So, you decided to buy bamboo plants. Now, you just have to figure out how to plant them so that they’ll establish healthy roots and thrive.
When planting bamboo plants, you have to keep some things in mind. It’s not only the season that you have to think about. There are a few conditions and tricks that will make sure that your plants take root.
When to plant bamboo
Bamboo does have a yearly cycle, but whether this is important depends on the climate you live in.
Hot and humid summers: Plant in early spring or fall
Hot summers are hard on bamboo. After all, even established bamboo plants need some shade. Imagine how heat and sun would affect a baby bamboo that has been dug up from a field, jostled around for a while, and now has ended up at your home.
By planting the bamboo in the early spring you give it time to establish itself comfortably in the ground before it become hot. If you missed the boat, don’t fear. Bamboo can also be planted in fall when the weather cools down again (late September – late October).
One thing to consider if you are trying to decide between spring and fall, is how much rain you get. Bamboo is a rain forest plant so it needs its water, if you get more rain in the spring then it would be best to plant it then. It’s also best to plant in the spring if you experience freezing in the winter.
Cold (freezing) winters: Plant in the spring after the last frost
Bamboo will have the best chance of survival if the roots can establish before the first freeze. The longer the better, but within 2-3 months your cold-hardy bamboo should be well established for the winter. The less hardy the plant, the longer the time you should give it.
If a plant has more established roots, which is often the case if you buy from nurseries. These plants have spend some time in pots already and they have a higher chance of surviving frost even earlier. Freshly dug up bamboo, however, needs more time to take root.
Mild climate: You can (potentially) plant year-round
Most bamboo plants should be able to establish their roots easily at nearly any time without the danger of extreme heat or cold.
One thing should be noted, though. Some “mild” areas still get fair amounts of frost (think coastal Oregon etc…). In these areas it’s best to plant bamboo when the danger of a hard frost is low. Cold-tolerant varieties will be okay even if a frost does happen, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. When you are spending money and time taking care of new plants, you don’t want to risk it.
Late fall, winter and early spring are typically rainy in mild climates which is wonderful for bamboo. Late winter (dependent upon freezing) or spring may be the best time to plant running species as they have two growing seasons.
Spring is the time when the culm (stem) of the running bamboo grows. The culm growth ends in the summer followed by rhizome growth which concludes in the fall.
Clumping bamboo, on the other hand, doesn’t have distinct growing periods and can successfully grow any time of the year in mild climates.
Where to plant bamboo
Before you start digging holes, you should think about the placement thoroughly. The location of your plants plays a huge role in their health. Well, the location obviously plays a role for picking the right bamboo, as well. You probably also consider planting your plants in a planter instead of in-ground.
As you well know by now, there are many types of bamboo varieties and with those varieties come different sunlight requirements. Hopefully, if you’ve already purchased the plant and brought it home, you very likely know about the plant’s sunlight requirements.
Typically speaking, most bamboo varieties will prefer an environment with partial shade, although some do need up to 8 hours of sun!
As mentioned earlier, freshly planted bamboo (even when sun-tolerant) will need shade during the heat of the day until they are more established. If needed, shade coverings can be found at most stores with a garden department.
Spacing – How much space should you leave between plants?
If you’re wondering how far apart bamboo should be planted you may be surprised to find that it doesn’t really matter. Bamboo shouldn’t be crowed together, but it can be planted fairly close, so the best thing to do is evaluate your goals.
Note: Bamboo grows toward the open space. If you give it space, it will take it.
Take into consideration what type of bamboo you need (or want) to use. Some people can’t (or don’t want to) use running bamboo to grow a screen as it is harder to control and might end up in the neighbors’ lawn. If you decide on clumping varieties, know that they will take longer to grow together.
If you just want a garden decoration giving at least 3-5 feet (1 – 1.5 m) is good.
If you want to grow a privacy screen, though, you should evaluate how quickly you want it to grow. Running bamboo can be planted 3-6 feet (1 – 1.8 m) apart and will result in a dense screen within a couple of years. If you have 3-4 years, you can also leave 6-10 ft (1.8 – 3 m) in between.
On the contrary, clumping bamboo that is planted 3 feet (1 m) apart will take a couple additional years to fill in. Clumping bamboo only grows a few inches outward. You may want to set the dense root clusters narrower if you want a dense privacy screen quickly. You may not get the maximum height, though. Bamboo needs space and some time to establish.
So, it all really comes down to what your goals are and how much money you want to spend to start with. Planting denser means that you have to buy more plants.
Planting tips for thriving bamboo
Before you can start plant
Know the quality of your soil
Although fairly hardy and notorious for its ability to grow in adverse conditions, bamboo does have some soil preferences. Bamboo prefers its soil to be full of nutrients, well aerated and that it drains well.
Heavy clay soil that impedes draining can cause bamboo rhizomes to rot. Generally speaking, bamboo also prefers a slightly acid soil (5.5-6.5). While most bamboo is somewhat hardy to variations in pH you may want to check your specific bamboo variety if your soil is outside these ranges. Some bamboo is so sensitive that it won’t survive in alkaline soil while other varieties will withstand it just fine.
