Eye-level photo of cultivated alkaline soil on a big farm land

What Bamboo Species Like Alkaline Soil?

If your garden has alkaline soil, you might be wondering what bamboo species you can grow. While alkaline soil is rich in nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, and sodium carbonates, its higher pH level can be intolerable to some plants.

Although most bamboo species prefer neutral or slightly acidic soil, some are less picky and will have no problem growing in soil with a higher pH. These include edible varieties such as Phyllostachys edulis and Red Margin Bamboo, or high-value ornamentals like Phyllostachys nigra and Blue Fountain Bamboo. If your soil is very alkaline, you can even amend it to bring its pH down to a more favorable level.

Soil looks different everywhere, so it’s understandable that not all gardens will be able to support the same plants. Although you can amend soil to increase or decrease its pH slightly, this can be a serious undertaking. But by taking the time to test your soil and select the right species, you can grow bamboo even if your garden has alkaline soil.

What is alkaline soil?

Knowing the pH of your garden soil is incredibly useful. Not only does it indicate certain important properties about your soil, but it can help you figure out which plants can do well once planted in your garden.

Soil is considered alkaline, or basic, if it has a pH above 7. This high pH is more common in chalky soil or soil that has high accumulations of gypsum or limestone. Clay and sandy soils can also fall in the alkaline range.

Alkaline soil in a sack with a crate of fertilizers.

There are several notable degrees of soil alkalinity:

  • Neutral soil: a pH range of 6.6 – 7.3
  • Slightly alkaline: 7.4 – 7.8
  • Moderately alkaline: 7.9 – 8.4
  • Strongly alkaline: 8.5 – 9.0
  • Very strongly alkaline: > 9.1

Most plants and vegetables, including bamboo, grow best in soil with a pH of around 6.5.

That said, alkaline soil has several benefits. Unlike acidic soil, it doesn’t drastically limit the availability of essential nutrients including sulfur and potassium, and is less likely to harbor soilborne pathogens.

The downside is that alkaline soil is less soluble. This can disrupt nutrient and mineral absorption, and can also interfere with beneficial microbes living in the soil. Plants that are unable to absorb enough nutrients will often have yellowing leaves.

How does soil become alkaline?

Some soils are naturally alkaline, such as heavy clay soil or soil found in particularly dry or arid regions. However, soil can become alkaline over time as a result of natural or human causes.

Common natural causes include decreased rainfall or the increased presence of minerals such as limestone (calcium carbonate), sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), and magnesium carbonate. Fires can also result in an increase in soil pH, so regions regularly plagued by wildfires tend to have more alkaline soil.

A person shoveling alkaline soil in an orange plastic bucket.

Today, man-made activities can change the soil pH as much as Mother Nature. For example, pollution, microplastics, water softeners, fertilizers, and limestone used in home construction can all increase soil alkalinity.

Which gardens have alkaline soil?

Generally speaking, gardens in wet climates tend to have acidic soil, while those in dry climates tend to have alkaline soil. For example, if you take a look at this map of soil pH you’ll notice that the ‘alkaline soil belt’ stretches across the Great Plains and as far west as Utah.

However, just because you live in a certain region doesn’t mean that your soil will be alkaline by default.

The only way to know for sure whether your garden has alkaline soil is to use soil pH testers. These kits will provide accurate readings that will tell you if your soil pH is suitable for growing bamboo.

If you’re not sure what pH level your soil has, you can simply test it with a tool. It’s the easiest way to find out if you need to work on your soil before planting your bamboo.

Our recommendation – SONKIR Soil pH Meter!*

What soil pH is too high for bamboo?

The ideal soil pH for most bamboo is between 5.5 and 6.5, but some species can tolerate slightly alkaline soil, upwards of about 7.8 on the pH scale. If the pH of your soil is above 8, it will likely have a negative effect on the health of your bamboo.

Top image is black bamboo trees and bottom image is a person holding a hand shovel tilling the ideal soil pH for most bamboo with the text What Soil pH is Too High for Bamboo?

The higher the pH of your soil, the more difficult it is for bamboo plants to absorb nutrients such as nitrogen and iron. Too high of a pH not only impacts culm and leaf development, but it can result in iron deficiency and yellowing leaves.

Although a number of bamboo species can tolerate or even thrive in alkaline soil, it’s best to err on the side of slightly alkaline soil with a pH of 7.8 or less.

Top image is alkaline soil in a bag, bottom image is a bamboo forest planted in alkaline soil with the text: What Bamboo Species Like Alkaline Soil?

