Bamboo shoot growing out of the ground

Bamboo Plant Food – What’s The Best Fertilizer?

People who want to take good care of their plants feed them fertilizer. Plants thrive better, grow bigger, and get stronger with the right nutrients. If you are growing bamboo plants in your garden or indoors, you might be wondering if this applies to them as well and what the best fertilizer for bamboo is.

In short, bamboo doesn’t necessarily need fertilizers. It can grow very well on its own. However, there might be certain situations when you still want to use plant food on your bamboo plants. So, what is the best bamboo fertilizer then?

In this article, we’ll dive exactly into that. We’ll look at the essential nutrients that bamboo needs, the types of fertilizers, and when to apply them. So keep reading in order to learn everything you need to know about fertilizing your bamboo plants!

Does bamboo really need fertilizer?

As mentioned above, bamboo plants don’t necessarily need fertilizer in order to grow. With the right soil, it will be healthy. Bamboo is known for being a hardy and adaptable plant that can often thrive in a variety of soil conditions without the need for additional fertilization. However, like all plants, bamboo can benefit from plant food in certain situations.

Top image is bamboo trees with yellow culms and bottom image is a person testing the soil for planting bamboo with the text Bamboo Plant Food - What's The Best Fertilizer?

It’s a good idea to fertilize bamboo in these scenarios to encourage healthy plants:

Poor soil conditions: If the bamboo is planted in soil that is lacking in nutrients, adding fertilizer can help improve its growth and overall health.

Optimal growth: While bamboo can grow in less-than-ideal conditions, providing fertilizer can help achieve optimal growth, especially for ornamental varieties or bamboo grown for production purposes.

Newly planted bamboo: Fertilizing can be particularly beneficial for newly planted bamboo to help it establish a strong root system and adapt to its new environment.

Stressed bamboo: If the bamboo is showing signs of stress, such as yellow leaves or stunted growth, fertilizing may help it recover.

What are the benefits of using fertilizer on bamboo plants?

Just think about it this way: Your lawn may look nice without fertilizer but adding a bit every now and then will make it look like a thick lush green carpet. The same applies to bamboo because it belongs to the grass family.

Fertilizers will result in higher growth rates and more vigorous growth which results in bushier, taller, stronger, and more vibrant plants if used correctly. It can have quite the opposite effect if you do it wrong, though.

For ornamental bamboo varieties, fertilization can lead to lusher, greener foliage, and a more attractive appearance.

Fertilizing also may help your plants to regain vitality.

Providing the necessary nutrients can improve the overall health of bamboo plants and the ability to recover from stress. Healthy bamboo is more resistant to diseases, pests, drought, and frost.

Fertilizing newly planted bamboo can encourage the development of a strong and extensive root system, which is essential for the long-term stability and health of the plant. As long as the roots are healthy, bamboo can bounce back from anything, such as frost damage.

In areas with poor or nutrient-deficient soil, fertilization can help bamboo plants adapt and thrive by supplementing the nutrients that are lacking in the ground due to low soil fertility.

Healthy bamboo plants with yellow canes fed with the right bamboo fertilizer

What fertilizer should you use for your bamboo plants?

When fertilizing bamboo, it’s important to use the right fertilizer that contains all the necessary nutrients, including nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. You could use a simple lawn fertilizer that doesn’t contain weed killer. If you are looking at fertilizers you will notice there are numbers on it (e.g. 10-5-5).

If you are new to this I’ll explain what this means really quick. These numbers are percentages of the nutrients. The first one is nitrogen (N), the second number represents phosphorus (P), and the last is the potassium (K) level. You may also find people asking “What’s the N-P-K?” Well, now you know what this means.

While we’re talking about these nutrients, let me give you a little insight into what these do to your plants. Nitrogen promotes leafy, vegetative growth and is essential for the synthesis of proteins, enzymes, and chlorophyll. Nitrogen is particularly important for bamboo as it is a grass and has a high demand for this nutrient to support rapid growth.