Make your own compost mix, or buy it
Mixing in compost with the soil will give your bamboo plants the best nutrients. There are many possible compost ingredients that work well for bamboo including bark, wood chips, sawdust, composted manure, peat moss, worm castings, coffee grounds, and leaf litter, to name a few.
If you suspect your soil is heavily lacking certain nutrients it might be a good idea to buy a pre-made compost that has essential nutrients calculated into it. If you know about it enough or want to learn it, go ahead and make your own. I believe it’s the best fertilizer anyways, and you can use your own waste.
No need for fertilizer
It’s not necessary (or even helpful) to fertilize newly planted bamboo. If you have great soil, integrated compost in it and mulched the top, you’ve done what you need to do for a healthy plant. For now, just worry about giving it the water it needs.
Plan on fertilizing (if you desire to do so) the following winter or spring after the last hard frost.
Don’t forget the mulch
Another way to add nutrients to your area is using mulch. As it breaks down over time or with the help of worms, mulch promotes healthy soil. This doesn’t only benefit the plant in terms of nutrients, it also reduces the risk of diseases.
Mulch is also important in protecting your plant from weather extremes. It keeps the plant warmer in the winter and cool in the summer.
Another benefit is reducing water evaporation. A layer of mulch keeps the soil underneath moist for longer. This great for bamboo because this plant loves moisture, but it doesn’t like waterlogged, swampy areas. Therefore, even if your soil drains well, it can stay moist for longer with mulch on top.
So, regardless of whether you did or didn’t work compost into your soil, mulch should still be considered important! Mulch options include lawn clippings, composted manure, leaves, bark, wood chips, straw, and other yard “debris”. Pretty much as long as it’s not hot, it can be used as a mulch.
Mulch carefully around small plants to avoid breakage. More established plants can take anywhere from a few inches to a foot of mulch.
How to plant bamboo
Now that you know more about where to plant it and what makes bamboo thrive, it is time to begin the planting process. Bamboo is a relatively easy plant to get started in your yard and is quick to grow once planted.
However, there are a few key steps you should take to ensure proper planting and growth.
Step 1 – Preparing the ground
Above we talked about the soil and ground. I don’t want to go into too much detail in the instructions. So, please read it. You should check your soil and mix in some compost for the best growing conditions. The soil should be worked well so it’s aerated properly.
You should also water the ground properly before planting bamboo. It’ll promote taking roots. Ideally water the whole area thoroughly the day before.
Note: If you picked a running bamboo and planting it in-ground, you should have barriers installed. More about this below the step-by-step guide.
Step 2 – Plan & dig the holes
Now is the time, when you mark the spots where you will dig the hole for your bamboo. I suggest using the plants themselves or buckets in order to visualize where they should go. Arrange them to your taste until you are happy. Then it’s time for digging.
As a general rule, you should dig a hole twice the size of the root mass of your plant. You gonna have the plant and the pot as a reference. You should be able to have a gap around it. Don’t dig much deeper than the pot though. This depth is already perfect. Rhizomes grow about 1 ft (30 cm) deep and roots can go as deep as 3 ft (1 m). These roots will establish after planting the bamboo.
Water the hole and add some composting mix at the bottom if you want.
Step 3 – Planting the bamboo plants
The planting of bamboo itself is relatively easy and effortless even for beginners. You just have to heave the plant into the hole. Then add some composting mix or soil in order to fill in the rest of the hole. Compact it down so that the soil isn’t too loose.
I strongly suggest adding a layer of mulch when you are done. I talked about this before as well.
Step 4 – Watering your bamboo
Like many plants, bamboo should be watered as soon as it’s planted and frequently there after. Newly planted bamboo should be watered every day throughout the establishing period (first few months). Once the roots have established, you can water less frequently. During a hot and dry summer, bump up the irrigation game.
You preferably want to deep water it so that the water really soaks in. As long as the soil is well draining, there isn’t a danger of over-watering your plant, so don’t worry about that!
Make sure the hole in a planter aren’t blocked. The water should run out the bottom each time you water your bamboo.
If you buy your plant locally make sure you ask how often you should be watering your new plant. This is the best way to get accurate information tailored for your climate.
You should always take into account the weather conditions in your area and change your watering schedule accordingly. Read more about watering bamboo here.
Installing barriers for running bamboo
We have explained how to stop running bamboo from spreading here. However, I couldn’t resist mentioning it because it is so so so important!
If your heart is set on a running bamboo variety never fear. Bamboo rhizomes are fairly shallow, so it is possible to put a barrier in the ground before planting. It will keep the bamboo from spreading uncontrollably.
Be aware that not all barriers work. Rock and cement barriers, for example, may have cracks and crevices in which the rhizomes can grow into or through. Arguably the best and most popular barrier is a high density polyethylene. It stops the bamboo but you should still check the barrier as part of the garden maintenance. Sometimes they move or break and you want to notice that before the plant grows on your neighbor’s property.