If you have a clump of bamboo in your garden, you may be surprised to learn that you can grow a new plant out of a single piece of stem. Out of all the propagation methods you can use, growing bamboo from stem or culm cuttings is the cheapest, easiest, and most rewarding way to get more out of your favorite bamboo plant!
You can propagate bamboo by cutting a culm into smaller sections and rooting these in a container filled with soil. If you have enough space in your garden, you can also bury an entire culm in the ground, a technique called trench layering. Both methods can be used to successfully propagate clumping bamboo species.
Bamboo propagation from cuttings is ideal for beginners as well as experienced bamboo gardeners. All you need to get started is a sharp saw, a few plastic pots, some soil, and patience. Keep reading to discover more about how to harvest and prepare the culms, how to plant the cuttings, and when to transplant your new bamboo plants into the garden.
Do you want to jump ahead?
Growing bamboo from cuttings
Using cuttings to propagate bamboo is surprisingly easy. If you have houseplants, you’ll find the process similar to taking stem cuttings for propagation. However, there are a few differences to be aware of, which we’ll get into below.
First, it’s important to note that this type of propagation works best for clumping bamboo. Running bamboo, which spreads rapidly underground, is best propagated through division.
How does propagation from bamboo cuttings work?
Propagating bamboo from stem cuttings allows you to grow a new plant, or clone, from a cut piece of the stem. This is particularly useful if you want more plants of a hard-to-find variety, or one that’s done particularly well in your area. In theory, this sounds simple enough, but how does growing bamboo from a piece of stem actually work?
To give you a better idea, let’s think about the anatomy of a bamboo stem. A culm of bamboo has a series of nodes, some of them with small, woody lumps along the node ridges. These lumps are where new roots develop when put into the soil.
The culms also have small buds, sometimes covered by a papery sheath. These are axillary buds and will turn into leafy branches as the plant grows. When you take a cutting of bamboo, these buds are important for the development of new growth or shoots.
Which bamboo species can you propagate from cuttings?
Stem cutting propagation works best for certain types of clumping bamboo. For example, you can take cuttings to propagate most species of Bambusa, Dendrocalamus, Chimonocalamus, and Guadua.
Some of the species you’ll have the most success propagating include:
- Bambusa bambos ‘Giant Thorny Bamboo’
- Bambusa balcooa ‘Female Bamboo’
- Bambusa oldhamii ‘Giant Timber Bamboo’
- Bambusa multiplex ‘Hedge Bamboo’
- Bambusa ventricosa ‘Buddha Belly Bamboo’
- Bambusa vulgaris ‘Wamin’ or ‘Dwarf Buddha Belly Bamboo’
- Bambusa tulda ‘Indian Timber Bamboo’ or ‘Bengal Bamboo’
- Chimonocalamus pallens ‘Grey Bamboo’
- Dendrocalamus hamiltonii ‘Hamilton’s Bamboo’
- Dendrocalamus hookeri ‘Bhutan Green Bamboo’
- Dendrocalamus giganteus ‘Giant Bamboo’
Feel free to experiment with other species of clumping bamboos. While not on this list, Fargesia bamboos have been known to make good cuttings, too.
When is the best time to propagate bamboo cuttings?
Spring is the best time to propagate bamboo from cuttings. Depending on your hardiness zone, this could be as early as March, or as late as May.
You should harvest your bamboo cuttings before the buds on the culms sprout and become lateral branches, and before the plants develop new shoots. This way, the cuttings can use more of the nutrients stored in the culm tissue to grow roots and new shoots.
Should you propagate bamboo cuttings in soil or water?
For best results, always propagate true bamboo cuttings in the soil. Roots that develop in the soil are thicker, longer, and sturdier, and will provide your young plants with more stability. By propagating cuttings in soil, you’ll also reduce the risk of transplant shock.
Water propagation does have its merits for many houseplants, but in the case of bamboo, it can be hit-and-miss. Some cuttings may not root, while others may develop stem rot. Also, the rooted cuttings can experience transplant shock when transitioned from water to soil.
Often when people think of propagating bamboo in water, they’re actually thinking of Lucky Bamboo, which is not a true bamboo but rather a species of the Dracaena family.
How to select bamboo culms for propagation
The first step in propagating bamboo successfully is choosing the right stems. Look for young culms that are 1-2 years old. They should have shiny, unblemished culm sheaths, and well-developed, leafy central branches. Usually, the best culms for propagation are on the outer section of a bamboo clump.
Avoid propagating bamboo canes that are:
- Less than a year old and haven’t produced leafy lateral branches;
- Three years or older;
- Dry or with dried internodal sections;
- Visibly damaged by pests;
- Growing in bamboo clumps that are flowering or likely to flower soon.
How to cut your selected bamboo culms
Now that you know what to look for (and what to avoid), it’s time to cut your culms. Pick a bamboo saw, a hacksaw, or a pair of sharp loppers. Always use a tool with a clean, sharp blade. Otherwise, the cut ends of the culm could split and become susceptible to stem rot.
Cut the culm one node above the soil level. If you’re cutting several canes at once, keep them in a bucket of water. Bamboo culms dry quickly, and the drier they get, the less likely they are to take root.
