Clumping bamboo plants are often thought to be the safest option for those just beginning to look into bamboo. And that’s the truth.
So, what is clumping bamboo? What’s the difference between the more popular running bamboo and this type? How to take care of clumping bamboo? These and many more questions will be answered in this article.
What is clumping bamboo and how does it look like?
You can categorize bamboo in the two types: Clumping and running bamboo. The names come from their root system, which is the main distinction. While runners spread horizontally with their rhizomes (think grass), clumping bamboo grows mostly vertical.
The name basically tells you how it looks. The root is a clump and the stem (culm) grows upward from it. You could think of it like tubers such as potato plants because it looks very similar.
The root cluster (sympodial or pachymorph rhizome) is pretty shallow at about 1 foot (30 cm) deep. The thinner roots can go as deep as 2-3 feet (60-90 cm).
Spring is the shooting season. That’s when fresh culms shoot up from the buds. Then over summer and fall, they grow bigger and wider.
Is clumping bamboo invasive?
No, it is not. The way the roots make it spread only between 2-12 inches (5-30 cm) per year. That’s quite modest if you compare it with running bamboo. Runners can bring up new shoots several feet away from the current culms.
When clumping bamboo spreads, it develops more buds or “clumps”, which shoot up as new culms. These are very close to the existing ones making them look like a “U”. That’s why clumping bamboo is considered the safer option and why they are preferred for privacy screens.
How fast clumping bamboo grows in height and width depends on the species and the growing conditions. Small clumpers may only grow 1-3 ft (30-90 cm) in height and a few inches outward.
What species or genera are clumping bamboo?
There are fewer clumping genera than running-type genera.
Fargesia – Small hardy clumping bamboo
This is one of the most popular clumping genera. It has several species (86) that vary in appearance and hardiness. The most common species are Fargesia Rufa, Nitida, Murielae, and Robusta.
In general, Fargesia is small and quite hardy because it derives from the mountains in China. The plants have thick foliage which makes them a popular privacy screen choice. The culms are pretty thin, which is why they often bend outwards. So, the plant looks like a fountain.
Fargesias generally love the shade. So, planting them in the direct afternoon sun won’t do them good.
They can get between 8 and 16 ft tall (2 – 5 m) and spreads 4-6 inches (10-15 cm) per year, depending on the species. Read more about Fargesia bamboos here.
Bambusa – Cold-sensitive clumping bamboo
This clumping bamboo genus has 149 recognized species that are usually tall. The most common varieties are Bambusa Ventricosa (Buddha’s Belly), Bambos, and Multiplex.
Bambusa varieties are very popular like Fargesia. These subtropical and tropical plants are not hardy and rather like it hot (e.g. in Southern areas of the US).
Unlike Fargesia, the culms are thicker, stronger, and have thicker walls. The leaves are smaller but grow on numerous branches.
Bambusa species generally like more sun than Fargesia. Some Bambusa varieties can grow as tall as 55 ft (17 m), while others only get 10 ft (3 m) tall.
Borinda – Mid-sized hardy clumping bamboo
Species of the Borinda genus are tall temperate clumping bamboos. They are relatively new because some species were listed under the Fargesia or Yushania genus. However, they show different flowers and shorter rhizomes.
Borinda varieties grow between 6 and 13 ft (2-4 m) tall and develop long internodes. They can tolerate colder temperatures like Fargesia, but they can get taller than Fargesia varieties.
Chusquea – Cold-sensitive solid clumper
The specialty of this clumping bamboo is the culm. They are solid and not hollow like other genera. This genus is also referred to as South American mountain bamboo and contains 135 recognized species.
The most popular and unique species is Chusquea Culeou because it’s hardy and was successfully grown in the Northern Hemisphere.
Thamnocalamus – The sun lovers
This genus is closely related to Fargesia. Former species known under this genus have been changed to other genera. Now, there are only 4 species recognized as Thamnocalamus. These varieties grow between 13 and 23 ft (4-7 m) tall and love the sun.
Yushania – Semi-running bamboo
This clumping bamboo loves moderate to high altitudes. It develops wider spreading rhizomes than regular clumpers, which makes it a semi-running bamboo. So, they can get invasive in warmer regions.
Species of the Yushania genus (86) are temperate and subtropical bamboos. This means they can tolerate low and warm temperatures.
Indocalamus – Small thicket-like bamboo
The species of the Indocalamus have very large and glossy leaves forming dense foliage. It makes them look bushy. They also don’t get very tall, only up to 6 ft (2 m).
Otatea – Cold-sensitive unique clumper
The Otatea genus is native to North America, especially Mexico. The name derives from the Aztec word for bamboo. The 10 species of this clumping bamboo were found along the Pacific coast, volcanic ridges and plateaus.
The most commonly known species is the Mexican Weeping Bamboo, which has a unique appearance. It has fine leaves that look like needles that hang down giving it the weeping look.
Which clumping bamboo species are edible?
The most popular bamboo species that provide edible shoots are Phyllostachys Edulis (running bamboo) and Bambusa Vulgaris (clumping bamboo). Although there are way more edible runners, here are a few more clumping bamboos that you can eat:
- Fargesia Robusta
- Many of the Bambusa genus, such as Bambusa Bambos and Bambusa Oldhamii
- Thamnocalamus Aristatus
- Yushania Maling
How to plant clumping bamboo plants?