Phosphorus supports the development of roots, flowers, seeds, and fruits, and plays a crucial role in energy transfer within the plant. However, phosphorus is banned in some states and shouldn’t be high in any fertilizer no matter what.

Potassium enhances overall plant vigor, contributes to disease resistance, and supports the regulation of various physiological processes, including water uptake and enzyme activation.

During my research for my bamboo plants, I found multiple different percentages, for example, some sources recommend using 20-5-5, then others suggest 18-5-12 or 16-6-8.

While it does depend on the soil quality you’re starting with, I found that the best bamboo fertilizer is either organic fertilizers (my personal favorite) or the 18-5-12 chemical fertilizers.

Is there a difference in fertilizing between planters and in-ground?

Yes, there is. Bamboo plants grown in planters indoors or outdoors are more prone to nutrient depletion as they are confined to a limited amount of soil.

For best results, you’d feed your potted bamboo using a liquid fertilizer when you see signs of stress. Otherwise, you may use a balanced fertilizer with slow-release to prevent over-fertilization.

Is there a difference between seasons?

You don’t have to change the fertilizer in a certain season but you can. High-nitrogen fertilizers promote new growth above the ground whereas more phosphorus and potassium encourage the root ball, roots, and new shoots.

Therefore, it can be a good idea to use lower nitrogen (e.g. 6-24-24) in late winter and early spring and higher nitrogen (18-5-12) in late spring and summer for taller and bushier plants. Like I said though, it’s not necessary to switch.

Chemical vs organic fertilizers

Fertilizers have a great impact on our water bodies, groundwater, soil quality, and our health. Nitrogen breaks down into nitrates which are the growth boosters. If the plant cannot absorb all the nitrates, it will simply flush down into the groundwater. The same applies to phosphorus. Hence, you should always go for organic and as less nitrogen and phosphates as possible.

Beware that some states or regions started limiting the usage of synthetic fertilizers, such as Maryland, New Jersey, Flanders in Belgium, and Ireland.

What’s the best bamboo fertilizer out there?

There are hundreds of fertilizers out there. So, which one should you pick? We give you a little insight into the options you have. Be advised to be careful with kids or pets playing around freshly fertilized areas.

Chemical bamboo fertilizer options

LawnStar 16-4-8 Fertilizer is a fast-release liquid fertilizer that is great for fertilizing just around the time when the shoots grow (late winter to early spring). Don’t use this in late summer through mid-winter.

Lesco Professional Turf Fertilizer has a slow-release formula (16-4-8) which makes it perfect for applications from March through September.

Option without phosphorus: LakeDew Biochar Based Fertilizer is a slow-release fertilizer with a 16:0:8 ratio. It’s similar to the bamboo-specific fertilizer (see below) as it’s based on biochar but it is lower in nitrogen and potassium, and it contains no phosphorus. Making it a milder option, it’s great for people who want a fertilizer but don’t want to stress the water supply more.

Organic bamboo fertilizer options (pre-packaged)

Organic Liquid Fertilizer by Simple Lawn Solutions is a balanced liquid fertilizer that will boost the growth of your bamboo with a 16-4-8 blend. It is supposed to be one of the best mixes for bamboo plants and on top of that it is organic!

Purely Organic Plant Food doesn’t contain any phosphorus making it a great mild granular fertilizer. It is for those who just want to boost the shoots and strengthen the roots with the 10-0-2 N-P-K ratio.

Bamboo-specific fertilizers

Around 80% of the bamboo fertilizers you find are meant for Lucky Bamboo, which actually isn’t bamboo. Lewis Bamboo, however, came up with their own bamboo fertilizer. They nurture and sell bamboo plants in the US. The Lewis Bamboo – Biochar Fertilizer 18-5-12 has slow-release properties. They recommend applying it only twice a year. Check out the product on Amazon!

Animal waste or manure as organic  bamboo plant food

How to make your own organic bamboo food?

