Bamboo is well-known for being the fastest-growing plant on the planet. But did you know that it’s also one of the easiest plants to propagate? And with so many propagation methods to choose from, you can be sure to find the one that works best for you.
The three main ways to propagate bamboo are through cuttings, division, and seeds. With the exception of leaves, you can use any part of the bamboo plant for propagation. This includes canes, rhizomes, twigs, and branches. You can even propagate bamboo through clump and offset division, or if you’re a bit of a science buff, tissue culture!
In total, there are 9 different methods you can use to propagate this versatile plant. Each method has its benefits, and it’s important to note that some techniques will work better for some species than others.
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Why propagate bamboo?
If you’re looking to expand your bamboo garden, you should consider propagating some of your existing bamboo plants. Although buying bamboo plants from nurseries is a great way to start a bamboo garden or obtain new species, it’s an expensive way to get more of the same plants.
That’s where propagation comes in. As with many houseplants, you can easily propagate your bamboo plants using one or more of the methods in this article. Not only does this save you money, but it’s a great way to multiply rare or particularly attractive species of bamboo.
9 Bamboo propagation methods
Are you reading to start multiplying your bamboo plants? Whether you’re looking to expand your own garden, share plants with friends, or even start a bamboo business, there are a number of effective bamboo propagation methods.
Propagating bamboo through cuttings
Using cane or culm cuttings is the most beginner-friendly way to propagate bamboo. It requires very little work, and you can use a single cane to get several new plants. This method works best for clumping bamboo species, and you should only use it on healthy young culms.
Before you ask, the bamboo cane will stop growing after you cut it. However, the plant will instead send out new shoots from its rhizomes so long as the conditions are favorable.
The process of propagating bamboo using cuttings is very simple. The only thing you need to decide is whether you’ll cut the cane into smaller pieces, or whether you’ll plant it whole.
As the name suggests, this method requires cutting a bamboo culm into several sections. Pick a young, healthy cane with a few leafy branches. Using a sharp saw, cut it one node above the soil level, then trim the leafy top.
Next, cut the culm into individual pieces by trimming it 4 inches above and below each node. You can also use longer cuttings that have 2 or 3 nodes.
Fill a plastic pot with a well-draining soil mix. You can either plant your cuttings vertically or horizontally. If you’re planting them vertically, make sure that the bottom node is at least 2 inches below the soil level. If planting horizontally, cover the cutting with 2 inches of soil.
Water your cuttings well, and keep them in a humid location where they’re sheltered from the cold and direct sunlight. After a few months, the cuttings will grow roots and small leafy stems. Keep them in their pots for at least another year before transplanting them into the garden.
You can plant whole bamboo culms horizontally in the ground, a method called trench layering. All you need to do is cut the bamboo culm and trim its leafy top branches. Then dig a trench half a foot deep, lay the culm in it, and cover it with soil.
After a few months, you’ll notice new stems come out of the ground. Simply dig out the culm, cut it between the nodes into smaller sections, and replant each of those rooted cuttings. You can compost any sections that didn’t sprout new roots.
Propagating bamboo through division
Plant division is the fastest way to propagate bamboo. This simple method involves splitting and replanting a bamboo plant. Depending on which species you have growing in your garden, you can either divide a clump or the plants’ offsets.
Clump division is an easy method to propagate clumping bamboo species. These plants have short rhizome structures, which produce shoots that grow in closely packed clumps.
You can use clump division to separate younger culms growing on the outer edges of the main bamboo clump. Start by removing the leaf mulch and soil around the bottom of the plant to expose the thick rhizomes. Use a sharp saw to separate the rhizome and its cane from the main clump. Trim the cane to 2-3 nodes above the base, then quickly plant it in your garden or in a container with a well-draining potting soil.
You can also use clump division to separate and repot a rootbound bamboo living in a container. Water your plant thoroughly, then massage the sides of the pot to loosen up the roots and soil. Tip the pot to one side, and pull out the entire clump.
Use a sharp hand saw or a Sawzall to cut the root ball in half, from the bottom to the top. If you have a lot of canes growing close together at the top, separate them by hand to avoid any serious damage to the rhizomes and culms. Then simply repot each clump in a separate pot, and water it well.
Offset division is a propagation method you can use for running bamboo species. Unlike clumping bamboo, running bamboo plants produce long, fast-growing rhizomes that spread out from the parent plant. Each rhizome will produce several shoots called offsets, which are easy to separate from the mother plant.
You can propagate bamboo through rhizome division in the spring. Look for young culms growing at least half a foot apart. Using a spade or a hoe, dig up the soil between the young culms and the main clump to expose the rhizome.
