The flowering cycle of bamboo plants as well as the scarcity of the seeds are two strong reasons why most people don’t grow bamboo from seeds. They prefer to grow bamboo from cuttings as it’s much easier. But the big question is: Can you actually grow bamboo from seeds?
Yes, you can grow bamboo from seeds but the procedure can be a bit tasking. This is because the seeds are actually hard to germinate. You would have to plant a lot of them just to get a few to sprout.
So, if you intend to grow bamboo from seeds, you’ve got to be prepared for the task. It’s going to take your time and energy but you’ll love the rewarding feeling in the end! This article covers everything you need to know from getting your bamboo seeds to planting it.
Do you want to jump ahead?
How to get bamboo seeds?
Bamboo seeds don’t stay viable for a long period of time. So you’ll have to find a good source of fresh bamboo seeds. A good option is purchasing the seeds from specialty nurseries or the American Bamboo Association.
You can buy them from sellers on Amazon and other online stores but you might stand the risk of getting seeds that are not viable.
However, you should know that there are regulations against importing/exporting bamboo seeds, and cuttings into the United States.
This is to avoid the spread of diseases and non-native species. To obtain more ideas about purchasing the seeds, you can join bamboo enthusiasts groups on Facebook or other platforms.
The best option is that you know someone that has bamboo plants that is setting seeds. Then you can collect some seeds once they mature. Let’s talk a little about bamboo flowering and collecting seeds below.
When does bamboo flower?
Bamboo flowering is unpredictable and sporadic across species. Typically, bamboo flowers once and then it dies. Some species never set seeds even after flowering.
Some varieties flower at the same time no matter where they are located in the world. However, the flowering interval differs across species ranging from a few years to a hundred years and more.
The complexity of the long flowering and potential death of the bamboo plant makes it very difficult to conduct research into the duration for individual bamboo species seeding.
But the botanists were able to study a few varieties and the flowering intervals vary widely. Here are a few:
- Phyllostachys bambusoides – 130 years
- Bambusa arundinacea – 30-55 years
- Melocanna bambusoides – 30-35 years
- Dendrocalamus giganteus – about 75 years.
- Bambusa vulgaris and Bambusa balcooa – never set seeds even when they get to flower
How to collect bamboo seeds?
Collecting bamboo seeds is a bit difficult. Usually, they are not uniform in size and they cling to the plant until they are mature and then fall off.
The challenge here is that the seeds can get lost if you don’t pick them up within a certain period. They can get lost in the grass or dirt. And it’s hard to know when the seeds are mature before they fall off. Another setback is that the viability and storage life of the seed is quite short.
If you are lucky enough to get mature seeds, then you should not waste time to grow them. You don’t want them to lose their viability.
How to grow bamboo from seeds?
If you are able to get bamboo seeds, you are one step ahead. Usually planting with seeds would create a different look from the parent plant. Now, there are several procedures for growing bamboo from seeds. Some grow bamboo using a mini-greenhouse kit. I’ll give you two easy to follow step-by-step guides.
Step-by-step guide: Growing bamboo from seeds in soil
What you need:
- Tray or cup for soaking the seeds
- Warm water
- Growing medium: Compost or compost mix, mulch
- Seedling trays or small pots
- Spray bottle
The first thing you want to do is soaking your bamboo seeds in water for 24 hours.
The temperature of the water is important! It shouldn’t be too hot or too cold. The ideal temperature for soaking seeds is 85°F (30°C).
You can place it in a warm spot where the temperature won’t drop too much. This procedure starts the germination process for your seeds and increases the odds of planting success.
While you are waiting for the seeds, get your growing medium ready. Regular compost mix is good for germinating bamboo seed. You can use plastic seedling trays or small pots in the beginning. Some even use old plastic cups.
Now, fill your container with the compost mix. Leave some room for the seed and another thin layer of soil. Moisten the soil with water. You’ll need to bring your soil to the required germination temperature of 68-78.8°F (20-26°C).
You can do this by placing your container in a propagator, mini greenhouse, or simply covering it with a plastic bag (held up in a place and tightened with a rubber band).
Back to your soaked seeds: drain the water 10 to 20 minutes before you plant the seeds.
Give your seeds enough space. Drop them on your warm compost with 0.3 inches (1 cm) in between if you are using a large tray. Just one seed if you are using small pots or seedling trays.
Sprinkle another layer of compost on top of the seeds.
Now, place your pot in a spot where it’ll get bright indirect sunlight. Hot direct sun will kill your seeds. So you want to place your plant in partial shade.