Before you start planting, you should know the requirements of your bamboo plant. Each species has different needs in terms of sun, water, wind, and soil. So, I assume for the rest of this section that you have done this research.
Most clumping bamboos are great for in-ground as well as containers. So, I will explain each individually.
How to plant clumping bamboo in the ground?
Plan the placement of the plants. Keep in mind that clumping bamboo won’t fill up space as fast as running bamboo. This means that you need more plants that you put closer together if you want a quick privacy screen. How far you plant them away from each other depends on the species. Tall species need more space than small ones.
- Dig a hole in the ground that is a bit larger than the plant and about 1 inch (2.5 cm) deeper than the pot it comes with.
- Water the hole properly.
- Take the bamboo plant out of the pot and place it carefully into the hole. Be careful and don’t damage young shoots! If the plant is root bound, cut the pot off and then insert the plant in the hole.
- Straighten the culms if something got bent or points in an undesirable direction.
- Fill in the space around the plant and pack it as you go. Don’t leave any air pockets by pressing down the soil but be careful not to hurt fresh shoots!
- Add a portion of organic fertilizer if you want to.
- Make a berm so that water runs off from the culms. It should be twice as big as the pot it came in and 2-3 inches (5-8 cm) high. This way the water is directed around the whole plant.
- Add a layer of mulch. This will keep the plant moist and it functions as protection.
Do I need root barriers for clumping bamboo?
This bamboo type doesn’t spread as vigorously as running bamboo. Therefore, you don’t need a root barrier. However, you still need to do some maintenance work in order to keep the plants healthy. You should, for example, cut roots, divide and prune plants. More about this later in the article.
Tips for planting and growing clumping bamboo in containers or planters
- Choose a location with partial shade. Container bamboo is prone to dehydration, heat, and cold.
- Use a large planter or container. It shouldn’t be smaller than 20” by 20”. If you have a slim and long planter, it should be at least deep.
- If the planter is too small, the plant becomes root-bound. Dividing it or placing it in a larger pot are the only solutions.
- Clumping bamboo outgrow their pots every few years. You have to make sure to repot them.
- Planters need to have enough drainage holes.
- Fertilize container bamboo twice a year (Feb – spring and summer/late summer).
- Water it sufficiently. Container bamboo becomes dry sooner than in-ground grown bamboo.
Clumping bamboo care – How to maintain a healthy plant?
Bamboo is not a complicated plant. Like every other plant, it needs more attention in the beginning (after planting). Once the plants are established, it’s pretty easy-going.
What to feed clumping bamboo?
Bamboo doesn’t necessarily need any fertilizer. If grown in the ground, it should get enough nutrients from the soil.
We recommend feeding container grown bamboo and in case the surrounding soil is not as nutritious.
You can use organic compost or fertilizer. You can make your own or buy it. Find out more about fertilizing bamboo here!
How to divide clumping bamboo?
Maybe your plants got a bit too tight or your planter bamboo needs to be divided. You should only do this in early spring before the new shoots are coming out.
This is what you’ll need for this job:
- Sharp spade or shovel
- Hand pruners
- Sharp hand saw
Water the ground or pot 24 hours prior. It will make the division easier.
Use the spade to dig a trench about 1 ft (30 cm) deep. It also should be 1 ft (30 cm) away from any cane so that you are next to the root “clump”. Then angle the shovel so that you get underneath the root ball. Lift it out of the ground.
If you have container bamboo, you don’t always need to dig. You might be able to remove the bamboo from the container and continue with the next step.
Now saw the plant in halves. You can also use the spade if you don’t have a saw. If you want to divide it further, you can do so. You can also cut bulbs off with pruners in order to trim the root system.
Should I prune them?
Yes, you should. Clumping bamboo grows very dense. If you want to keep an attractive display, you should cut away dead or undesirable culms and branches. Thinning also helps with reducing the density of the display.
Pruning branches is a good way to maintain an upright plant. Some species have heavy foliage so that culms bend. You may cut some branches if you want to reduce the bending.
If you want to maintain a certain height, you can cut back culms as well. Keep in mind that they just stay like this. They won’t grow upwards from there. If you still want to do this, cut just above a node. Otherwise, you’ll produce a brown last internode.
Root pruning might be another good routine every year or second year. This way you can make sure the bamboo is growing in the right place and not spreading towards the wrong side. Clumping bamboo is way easier to predict which makes it easier to maintain it in one place.
How to remove clumping bamboo?
Ok, sometimes you have no other choice but removing clumping bamboo. I get it. In this case, you need a spade and lots of energy.
Dig a trench next to or around the bamboo plant. It should be about 1 ft (30 cm) away from the canes and 1 ft deep. Angle the spade and ram it under the root ball. With a seesawing motion, you should be able to loosen up the plant in order to remove it.
Now check the ground if you got everything out. Don’t leave young shoots or a whole rhizome behind.
What do you do with the removed plants, though? If you want to dispose of the plants, I wouldn’t recommend putting it into the trash just like this. Ask at your local waste management what to do. They should give you the right answer. If this is unavailable, I would suggest you cut off the roots and burn them. This way they cannot keep growing in the landfill. If you have a trash bin for organic matter, you can put the rest in there, if not all of it.