Then, use a sharp saw to trim the rhizome down to 2 nodes. Trim the culm to 2-3 nodes above the base. Plant it in the soil immediately, and water it generously.
Make sure to keep the pieces of rhizome you have left over. We’ll take a look at how you can use them further down in this guide.
Growing bamboo from seeds
Seed propagation is the slowest and least reliable way to propagate bamboo. Although bamboo can flower in order to propagate itself, it doesn’t happen regularly. Even in the wild, bamboo prefers spreading vegetatively through shoots, and will only use seeds to propagate once in its lifetime.
What makes bamboo seed propagation so difficult?
For starters, bamboo takes a long time to flower. Depending on the species, this plant can take anywhere between 30 to 130 years to bloom. To make matters worse, bamboo plants die after they flower, so it’s easy to understand why they’d rather propagate through shoots instead.
Assuming that you have flowering bamboo in your garden, your next challenge is harvesting the seeds and planting them as soon as possible. Bamboo seeds are only viable for 1-2 months even when stored correctly. After that, their germination rate drops dramatically, which means that if you plant them, they might not sprout.
But if you’re lucky enough to harvest or obtain fresh bamboo seeds, the planting process is not too complicated. Simply fill a small pot or seedling tray with soil, add the seeds, cover with soil, then water thoroughly. It might take several weeks for seeds to sprout, so make sure the soil remains moist while you wait.
Air layering or marcotting is a propagation technique that stimulates root growth from the nodes on the bamboo culm. The method is very similar to using cane cuttings. The main difference, however, is that you can trigger root growth without having to cut the cane first.
Start by finding a healthy culm that’s about 2-3 years old. Take some damp sphagnum moss, and wrap it around a node on the culm. Use a piece of cling film or transparent plastic wrap to keep the moss in place, and leave a gap at the top and bottom of the wrap. Check the moss regularly, and water it thoroughly when it starts to dry out.
After a few months, you should see small roots come out from the bottom of the plastic wrap, and maybe a few leafy stems poking out at the top. Remove the sphagnum moss wrapping, and use a sharp bamboo saw to cut the culm 3 inches above and below the node. Make sure you don’t accidentally cut the tender roots. Then plant your baby bamboo in a pot filled with a well-draining soil mix.
If you used offset division to propagate your running bamboo, you’ll be happy to know that you can plant the leftover rhizomes using a method called rhizome propagation.
Start by trimming the rhizome into smaller sections, each with 2-3 nodes and well-developed buds. Fill a container with a well-draining, moisture-retaining potting mix. Lay the piece of rhizome horizontally, and cover it with 2 inches of soil. Water it well, keep it in a warm spot, and you should start seeing new stem shoots after a few months.
Twig or branch propagation
You can even propagate some species of clumping bamboo using twigs or branches instead of the culm. This method works best for plants in the genus Bambusa (such as Common Bamboo, Buddha Belly, or Bayog) and Dendrocalamus (Giant Bamboo).
For this method to be successful, you’ll need to find a twig or a branch that has visible root initials. They look like small, woody lumps surrounding the nodes on the stem. Use a sharp saw to remove the branch from the culm, then trim it down to about 2-3 nodes. Plant it in a pot with moist but well-draining potting mix.
The small lumps on the branch should sprout roots after a few weeks. Wait until the young bamboo plant is at least 12 months old, then plant it in your garden in the spring.
Tissue culture propagation
The best way to explain tissue culture propagation is by comparing it to cloning. You start off with a tissue sample taken from a bamboo plant and use it to grow identical copies of it. It’s an incredibly lucrative method and, when used in a commercial setting, can create up to 10,000 plants from a single seedling in just one year!
But before you rush to grab your tissue-collecting kit, keep in mind that this method is rarely feasible for the average gardener. It requires a sterile environment, high-tech equipment, reverse osmosis water, and careful calibration of nutrients, vitamins, carbohydrates, amino acids, and growth hormones.
So, unless you have a veritable lab in your home, we recommend sticking with propagating your bamboo using cuttings, plant division, or even seeds.
What’s the best way to propagate bamboo?
The fastest and easiest way to grow bamboo plants is by using a vegetative propagation method. This could be either culm cuttings, clump division, offset division, or propagating rhizomes.
Of course, the best method depends entirely on which species you have growing in your garden, as well as your preference as a gardener.
For example, if you’re growing clumping bamboo species, such as Bambusa or Fargesia, the best way to propagate them is through clump division. If you’d rather keep the clump intact or if you simply don’t feel like digging it up, you can use cane cuttings instead.
If you’re growing a running bamboo species, such as Phyllostachys or Sasa, offset division is a foolproof propagation method. Also, remember that you can cut the rhizomes into smaller pieces and use them to grow even more bamboo plants!