Keep an eye on your containers! You don’t want it to dry out. You can water it daily using a spray bottle. If you don’t keep up the moisture, the seedlings can die within a short time.
Usually, you may see a sprout within 10 days from when you planted. If the seeds didn’t germinate in at least 15-20 days, don’t worry! The germination period of different species vary. So if yours don’t get germinated so soon, don’t lose hope right away!
Transplant the healthy seedlings after 3-4 months into larger pots with drainage holes (still small size but larger than the containers for the seed starting). By then, most of the seeds should have sprouted. Don’t discard the seeds that didn’t germinate after this period. Wait and maybe a few more will turn up.
To get your seedlings transplanted, mix a good potting soil with around 50% small bark-chip mulch. This would create a potting mix with very high drainage and moisture retaining qualities which is perfect for bamboo.
Move each seedling into a pot and fill in around it so that the neck of the seedling is level with the top of the potting soil. Water the plants very well. Don’t worry much about over-watering since the soil and pot have good drainage.
Now also place these pots in a shade where it’ll get indirect sunlight. If you see some of the seedlings dying don’t worry too much. You might lose 10% of them but the rest will survive till maturity.
Step-by-step guide: Growing bamboo from seeds with paper towel method
The paper towel procedure is known for being easier and faster. You’ll get your bamboo seeds germinated quicker than you expected.
What you need:
- Paper towels
- Plastic bag
- Potting soil
- Small pot
Dampen your paper towels with water at room temperature. You can double layer them so that it holds moisture for longer.
Some people affirm that adding salt to the water makes the germination go faster. The idea is to form a 20% salt water solution.
Now, put some seeds on one side of the moist paper towel. You don’t have to add too many seeds on one paper towel – around 5-8 will be good. You should leave space between them. Then, fold the paper towel over to cover the seeds.
Place the paper towels with the seeds in your plastic bag Maybe put them on a tray or plate first. Your bamboo seeds will germinate faster in a warm position. So place the plastic bag in a warm place (no direct sun).
Watch out for the germination after two weeks. Normally germination can take anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks or longer. It all depends on the bamboo species.
You should regularly check and dampen the towels. They need to stay moist and warm.
When you notice that the seeds have germinated, simply take the bamboo sprout and plant it into a small pot. The container should be filled with high quality, well-draining potting soil. The soil you are going to use will go a long way to determine the health of your plants and whether they’ll survive.
You can place the pot inside a plastic bag and keep it in a warm position as well. Bamboo plants love adequate humidity and bright indirect light. So you want to avoid intense sunlight as much as possible.
Ensure that your bamboo at this point gets enough water. If your soil is draining well, you won’t have to worry about overwatering. In any case, you should know that your soil should never get soggy. This would help to avoid any diseases.
When your bamboo plant reaches its first winter in cooler climates. The seedlings would need shelter. Simply plant them in the ground and add an inch of mulch. If your bamboo species are less hardy or you have very cold climates, then you should keep them indoors for their first winter.
During the following spring, you may need to repot them so that the roots will have more space. Keep your plant moist, sit back, and wait for your first bunch of new culms. Once the seedlings have reached a height of 12 inches (30 cm) they are ready to be transplanted into your garden.
Is it easier to grow bamboo from cuttings or buying small plants?
Growing your bamboo from seeds will take a lot of patience, and attention. But trust me, you can do it if you set your mind to it. You might lose some seedlings on the journey but at the end of the day, the toughest and bravest seeds would survive and pay you for your effort.
If the procedure already sounds scary and you’ll like to try something different, you can consider other options. You can grow bamboo from cuttings or buy small plants.
If you already have a bamboo plant in your garden or a friend or neighbor has some, it’s pretty easy to just cut the culm and/or rhizomes and replant them. They would develop new roots and grow further rhizomes.
Usually, culm cutting is a little bit more difficult than rhizome cutting. It involves cutting and burying segments of culms. This would cause new shoots to grow.
On the other hand, rhizome cutting is usually used to plant clumping bamboo species. The rhizome would be taken from a parent plant and planted in spring. In this case, new roots and eventually new culms would be formed quickly.
While buying small bamboo plants might seem like a perfect choice, there are a few things you should consider. Keep in mind that you are going to be changing the environment of the plant. So, you want to maintain the same temperature and conditions the bamboo has received all its life.
Ensure that the plant you buy is in a healthy condition. This is why you should buy from a reputable store or nursery. They should give you instructions on how to take care of the plant in order to avoid sudden death. Ask as many questions as you can so you keep your plant in the best conditions.