Preparing bamboo cuttings
After cutting your bamboo culms, it’s time to prepare them for propagation. Start by trimming the leafy top of the culm. Then, use a pair of pruning scissors and trim the lateral leaf branches by cutting them ¼ of an inch above the last growth node on each branch.
Using a sharp bamboo saw, divide the culm into your desired sections. For each section, cut about 4 inches above and below a node. Each cutting should have at least one node, but you can also use cuttings with 2-3 nodes or more.
Once your cuttings are trimmed down to size, you can dip the bottom ends in a rooting hormone to help them grow roots faster. A rooting powder that contains NAA (naphthyl acetic acid) or IBA (indolebutyric acid) works best – we recommend Hormex Rooting Powder #3.
You can also use melted wax to seal the ends of your bamboo cuttings. This prevents pests and fungal pathogens from entering the cutting, and it reduces moisture loss. However, sealing the cuts is not mandatory, so if you want to keep things simple, feel free to skip this step.
How to propagate bamboo stem cuttings: two methods
There are two methods you can use to propagate bamboo cuttings. You can either cut a culm into smaller sections and plant them in a pot, or plant the entire culm (or larger sections of it) in a trench in your garden.
Let’s take a closer look at how each method works:
Rooting bamboo cuttings in containers
The simplest way to propagate bamboo cuttings is by rooting them in a container with soil.
Take a plastic pot that has drainage holes at the bottom and fill it with a well-draining, moisture-retentive potting mix. You can also make your own with a combination of three parts peat moss and one part perlite.
Plant 2-3 cuttings per pot by sticking them vertically into the soil. Make sure that the stem buds are pointing up, otherwise, the cutting may not root. The bottom node should be at least 2 inches below the soil level, so push the cuttings deep into the pot.
Another option is to propagate bamboo cuttings horizontally in the pot. Dig a furrow about 4 inches deep and lay each cutting flat on the soil, with the stem buds facing sideways. Then cover the cuttings with 1-2 inches of soil.
Water your cuttings thoroughly after planting, and keep the soil moist but not soaked. If you have longer cuttings with tops sticking out of the soil, pour water into the hollow canes to keep them from drying out. Check the canes regularly, and top them up with more water if needed.
Keep your pots in a warm spot or, even better, a greenhouse. Keep them out of direct sunlight, but don’t place them in the dark, either.
Bamboo cuttings can be slow to root, but they should start growing roots after 3-4 months. Once it seems like the roots are outgrowing the container, you can divide the cuttings and replant them into individual pots. Use a nutrient-rich potting mix that also facilitates drainage, such as a mix of compost, peat moss, and perlite.
Propagating bamboo using trench layering
Trench layering is a propagation method that involves rooting an entire culm or larger piece of culm all at the same time. It can be a little tricky to do right, and you’ll need to dedicate some of your yard space to it. That said, it’s worth giving a try if your garden can accommodate it!
To start, find a two-year-old bamboo culm that has 15-20 nodes. Trim the leafy top and most of the lateral branches.
Find a spot in your garden that has well-draining soil and is sheltered from strong winds and intense sunlight. Use a shovel to dig a trench about 6 inches deep.
Then simply place the trimmed culm into the trench. If you’ve left a few leafy branches on the came, make sure they’re pointing up. Fill in the trench with soil, and water it well.
After a few months, the nodes will develop roots, and you might see new leafy branches pop out of the soil.
At this stage, you can dig out the trench and, using a saw or a pair of loppers, cut the culm into smaller sections. Trim the culm 2 inches on either side of each node, and discard the nodes that haven’t rooted. Then repot your rooted cuttings into containers, and keep them in a warm, sheltered place until they become well-established.
If you’re using the trench layering method to propagate bamboo, it can be very tempting to just leave the culm in the soil after it roots. However, growing bamboo this way is far from ideal. The young plants will be overcrowded and will compete for light, water, and nutrients. They’ll form a dense privacy screen for the first few years, but will soon grow into a weakened, thickly packed clump that’s difficult to maintain.
Transplanting bamboo cuttings into the garden
If you’ve gotten your bamboo to root successfully, congrats! But don’t plant them in the garden just yet. Bamboo cuttings need time to develop a strong root system and, most importantly, they need to start growing stems and leaves that the plant needs for photosynthesis. This process can take anywhere between 12-18 months.
During this time, you’ll need to keep your bamboo cuttings in their containers. Water them regularly, and feed them with a nitrogen-rich fertilizer throughout spring and summer. Also, protect them from intense sunlight and, if you live in a cold climate, shelter them from frost during their first winter.
When your cuttings are at least one foot tall and have well-developed roots and canes, you can transplant them into the garden soil. The best time to do this is in the spring when the plants are getting ready to put on new growth.
Find a spot in your garden that’s sheltered from intense sun and strong winds. Dig the soil to a depth deeper than the pot, and work in plenty of compost or manure. Then, take the bamboo plant out of its pot, plant it in the soil, and water it well.
Young bamboo plants can take about three years to become well established. But once they start growing new shoots and culms, you can start the propagation process all over again and keep making more and more bamboo plants!