Are you wondering about the essentials of bamboo plant care and possible steps for troubleshooting? Well, then you have come to the right place!
If you decided to grow bamboo in your garden, you might be wondering how to take care of it. Maintaining a healthy bamboo plant is actually quite straightforward. Once planted, they don’t need much care in order to thrive. However, there are a few key factors you have to know about but it’s far from complicated.
In this article, we assume you already have your bamboo planted and they are starting to grow. If you are looking for a planting guide, this isn’t the right article for you. You’re better off with this one.
Something that I need to point out right away is that this blog post is about real bamboo plants. We are not talking about “Lucky Bamboo” here.
Do you want to jump ahead?
The most important thing about taking care of your bamboo plants
Before we can start talking about bamboo plant care, there is one essential thing that you need to know:
The species that you have planted or that you are going to plant.
Yep, this is the number one important factor for maintaining your bamboo.
The reason for this is that there are too many different species to give you a step-by-step health plan for your type of plant. Knowing the species will allow you to determine some key factors, such as sun, water, humidity, and fertilizer requirements. Not every species needs the same exact environment. There are species that like soggy soil although the majority hates it. There are types that thrive in full sun and others prefer shade.
So, keep in mind that this page is talking about general tips. If you need specific guidance, it’s best to check out your bamboo species.
What are the essentials for taking care of your outdoor bamboo
So, what do most outdoor bamboos have in common? How can you take good care of your plants? Let’s have a look at the basics.
Whether you plant your bamboo in the ground or in a container/pot, the soil needs to be well drained, light in structure, aerated, and rich in nutrients. They love moist soil without being soggy or water-logged. If the ground doesn’t drain well, root rot can become a problem.
What type of soil does bamboo like?
As a matter of fact, bamboo is not really picky with the type of soil. The most important part is already said above. Loamy soil tends to have the best properties for growing bamboo.
The pH level of the soil depends on the species you have. Most species like it pH neutral to slightly acidic. If you are unsure about your soil’s pH level, you can buy a testing kit.
Is there a difference in soil between planter-grown bamboo and ground-grown bamboo?
No, not for the soil. The same applies to both ways. However, it might be trickier to maintain healthy soil in the ground versus container. You can exchange, add, or remove the soil from pots, containers, and raised garden beds easier.
Water is important to all plants and to bamboo particularly because it’s origin is the rainforest.
How often should I water my bamboo?
The water needs vary with age and season. Young plants or transplants need way more water than mature plants. You should water those at least twice per week. Once your bamboo plants are mature and the root system has developed, it’s enough to do this once a week.
Don’t worry about watering if you have regular rain. This should provide enough moisture. If you have a dry season, you should manually irrigate with rainwater or tap water.
How often should I water my container grown plants?
Bamboo grown in containers, planters, or pots need more water because they cannot retain the moist as good as ground grown plants. Especially in summer, you should water them 3-4 times a week. Mulch can protect in this case (I will talk about this later in this article).
Is there a seasonality?
Yes, there is. It is best to start watering your bamboo in late winter or early spring as the new shoots and leaves are preparing to come up. You should continue to water your bamboo at least once a week throughout the growing season. Skip the irrigation in winter unless you have container grown plants where the soil has gotten very dry.
Do I water my bamboo enough?
In most cases, you can tell if you’re not watering your plants enough. The leaves will curl. The more tightly they are curled, the more water the plant needs. If this happens, don’t fear, just pick up your watering routine until the plant leaves start to relax.
Spring is the fall season for bamboo. This means that they will naturally lose their foliage. So, don’t panic, it is most likely not a watering issue.
Do note, though, that certain bamboo varieties may have curled leaves when exposed to too much sunlight. The red dragon bamboo is one example. You can see the leaves uncurl again later in the day.
Do I overwater my bamboo?
This is highly linked to the soil. As long as the ground drains well, you should not have issues with overwatering.
Sunlight & heat
You can’t really control the sun itself but you can control the amount of sunlight your plant gets and prevent stress from overexposure and drought.
Depending on the species you have, your plants may not like direct sunlight. This is actually something you have to consider before even planting.
When does direct sun become a problem?
Typically speaking, most bamboo varieties will prefer an environment with partial shade, although some varieties need up to eight hours of sun! Humidity levels also matter. Most bamboo will be able to withstand higher heat in areas with higher humidity because they don’t lose as much of their water.
How to protect bamboo plants from intense sun and heat?
If you believe that the direct sun turns the leaves brown, you can install a sunshade or shade cloth.
In areas that are drier or for the hot summer, you may want to consider watering your plants more frequently during the summer. You can also add a layer of mulch to prevent drying out (I cover this after the fertilizer).
Bamboo is a vigorous plant on its own. You don’t necessarily fertilize it. More important is a proper soil. As tempting as it may be to apply lots of fertilizer, this can lead to plenty of weak canes. Periodic moderate applications should ensure strong healthy canes. Trust me this is better than a huge amount of slim weak culms!
How often should I fertilize?