The chemical and pre-packed organic fertilizers aren’t an option for you? I gotcha. The best way to feed your bamboo is with organic materials anyway. Although it is more labor-intensive, making your own bamboo food, will provide your bamboo plants with the right nutrients, and it’s all natural.

Top image is organic bamboo food and bottom image is a forest of bamboo trees grown with organic fertilizer with the text How to Make Organic Bamboo Food.

Like with other plants, you can use organic compost, manure, and mulch to create the perfect bamboo food as long as it is well-matured. If your compost and manure are too fresh (hot) they can burn your plants.

Making compost fertilizers will also require more thinking from your side because you’ll have to know what organic matter is a good source of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. You also have to find a good balance of all the ingredients.

The manure that has the highest nitrogen and phosphorus levels comes from chickens.

Organic nitrogen sources: Coffee grounds, eggshells, alfalfa, cotton seeds, corn gluten meal, soybean meal, gelatin, hair, fish meal, seaweed

Organic phosphorus sources: Eggshells, fish bone meal, steamed bone meal, rock dust (granite), chicken manure, horse manure, pig manure

Organic potassium sources: Hardwood ashes, bananas or their peels, alfalfa, sheep manure

For more information and fertilizer recipes, read this article.

You can use this type of plant food in the soil or as a topdressing. When planting, you should use a very mature compost-manure mix. Then you can add a 3-inch layer of compost once or twice a year. Spread the homemade fertilizer outward from the stem towards the area you want it to spread. In the end, this will provide fertile soil to the roots. Wherever you put it, the bamboo will grow towards.

Before it gets too hot or cold you should put a layer of mulch on top. This will not just work as a slow-releasing fertilizer but also protect your plants from dehydration and freezing.

When and how often should you feed your bamboo?

There are 2 main growth periods for bamboo. The first one is in spring when bamboo roots grow and send out new shoots and then in summer, it is rather the upward growth of new canes and mature canes. This means you can address each growing season with fertilizing.

You can use a fast-release liquid fertilizer when the bamboo shoots start developing in spring (March-April). A slow-release fertilizer will do it as well but you may want to apply it a little earlier (February-March, unless you are still expecting long frosty periods). Then in summer, do another round to give them the support to grow taller.

How to apply bamboo fertilizers and how much should you apply?

If you are using packaged fertilizer go by the instructions. They will tell you how much you will need because the concentration of nutrients differs.

For people who like it more specific: Bamboo plants can feed on 0.5 lbs (226 g) of nitrogen in an area of 100 sq.ft. (9 sq.m.). So, let’s say you have a 10ft x 10ft grove and you have 16-4-8 fertilizer. You would spread 3 lbs of fertilizer (3×0.16=0.48 lbs) twice a year. You can obviously apply less but definitely, don’t go over that. All excess nitrogen will be washed into the regional water supplies.

Simply spread the fertilizer granules around the plants and into the area you want it to expand. You can do this manually by hand (wear gloves!) or with feed spreaders (for lawns).

If you are using a liquid product, spray it onto the soil but not the canes themselves.

If you have organic plant food you may have to apply more because generally, the blend is weaker.

What you definitely need to avoid!

  • Don’t over-fertilize! A little goes a long way. If you use too much fertilizer, the number of canes may just increase. It might make it weaker and thinner instead of tall and thick. AND most importantly, It is not friendly to the environment to use too much fertilizer!!
  • Don’t use too much of high-nitrogen fertilizers like Urea because it burns your bamboo plants. They will drop all your leaves in the worst case.
  • Don’t use a fertilizer that contains a weed killer (herbicide) as well. It will ultimately kill your bamboo.
  • Don’t use fresh manure as soil because it is hot. You can use it around the plant as a top layer. However, you should be careful. If you use fresh manure while planting, it will cause death.
  • Don’t fertilize with chemicals in late fall and winter if you expect low temperatures during those months. It is usually the stagnant season where the plants don’t grow.
Woman (Natalie) and man (James) in front of bamboo
About the Author: Natalie Schneider