How to grow bamboo: growing conditions, planting, maintenance

How to grow bamboo: phyllostachys nigra
Bamboo is undoubtedly one of my favourite plants. I almost always use it in gardens I create.

Bamboo has striking presence. It can be used as a specimen plant – a star in the border, like this phyllostachys nigra – or as a wonderful screen.

Learning how to grow bamboo is pretty straightforward. I’ll take you through the important points in this article.

What is bamboo?

Bamboo belongs to the grass family (Poaceae). Species of Bamboo are native to most continents, except Europe. Most of today’s cultivated species originate from China, Japan or South and Central America.

Many of these species hail from mountainous regions or lowland plains of Asia where, in both cases, winter temperatures can drop as low as -25 to -30 degree Celsius (-15 to -20 degrees Fahrenheit). The consequent hardiness of these bamboos makes them ideal plants for the temperate regions of Europe and North America.

In addition, there are a number of tropical species of bamboo which originate from Africa, Australia and tropical parts of Asia. These require frost free conditions to survive in home gardens, but they are often amongst the most spectacular specimens you will find.

What are the main different types of bamboo?

The principal distinction among different types of bamboo relates to the plants’ root systems.

This is really important for home gardeners, because it can make the difference between selecting a species that suits your situation perfectly and one that takes over you garden (and your neighbour’s as well.)

Put simply, most bamboos either have a running root system (technically called a leptomorph system) or a clumping (or pachymorph) root system.

To explain the difference, it helps to understand some of the botany. Bamboo root systems comprise rhizomes and roots.

Botanically, rhizomes are underground stems. This means that like above ground stems they have nodes, which are the parts of the stem from which new shoots emerge.

In bamboo, the difference between running and clumping forms arises as a result of the size of the space between the nodes on the rhizome (the internodes).

Clumping forms have short internodes, which means that new culms are produced close to each other. Running forms have much longer internodes. The rhizome stretches out and may reach lengths equivalent to the height of an above ground culm, with new individual shoots growing up from any of the nodes along its length.

Whilst the tendency of each form to run or clump can be a bit variable according to the particular conditions a plant is grown in, this distinction is one that it will always pay to have in mind when selecting bamboo for your garden.

What growing conditions does Bamboo need?

The degree of sun or shade that an individual species requires or will tolerate, is always a function of that particular species. Likewise, a bamboo’s frost hardiness varies from species to species. You will therefore always need to check these factors in relation to any particular species you are interested in growing.
How to grow bamboo: himalaycalamus falconii

Nevertheless, there are some common features relating to bamboo growing conditions that should be mentioned here.

Firstly, it is worth noting that bamboos are tough plants and will tolerate a degree of neglect. Indeed, where space is an issue, their growth can be kept in check if they are fed sparingly after planting.

Related to this is the fact that bamboos can be planted in many different soil types. I recall no noticeable difference in the healthiness of two plants of the same species which I planted in two different parts of a garden where the soil type in each area was quite different – one was heavy clay, the other a nice open loam.

Interestingly, these were Phyllostachys bambusoides ‘Holochrysa’, which is a running species, and the specimen in the loam had a much greater tendency to run than the one in the clay. This seems to bear out the observation above about the impact of growing conditions on these characteristics.

Thirdly, whilst they need plentiful watering during the growing season (see below), bamboos will not generally tolerate poorly drained soil. So in heavy soils it is important to incorporate gravel, grit or other material to open up the soil so as to prevent waterlogging.

How to plant bamboo

When planting bamboo, you will need to have regard to the eventual diameter of the plant and locate it where its natural growth will not interfere with existing features, such as paths or boundaries.

You will also need to decide whether you want to install some kind of barrier to restrict the spread of the plant. As indicated, this will be necessary in most home gardens for running species. But it may even be necessary clumping species if space is at a premium.

Purpose-made bamboo root barriers, like the one below, can be installed. These are usually available from bamboo retailers. But it is also possible to make use of other impenetrable material, like offcuts of paving or hard plastics, set vertically around the edge of the planting hole. These should be placed so that at least 3 inches (75cm) of the material is above ground.

