Frost on bamboo leaves in winter

What happens when bamboo freezes?

Are you worried about your outdoor bamboo plants? Or are you about to plant bamboo and unsure what you’ll have to consider for the cold season?

If you are expecting a harsh winter where you live you usually know about winterizing plants, but what about bamboo? Although certain bamboo species are cold-hardy, young plants (the first 3 years) are still more vulnerable to low temperatures.

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I want to show you how it looks when bamboo gets frost damage and what you can do to prevent it from happening in the first place. So keep reading!

Can frost kill bamboo?

The simple answer is: Yes. If you don’t have a hardy bamboo and you get freezing temperatures for weeks, you’ll probably end up with dead bamboo plants. However, established plants can survive quite well. The bigger issue lays in young plants – about the first 3 years after planting. They are more prone to frost damage.

However, a sudden drop for 1-3 nights shouldn’t do much damage. It becomes more severe when the ground freezes. As long as the roots have life in them, your bamboo plants will revive in spring.

Frosty bamboo leaves and bamboo plants with the text: What happens when bamboo freezes?
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When frost becomes the most dangerous

Like I said above, freezing temperatures don’t necessarily mean that your bamboo will die. What is going to cause frost damage on bamboo, though?

The wrong plants for your climate

If you expect cold temperatures, you should have planted hardy or cold-hardy bamboo species. I don’t say you need a cold-hardy bamboo for areas with very short cold spells.

You should know your USDA zone or similar and buy the bamboo according to this. If you are on the very edge, e.g. 5a when zones 5-10 are indicated, you may still experience some issues. If you are going to plant bamboo in containers, you should always look for a zone lower (e.g. zone 5 if you live in zone 6). Bamboo grown in planters suffer from frost more than in-ground plants.

Unprotected young plants

Bamboo plants are the most vulnerable within the first 3 years. This is when the plants fully establish roots and strength. Harsh winters during this time might become a problem. So, it’s smart to give them extra protection. I will go into detail about preventive steps later in this article.

Container bamboo

If you decided to grow bamboo in planters, you have bigger issues with cold temperatures. The ground doesn’t freeze as quickly as planters or pots do. You should take some preventive measures. And as I said above, you should look for a lower USDA zone when picking your bamboo plant (e.g. zone 5, although you live in 6).

Did my bamboo get frost damage?

The first thing is determining if the plant has really gotten damaged by frost. This is actually something that people react to way too quickly. They see the first signs of wilt and freak out. Don’t be one of those people. Once it’s cold you cannot do much about it. You can just hope the preventive measures will help you.

Are dead leaves a sign of frost damage?

No. You cannot tell from the leaves if your bamboo got damaged. Cold temperatures are causing brown and dry leaves on many plants. It’s just a natural reaction. So should you be worried if your outdoor bamboo looks wilted? Not yet. I’d trust other signs of frost damage.

Welk bamboo leaves in winter scene
Sad leaves on a bamboo plant

Are yellow or brown culms a sign of dying bamboo?

Here it gets more tricky. It happens that single culms die off. It’s natural. However, if many turn yellow or brown, you’re doing something wrong or the cold temperatures damaged them. If you are certain that the plant should have enough (and not too much) water, the frost might have been the cause.

As long as the roots are still alive, you’ll get some fresh culms soon, though.

Already new shoots but the temperature drops again

This is not uncommon, unfortunately. Sometimes you’ll have spring weather in the middle of the cold season so that the plant thinks it’s time to sprout. Fortunately, bamboo recovers from this quite good. It’ll grow new shoots again when the real spring comes.

No fresh shoots in spring

This is when you have to be concerned! Usually bamboo will recover by sending new shoots up in the spring. If this doesn’t happen or there are only a couple coming, the winter really got your plants. No shoots mean the plants are dead.

However, if you have running bamboo, there might be still hope. Bamboo shoots out twice a year. In the spring, it grows upwards and later it grows outwards. If the plant can gather enough strength to spread, it might come back next year.

What you can do if your bamboo got too much frost

Assuming there is some life left, wait for the plant to recover. Sending out new shoots is a good sign of recovery. A dead plant won’t do that.

You can add fertilizer, but this may not help if there isn’t a single sign of life.

In order to brush up the appearance and let the plant focus on alive parts, you should prune the dead culms. Cut back the ones that really look dead so that all energy can go to growth and recovery.

Yellow bamboo culms with green leaves in winter
Healthy bamboo in winter

6 easy ways to prevent frost damage on your bamboo plants

This is what you want to do in the first place. You don’t want to wait for signs of damage. You want to protect your bamboo from freezing.

  1. Use a layer of mulch: Always add mulch! It’s like a warm blanket in winter. It also is protection from drought in summer. Therefore, this is a crucial step that you should have taken anyways.
  2. Bubble wrap containers: You can use bubble wrap or any other insulating material around your planters. You could even add this inside (not at the bottom, though). This will help with shorter freezing periods.
  3. Move containers indoors: If you can move your pots, do it. It’ll avert troubles. However, not every planter can be moved, I understand.
  4. Use heating cables for planters that you cannot move: This can help with the freezing of large planters. This way you don’t have to worry about the roots dying.
  5. Use large trash bins, bags, or tents for smaller plants: To additionally protect young plants, you can cover them with trash bins, bags, or tents, like portable greenhouses or cold frames. This might save them when you expect a very long period of freezing temperatures.
  6. Well-draining soil: Although you should have this already, it becomes even more crucial in winter. The more water there is, the faster the soil freezes. It also causes root rot because of colder temperatures. Water doesn’t evaporate like in summer, therefore, it stays there for longer which damages the roots. So, make sure the soil is draining properly (especially when planted in containers).

Cold-hardy bamboo species

Just in case you were curious about winterizing bamboo while not having planted them yet. Here are some cold-hardy bamboo species that can survive colder temperatures. If you don’t expect these super-low temperatures, these hardy varieties might be enough for you as well.

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Woman (Natalie) and man (James) in front of bamboo

We are James and Natalie – newly-weds & nature lovers!

We want to give you the best information possible on bamboo. Get inspired to grow bamboo or to switch to natural bamboo products!

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