Bamboo Friend or Foe

Bamboo is a lovely tropical looking plant that has a variety of applications - most notably as an evergreen screen, a specimen and even a container plant. Over the years, bamboo has developed a bad reputation because of its ability to take over the garden, the yard beside you and possibly the entire neighborhood!

However, not all Bamboo's are aggressive or spreading. In fact, Bamboos are divided into 2 large groups, the invasive "running varieties" and the well behaved "clumping varieties".

The clumpers form tight, slowly growing masses that do not need containment. They can be planted directly into the garden without worry. All bamboos grow by way of underground rhizomes or in laymans terms, roots. The key difference between the groups is how they spread. On running varieties, these rhizomes travel underground a certain distance and then form a node. At the node, they can either form an upward growing cane, or continue to spread to form additional rhizomes. As a result, they are able to fill an area quickly and their above ground canes tends to be spread out. On the other hand, when a clumping variety forms an underground node, it will only grow up as a cane. Therefore it spreads much slower and remains much tighter in appearance.

So why would anyone plant a running variety? Two reasons - beauty and effect. Some of the most striking and attractive bamboos are runners. For example, the giant timber bamboos and the incredibly popular Black Stem bamboo. Running varieties are also larger in height and spread to fill an area quickly - which in the case of a screen or hedge is a desirable trait.

All can be invasive, we recommend using bamboo barrier, a containment system or give them lots of space to grow.
Phyllostachys aurea
Golden Stem Bamboo
One of the more common varieties of running bamboo available. Very fast growing. Bright green cane colour, turning golden in subsequent years.
25 ft tall, up to 1.5” diameter canes on older plants. Prune to control height.
Phyllostachys nigra
Black Stem Bamboo
A highly sought after bamboo. The canes emerge green and turn black within a year or two. Often the foliage is trimmed up to enjoy the colour of the canes. 30 ft tall, up to 2 inch diameter on canes on older plants. Prune to control height.
Phyllostachys edulis 'Moso'
Moso Timber Bamboo
One of the largest timber bamboos in existence. A cane can reach 7 inches in diameter and a height of up to 75 feet! Needless to say, this giant must be planted in the right place. Canes are dark coloured, spotted and hairy. Best in Zone 7 or warmer
Pleioblastus shibuyanus ‘Tsuboi’
Reliable variegated leaves of cream and dark green provide interest for this mid sized bamboo. Often kept trimmed at a shorter height, cut to the ground each year will provide a great groundcover. It will grow up to 7 ft if left on their own. Prefers Part Shade, and looks gorgeous in a pot.

Bamboo Barrier?
Art's Nursery carries a black high grade, non-biodegradeable plastic barrier that can be planted in your yard to contain bamboo and any other spreading plants. When planted at an angle, with its top just above the soil line, the strong plastic forces the bamboo rhizomes to climb and attempt to cross over the top of the barrier. At that time, you can simply trim off the roots to keep the bamboo contained.

Clumping Bamboo
Clumping varieties give a lot of options for landscapes. Some are very narrow clumping and this alone gives an architectural look that is pleasing. Clumping varieties do not outgrow containers as quickly and they are more ‘behaved’ in the garden, so we can all remain ‘good neighbours’. They do not grow as fast, so one must be patient for them to reach their desired height.

Bottom line, there is a bamboo for every garden small, large, or even a patio! There are ones for sun and ones for shade. Some that run and grow fast, and others that clump and grow a bit slower. Get that "Zen" or tropical look in the garden by choosing one that suits your space.

Great for smaller gardens, creating height, and for container gardening.

Borinda angustissima:
Angustissima, means ‘extremely narrow’, even the foliage on this variety are narrower and more delicate. This is one of the tightest growing bamboos, clumps only reach 18-24”, and therefore is great for containers or narrow areas in a garden. This vase shaped, graceful bamboo can grow up to 18 ft tall and can have canes up to 1” in diameter on older canes. It prefers part shade. Plant spacing recommended at 5-8ft on center.
Borinda boliana
This open clumping bamboo will grow similar to timber bamboo but without spreading rhizomes! New canes come up with a tinge of blue and turn shades of burgundy depending on exposure to sun. A unique choice for the urban garden. This more open habit bamboo can grow up to 30 feet and have canes up to 2 inches in diameter. Best spaced 8-12 feet on center.
Fargesia Rufa
Sunset Glow Bamboo
Another cold hardy clumping bamboo, that does extremely well in our climate. Rufa has orange-red cane sheaths, and is noted for it’s very dense foliage and quick growth. It clumps into a nice full plant quickly and is therefore desirable for using as a small screen or hedge, as well as in pots! It will grow in sun or shade to a height of up to 8ft. The diameter of the canes is only about .05’. It is wind tolerant and spacing is recommended at 5-8ft on centre.
Thamnocalamus crassinodus
This graceful clumping bamboo needs shade to perform best. One of the best features is new canes that emerge a grey-blue, turning to hues of burgundy, with light sun exposure. It has a delicate foliage, and is slower to establish than other bamboos, but becomes a prized garden specimen with age. It will grow up to 18ft tall and have canes up to an inch in diameter. Plant spacing recommended at 5-8ft on centre.

Many other clumping bamboo's are also available. Please let us know if you are looking for something specific.

Caring for Bamboo
Bamboo is a member of the grass family and as such can be treated similarly. Bamboo has two distinctive growth cycles, it sends up canes in early spring, and builds underground roots through the summer. As such, apply a lawn fertilizer like Art's 17-17-17 to your plants in early spring and possible again in early summer. Most bamboo prefers moist, well drained soils and will notify you of drought. Bamboo leaves tend to curl when they are thirsty. Unlike trees, bamboo canes never get thicker or wider with age. The diameter they emerge with, is their diameter for life. For a nice tidy bamboo groove, we recommend cutting away thin scraggly canes - thereby redirecting the plants energy into newer, bigger canes. Each cane has a life span of 2-3 years and it is generally recommended to cut away 1/3 of the older, dead or dying canes each year.

If you have a bamboo grove that is out of control, you have several options. First, continually cut away the canes and dig up the rhizomes. This will weaken the plant in the long term. Be patient, this strategy may take some time. Second, establish a containment system that will not rot underground, ie non-degradeable plastic, concrete or metal. Bamboos are fairly shallow rooted so you can manage them given a little bit of work and forethought. Finally, and maybe as a last resort, treat your problem bamboos with a grass killing herbicide, preferably an eco-friendly one.

In summary, Bamboo is a fantastic plant. It provides exceptionally beauty, architectural form and a completely different look for your garden. Know which varieties are "runners" and which are "clumpers". Plant the right bamboo in the right place and you'll be happy you did!

For more information about Bamboo call us at 604.882.1201 or visit Art's Nursery in person. We stock many varieties of runners and clumpers in different sizes and most are available through out the entire year .

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