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A simpler way to ensure that you can keep your plant in check is to surround it with a shallow trench. Bamboos are not deep-rooted and their rhizomes extend outwards just below the soil surface. If you surround the plant with a trench 9 to 12 inches deep (22 to 30 cm), you can simply prune off any extending rhizomes as they enter the trench.

One grower I have heard of fills the trench with sand and tops it off with a light mulch, so that it is invisible. She then simply inspects the trench at the end of each growing season and deals with any infiltrations.

Bamboo is best planted in spring, so that it has a long growing season to settle in and take root.

You’ll notice that most bamboos you buy from nurseries are quite heavily pot bound. You may even need to cut the pot off with a knife. Because of this, you should give the rootball a good soaking before planting, ideally immersing it in water for at least twenty minutes, so that the water can seep right into the interior of the rootball.

Dig a hole twice the width of the rootball and one and half times the depth (I know this is not always possible, but do the best you can). Add drainage material if necessary and, if you want your plant to grow away well, add some manure, humus and organic fertiliser to the bottom of the planting hole and mix this in with the back fill.

In dry areas the plant can be set in a small depression. In areas of high rainfall, the plant can be slightly mounded.

Once planted, water in well and mulch with compost, well rotted manure or leaf mould.

How to grow bamboo: modern garden setting

How to maintain bamboo

Maintaining bamboo is not especially difficult, which is another great reason for using these magnificent plants.

Food and water

For the first two years, make sure that your plant is well watered. This is essential.

Bamboos can be greedy feeders, but they can also thrive quite happily with one decent feed in spring with an all purpose organic fertiliser. In essence, the more you feed a bamboo plant, the more it will grow. This is why you can limit its growth by limiting its nutrient intake.

Be aware that bamboos are intolerant of salt and therefore may react badly to seaweed based fertilisers.

Make sure that the area around your plant is always well mulched. This helps retain moisture and maintains an even temperature around the roots of the plant.

You’ll notice that the plant builds up its own mulch of leaf litter and shed culm sheaths in time. But you will do nothing but good to the plant if you add to this with organic mulches, like bark, wood chips and leaf mould.


The best way to keep you plant looking strong and healthy is to prune it to remove weak, damaged or old culms. Old culms can be identified because the are usually a dull colour. Cut the these culms at their base. The effect of this is to open up the plant, allowing more air and light into its center, which helps maintain the plant’s overall health.

You can also ease congestion of your mature plants by pruning off some of the side branches that emerge from the nodes of the culm.

A striking effect is obtained by removing all branches at low levels, enabling the beauty of the plant’s culms to be fully appreciated.

If you have culms that are leaning over significantly, you can sometimes right them by pruning a few nodes from the top and/or by pruning the main branches near the top of the culm on the side towards which it is leaning.

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  1. Janet Civiero says:

    Hi there,
    I live in Toronto Canada, am I crazy to think Bamboo as a good coice to create some privacy as a hedge in 18ft long 2ft high planter? A stupid question, can bamboo be trimmed from the top if it gets too high, it would be on a second floor condo patio and so I have to think of the people above me also. Will it dry and die out in the cold&snow? will it regrow on it’s own? Do I cut it down every winter and protect the root system from the cold? If they do go grey and die when the cold hits would they survive if my planters were heated?
    Thank you very kindly for your time.
    Janet Civiero

    • Martin says:

      Hi Janet
      Many species of bamboo can survive down to -22C or more, although they would probably not be quite so hardy in planters. Bamboo can do well in planters so long as they are well fed and watered. But they may decline over time as their expanding root systems fill the pots. You don’t need to cut them down in winter unless the frost actually damages the culms.

      I’m not sure how cold it gets in Toronto – I know it’s pretty cold – but I would say that the more your protect the roots from very severe frost the better.