How to improve alkaline soil

If your soil is moderately or even strongly alkaline (above 8 on the pH scale), you should consider amending it before planting bamboo in your garden. However, attempting to lower the pH of alkaline soil is a significant decision, and you may find that your garden doesn’t actually need it.

Your first step is determining if you need to adjust the soil pH in your garden. Use a soil test kit, and if the results show a pH of 7.5 or more, amending the soil is a good call.

Your next step is to consider the best way to make the soil less alkaline. Adding elemental sulfur, sulfuric acid, or acidifying fertilizers can lower the soil pH. However, it won’t fix other problems associated with this type of soil.

For example, poor drainage is a common problem in gardens with alkaline soils. Chalky and sandy soils drain too fast and leach nutrients during heavy rainfalls. Meanwhile, heavy clay soils have poor drainage and can easily become waterlogged.

Your best option is to use organic matter to improve the drainage of alkaline soil. Peat moss, pine needles and pine bark are naturally acidic and can lower the soil pH. Compost, mulch, manure, and leaf mold help build soil structure, facilitate moisture retention and drainage, and increase nutrient availability.

A garden of alkaline soil with a white bucket and sacks of fertilizer.

For best results, try amending your garden soil in the fall. This way, the beneficial fungi and bacteria will have time to naturally adjust the soil pH and create a suitable substrate for planting bamboo the following spring.

Make sure to continue testing the pH of your soil regularly to determine the impact of your efforts. Amending soil pH is not easy, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t see an immediate change in pH.

What bamboo grows well in alkaline soil?

Bamboo is an adaptable plant. Even though it usually prefers slightly acidic or neutral soil, some species won’t turn their noses up at soil with a higher pH. In fact, it’s much easier and less expensive to plant species of bamboo tolerant of alkaline soil rather than attempting to drastically alter the natural pH of the soil.

Here are 9 bamboo species that are known to grow well in a garden with mildly alkaline soil:

Red Margin Bamboo shoot
Phyllostachys rubromarginata ‘Red Margin Bamboo’ [Photo source: Flickr]

Phyllostachys rubromarginata ‘Red Margin Bamboo’

  • Type: Running
  • Height: 40-60 ft (12-18 m)
  • Stem diameter: 2 in (5 cm)
  • USDA Zones: 5-10
  • Hardiness: -5°F (-21°C)
  • Light: Full sun, part shade
  • Watering: Regular

Hardy and versatile, Phyllostachys rubromarginata can tolerate a wide range of growing conditions. Not only will it grow well in alkaline soil, but it can put up with dry, windy conditions and freezing temperatures.

The culm sheaths and new shoots of this bamboo have red margins, hence its common name. This fast-growing variety is ideal for privacy screens and windbreaks, and also produces tasty edible shoots.

Dark, almost black, bamboo canes next to yellow-green bamboo stems
Phyllostachys nigra ‘Black Bamboo’

Phyllostachys nigra ‘Black Bamboo’

  • Type: Running
  • Height: 20-35 ft (6-11 m)
  • Stem diameter: 2.25 inches (6 cm)
  • USDA zones: 7-10
  • Hardiness: 5°F (-15°C)
  • Light: Full sun, part shade
  • Watering: High, likely to require supplementary watering in warmer months

With its purplish-black culms and dark green leaves, Phyllostachys nigra is one of the most elegant bamboo species you can grow in your garden. Prized for its use in woodworking and making musical instruments, it’s also a great choice for a decorative privacy screen.

This species of running bamboo can become invasive, but if you want to prevent spreading, it won’t mind growing in a pot. It will tolerate heavy clay soil, but it’s a good idea to add some organic matter at the time of planting.

Phyllostachys edulis ‘Moso’
Phyllostachys edulis ‘Moso’

Phyllostachys edulis ‘Moso’

  • Type: Running
  • Height: 30-90 ft (9-27 m)
  • Stem diameter: 4-7 inches (10-18 cm)
  • USDA zones: 7-10
  • Hardiness: 0°F (-18°C)
  • Light: Full sun, part shade
  • Watering: Regular

One of the tallest species of bamboo, Phyllostachys edulis is also one of the most commonly cultivated ones. And it’s no surprise why: this species is used to control soil erosion, build houses, make fabrics, and it even produced delicious edible shoots.

Plus, it’s a fast-growing ornamental that requires little maintenance, so you can use it to grow your own bamboo grove even if your garden has alkaline soil.

