bamboo is considered cold-hardy.

As part of my client's consultation package, I sent him an edited version of the wonderful article below put together by Linda Gay years ago, when she was the director of The Mercer Arboretum. Today, you can find Linda at The Arbor Gate, 15635 FM 2920, Tomball, where she'd be happy to take your detailed bamboo questions. I think her write-up is very informative with a downright fun approach. And it flat-out answers many questions about whether or not you should plant bamboo.

Reasons to Grow Clumping Bamboo by Linda Gay
  1. Horticulturally, it is a very beautiful and graceful plant; some have large leaves, and some have tiny leaves. Bamboo creates a tropical, exotic feel; kind of like "Calgon - ..."
  2. Bamboo canes (properly called culms) have either thin walls for weaving baskets and bamboo panels, or thick walls for construction of things like trellises, gates and fences. They can also be used for arts-and-crafts items like flutes, wind chimes, benches, and fishing poles.
  3. In the landscape, they can be used in creating an evergreen, privacy screen. NO ZONING - NO PROBLEM ... Fight back by planting clumping bamboo to isolate your paradise from the rest of the world. Plant a 5-gallon bamboo, and by the end of its second year, you will be smiling. By the third year, you won't even see the reason you turned to bamboo.
  4. To use bamboo next to a pool, pond, or water feature, look for varieties with smaller leaves and culm sheaths. That way, the "litter" produced will be more manageable than that of large-leaved bamboos. Bamboos produce their own mulch, so allow the dropped leaves to be the mulch around the bamboo.
  5. If you have power lines to deal with in the landscape, find varieties that will not exceed a certain height or grow into the power lines. Windblown bamboo can cause transformers to blow a circuit.
  6. If you plan to adopt a panda, start growing the food source now.
Some additional incentives for using clumping bamboo:
  • A sodium light shines all night long from a 24-hour store into your bedroom window, right through your shades and curtains.
  • The residents of a new four-story townhouse behind you consider your swimming pool or backyard spa a source of afternoon entertainment.
  • A neighbor recently erected a new horse barn right on the property line.
Potential Clumping Bamboo Planting Mistakes
  • Planting in an area that is very formal and must be kept clean and neat.
  • Planting large bamboo in a three-foot-wide bed 30 feet long. Clumping bamboo grows in circles (clumps), and each year the clump will get larger and larger just like a perennial or an ornamental grass.
  • Planting on top of gas or water lines.
  • Planting bamboo where it will grow into power lines. It will catch fire, explode, and blow a transformer switch.
  • Planting on 3-foot spacings; start with 8-10 foot spacing and stagger or triangulate the placement of the plants.
  • Planting bamboo that is misidentified either by the grower nursery or the retailer. Only purchase bamboo from reputable sources to be sure you get the species you are looking for.
Be sure to Google and choose the right species for the right application. Note these expected heights:
  • Chinese Goddess - 6'
  • Golden Goddess - 12-15'
  • Multiplex - 20-25'
  • B. oldhamii - 55'
  • B. textilis - 55'

You may be surprised at how bamboo got its name. A master gardener at the state convention told me that when fields of bamboo were burning, the hollow stem between the nodes explodes making the sound "BAM" and scaring people ..."BOO!" I liked this story and plan to burn some to see if it holds up.

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