      And yes, you can prune bamboo at the top. Cut just above a node and you’ll do no harm. But don’t expect them to bush out or regrow from the pruning point like shrubs. Once a culm has grown, that’s it. All the bamboo’s energy goes into sending out the next shoots from the rhizome.

      Hope this helps.


  2. Indi SUNDARAM says:

    Hi, I have used bamboo, the china gold variety to screen my backyard. I find that they have grow very lush and I’m very happy with the amount of screening that they have given over 3 yrs.
    I was wondering if I could cut the new shoots and plant them at some other parts of my back yard.
    Would you be able to advise me how I should cut the shoots from the existing plant.
    Thank you

    • Hi Indi
      You need to dig down and extract part of the rhizome of the bamboo. You need to ensure that it has sufficient roots to sustain it and that it has some growing points from which new shoots will emerge.

      You also need to ensure that the existing plant is not damaged and weakened – i.e. the part you are taking is not too large compared with what is left.

      This can be be quite tough to do in some cases.

      Here is a short video showing you how:

  3. hector mendez says:

    i leave in the philippines .my are ie mountainous and a creek goes thru it. bmboos are common in the ars of aurora province . i am about a milel away from the ocean nd i noticed bamboos grow near the river.i like to plant bamboos to sellthat mature. i read that after two years are tall and mature .please advice me how to plant

  4. Hi Martin

    I have a clumping type of bamboo in a half barrel. It’s been there for years and now fills the whole tub. If I can get it out (not a certainty as it weighs a ton!), would I be able to divide it? The barrel is about 2 feet in diameter so I was thinking of cutting into quarters?

    Any advice gratefully received!
    Many thanks.

    • Hi Tina,
      At that size I’m sure you could divide it. You may need a sharp saw to cut it – assuming you can get it out of the tub.

      Just make sure there are enough roots and growing point in each section and then keep them well fed and watered in the first few weeks. Don’t drown them, but don’t lest them dry out

  5. Tyler Groner says:

    Hello, I live in caldwell Idaho and I wanted to plant bamboo what is the best type to grow? Also do I water them every day? Also I want to grow it in a pot (regular plastic one) is that ok?
    P.S. Can I grow it indoors?

  6. vasileios says:

    Hey there! I am from Greece and I would like to grow bamboo? Do you know if the location is an obstacle for growing bamboo since I read alot that mainly this plant is growing in ASIa ๐Ÿ™‚


    • Hi I guess it depends a bit on the climate where you are, Vasileois. If you get a hardy species it will cope with winter cold. If you experience extreme heat in summer, you’ll need to make sure it gets plenty of water. Check out your local area and see if you notice anybody growing bamboo. Try talking to local nursery owners too.

  7. How to deal with the bamboo if I plant it in the ground (it’s in buckets now) and it goes crazy and spreads?
    Is it possible to thin it out. If I plant in the ground, can i make a chicken wire lining?

    • Hi Tina
      Your best bet is to use a barrier specifically designed for holding back bamboo rhizomes. If you use chicken wire, the rhizomes will almost certainly push through the gaps. First step though is to try to identify if it’s a running type of a clumping type. If it’s the latter you shouldn’t have too much trouble.

  8. Ann Elene says:

    Hello and thank you for do much good info about the bamboo on your website. It is my favourite plant too and I planted it in my garden as a shield barrier, here in Aalesund, Norway. It has grown perfectly since I planted it, 7 yrs ago. And I have quite honestly never done anything to it after I got it in the soil.
    Now to my question: I am moving into a new house with a roof terrace. The terrace is approx 110 square meters. I want to create “rooms” using bamboo. To do this, I need to plant them in some sorts of pots. I’m thinking about 60/80 x 100/150. Something like that.
    From what I understand from your commenting above, you are saying that to make this work I need to feed them well, provide water often/regularly and even then- they will need to be removed after a couple of yrs or so, due to The growth and spread of its rootsystem? There is no other way?
    Appreciate you taking time to answer this:) Kind regards, Ann Elene

    • Hi Ann Elene, I’m not saying they’ll necessarily need to be removed. It’s just that bamboo renews itself by sending up a steady supply of new culms from expanding rhizomes under ground. Old culms gradually get cut off from the roots that are supplying the nutrients and then die. When bamboo is in domestic cultivation (as opposed to growing wild) we keep the plant looking good by pruning out the dead culms. The problem with growing bamboo is containers is that in time they fill the container and there is no room for them to keep up this process of renewal. This can take a while depending on the type of bamboo and the size of the containers (potentially much more than just a couple of years).