Phyllostachys glauca ‘Yunzhu’

  • Type: Running
  • Height: 50 ft (15.2 m)
  • Stem diameter: 2 in (5 cm)
  • USDA zones 7-9
  • Hardiness: 0°F (-18°C)
  • Light: Full sun, part shade
  • Watering: Regular

Phyllostachys glauca is a fantastic species that combines ornamental value with low maintenance. It can tolerate dry conditions, mildly alkaline soil, freezing temperatures, wind, and dappled shade. The ‘Yunzhu’ variety has highly decorative reddish sheaths and yellow-green culms which develop purplish-brown spots as they age.

Sasa veitchii dark green leaves with creamy edges
Sasa veitchii ‘Kuma-Zasa Bamboo’ [Photo Credit: Flicker]

Sasa veitchii ‘Kuma-Zasa Bamboo’

  • Type: Running
  • Height: 3-5 ft (0.9-1.5 m)
  • Stem diameter: 0.5 in (1.2 cm)
  • USDA zones: 6a-11
  • Hardiness: 5°F (-15°C)
  • Light: Full sun, part shade
  • Watering: Regular

Sasa veitchii is a shrub-like bamboo that you can grow as a ground cover, a hedge, or in containers. It doesn’t mind partial shade, rocky soils, or wet conditions. What makes it truly spectacular is the way its foliage changes in the fall. The leaves stay dark green but gradually develop eye-catching white or pale cream margins.

Bamboo culms of the Buddha Belly species with rounded internodes
Buddha Belly Bamboo

Bambusa ventricosa ‘Buddha Belly Bamboo’

  • Type: Clumping
  • Height: 40-55 ft (12-17 m)
  • Stem diameter: 2.25 in (6cm)
  • USDA zones: 9-12
  • Hardiness: 18°F (-8°C)
  • Light: Full sun, part shade
  • Watering: Regular

Bambusa ventricosa takes its name from the round lumps on the culms, which resemble the fat belly of a Chinese Buddha statue. But don’t worry: you won’t need to rub the belly of a Laughing Buddha for luck when growing it.

This hardy bamboo species will take on any challenge your garden has to offer. It can tolerate drought, partial shade, wind, and even alkaline soil.

Close up view of bambusa multiplex
Bambusa multiplex ‘Alphonse Karr’ [Photo source: Bambooweb]

Bambusa multiplex ‘Hedge Bamboo’

  • Type: Clumping
  • Height: 10-30 ft (3-9 m)
  • Stem diameter: 2 in (5 cm)
  • USDA zones: 6-9
  • Hardiness: 4°F to 23°F (-5°C to -10°C)
  • Light: Full sun, part shade
  • Watering: Regular

Bambusa multiplex is a popular choice for hedging, privacy screens, and windbreaks. It’s not too pretentious about its growing conditions and doesn’t mind being pruned into shape, which means you can even use it for topiary. Also, as a clumping bamboo, it’s less likely to spread all over your garden.

Bushy Fragesia nitida in a garden landscape behind a house
Fargesia nitida ‘Blue Fountain Bamboo’ [Photo source: Bamboo Garden]

Fargesia nitida ‘Blue Fountain Bamboo’

  • Type: Clumping
  • Height: 10-12 ft (3-3.5 m)
  • Stem diameter: 0.75 in (1.9 cm)
  • USDA zones: 6-9
  • Hardiness: -20°F (-29°C)
  • Light: Full shade, part shade
  • Watering: Regular

A gorgeous ornamental, Fargesia nitida displays a striking contrast of purplish-green culms and dark green leaves. As the culms grow, they tend to bend outwards, giving them a cascading, fountain-like look. This species has a remarkable tolerance to low light and freezing temperatures, but it won’t grow well in very hot and humid conditions.

Shibataea chinensis

  • Type: Clumping
  • Height: 6 ft (1.8 m)
  • Stem diameter: 0.1 in (0.3 cm)
  • USDA zones: 6-9
  • Hardiness: -5°F (-21°C)
  • Light: Full sun, part shade
  • Watering: Regular

Most Shibataea species don’t grow well in alkaline soil, but Shibataea chinensis is an exception. This low-growing dwarf bamboo produces thin, slender culms, with lance-shaped, evergreen leaves. It takes a long time to grow and spread, making it a wonderful choice for a low-maintenance border or low hedge.

Do you live in an area with alkaline soil? Which of these bamboo species would you like to grow in your garden? Let us know in the comments!

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