      I guess you could keep them healthy by dividing the rhizomes every so often to ensure that there is still growing room in the pot. You’ll need to do this before the rhizomes expand so much that the plant is pot bound and can’t be removed.

      Anyway, the best option is to give it a go. There are so many variables – climatic conditions, location, species, growing media, container type – that you never know what is going to happen really.

      That’s one of the great pleasures of gardening, if you think about it.

      All I can do is give my best guess based on my experience. You may get years of trouble free growing, and the potential pleasure of being surrounded in your garden rooms by these wonderful plants definitely makes it worth trying, in my view.

      Best of luck

  9. Nasrin Ahmed says:

    Hi I wanted to know the climatic conditions needed for the growth of bamboo tree

    • There are various types Nasrin. Some can survive -22 degrees Celcius, some need tropical temperatures. You can usually find a species to suit your climate.

  10. Hey guys,
    I live in north Texas near amarillo and was thinking on a bamboo that was good to eat and good for building, and still look good while its growing, what would you recommend?

  11. I live in Pensacola Beach Florida is it possible to get bamboo from Alabama and plant it here?

  12. boniface says:

    i like to use funiture of bamboo

  13. I really like bamboo plants because they are very useful both humans and animals.

  14. I as wondering if bamboo will survive in a coastal environment – NW Washington State. I would like to plant bamboo as a screen in a sand dune setting, where Maram Grass thrives (and Scotchbroom, when allowed).

    There is significant wind-driven rain and salt spray during winter storms.

    Thank you!

    • Hi Mary. I don’t think so. Bamboo requires better quality soil and I think the foliage would suffer from the salt spray.

  15. Jai Bains says:

    Hi Martin,

    I just wondered if you could please advize on position of planting my lovely phyllostachys nigra,
    I would like to position it next to a huge oak tree in the garden, which will afford me some privacy from the neighbors. I am in London, the soil is clay like, if that helps.
    I look forward to your input.
    Kind regards

    • Worth a try Jai, If you can get it it between the oak roots. The clay soil will help because it is rich but keep it well watered in summer – not only will the clay dry out but the oak roots will suck a lot of moisture out of the soil.

  16. kristoffer haugstad says:

    Can bamboo grow in western norway? In the city Bergen particular?

  17. Hi Martin, thanks for any help you can offer.
    I have bamboo like plants growing in my yard, that grow to 10 – 15 feet tall each year. It’s a clumping type & spreads very slowly, just the way I like it. ๐Ÿ™‚
    I’m in Toronto Ontario & the temperature in winter here tends to be below freezing for 3 – 4 months.
    In past years I’ve cut the bamboo down (within 6 inches of the ground) each spring, & let it grow up again each summer.
    I’m wondering though, if I don’t cut it down, will the stalks continue to grow, or will they remain as they are now.
    If I do cut it down, is there a ‘best’ height to make the cuts at?


    • Hi Vince – the culms won’t grow any taller. Once they reach their full height when they first grow up, that’s as tall as they get.

  18. Shivansh says:

    I wanted to know that how do I plant a new bambai tree.

  19. Hi. I have planted a giant bamboo in a little bit of sandy soil. I live in Namibia in Africa. Namibia is a semi arid country with poor rainfall. The plant is struggling. What can I do to improve its growth? Please help I am in love with this plant

    • Hi Monika. You need to enrich the soil as much as possible with compost, organic matter etc. Bamboo needs fairly moist, fertile conditions to do best

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