If you feel the need to fertilize, do so after your last hard frost in winter or early spring. It should also take place before new shoots appear.
You can continue to periodically fertilize throughout spring and summer but you should not extend fertilizing into the winter months or inactive growing season.
What fertilizer should I use?
Have you ever planted or sown grass? Well, it is basically the same because bamboo belongs to the grass family. In other words, you want a fertilizer high in nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus.
There’s no need to over-complicate it. You can just get a liquid lawn fertilizer or lawn food. I prefer organic fertilizers over chemical concoctions, but either will work and should be easy to find at any store that sells fertilizers for grass.
You can also get bamboo specific fertilizers, but a lot of them are for lucky bamboo (which isn’t real bamboo).
Mulch is important for protecting your plants from weather extremes by keeping the root system warm in the winter and moist during dry periods. Depending on what material you are using, it can also give back nutritional value to the soil.
What mulch should I use?
The most natural and money-saving mulch is the foliage itself. If you don’t rake it up, you’ll have a layer already.
You can also choose to make your own mulch by using lawn clippings, composted manure, leaves, bark, wood chips, straw, and other yard debris as long as it isn’t to “hot” (fresh manure). If this is not available to you, you can also buy pre-packaged mulch in any garden center.
One thing to consider when choosing your mulching material is that some materials, such as lawn clippings and composted manure, can be a source of weeds or diseases.
Helpful hint: Laying down a few layers of cardboard or newspaper underneath the mulch can help prevent weeds that are already in the soil. They will eventually decompose and add nutrients to the soil. Worms are a great way to aerate the soil and they turn composting material into compost – I really love it!
How much mulch do I need to add?
A layer of 2-6 inches (5-15 cm) will be enough to give your plants the protection they need. If you are suffering from very hot days or extremely cold days, you may add a 12-inch layer (30 cm). Simply spread the mulch around the plant. You don’t need that much mulch if you have container grown bamboo.
You should have a certain routine in place in order to maintain the health and beauty of your bamboo plants. Some species require more maintenance than others. Running bamboo has one big disadvantage: you have to control the spread.
So let’s see what tasks you may have to perform on an annual basis.
Thinning and pruning your plants
If you want a healthy glorious bamboo grove, you should thinnen and prune it in spring.
Simply cut off dead or weak culms at ground level. Thinning your bamboo will provide more light, rain, and air to the dense center. This will leave room to grow and may result in taller and thicker canes. You may also cut older stems (4+ years) in order to use them for construction and crafts (in case you have a suitable species).
You should cut it above the nodes with pruning shears or another sharp tool. Be smart and wear gloves and goggles for your own safety.
If you cut below the node the part above a node will die which leaves you with a brown stump. You can also cut off any other canes that you wish to, for instance, if you want a specific shape to your grove.
Controlling the spread
While more an issue of control than care, if you have running bamboo you may need to think about trimming the roots. This doesn’t really sound like very good bamboo plant care but it won’t hurt your bamboo.
To do this, simply dig up a foot of soil at the border of where you don’t want the plant to spread and trim back any roots you find here. Running bamboo roots usually resign in the topsoil (no deeper than 20″) and should be fairly easy to recognize. If you want to make this process even easier, simply dig a one foot by one foot trench around the plant (or on the side you wish to limit growth) and fill this in with rocks, sand, wood chips, or other easily removable (organic) debris. Then, once a year in fall, dig up this trench and simply snip any rhizomes that are trying to grow through it to the other side. This method is actually fairly easy and effective, but for a more serious approach consider using a barrier or a planter.
If you want your bamboo to stay a certain height, feel free to trim it above a node, this isn’t a required aspect of bamboo plant care, but it might be necessary for you personally. Trimming it above a node will keep the plant looking sharp when it otherwise might look part dead on the top. After trimming it to height, the bamboo below the node will begin to fill out and become the new canopy.
Bamboo isn’t a mystery plant it’s fairly straightforward and not a big fusser! Certain signs will give you hints what to do.
Why are the leaves of my bamboo plant curling up?
If you start seeing the leaves begin to curl you should water more regularly or for longer periods of time. This is often a sign of dehydration.
In some cases, it is a common behavior when exposed to direct sun, though. Either wait until evening and check again, or protect your plants from the sun using a shade cloth or moving it into the shade.
Why are the leaves of my bamboo turning yellow?
This can I have several reasons. It can be a lack of water, the exposure to direct sun, or malnutrition. We actually have a whole article about this because it is such a common question.
Why are the canes of my bamboo plants turning yellow and brown?
There are multiple reasons for this as well. It can either be harsh weather, dehydration, malnutrition, pests, or direct sunlight.
As it is an intense topic, we covered this in a separate article.
Why is my bamboo turning black?
This would be a very rare case. If it happens to you, it is very likely that you have bad draining soil. This means that the water is standing on top of the ground and causes the bamboo roots to rot. This causes a black discoloration at the bottom. The best thing to do is fixing the soil condition.
How do I exchange soil because it doesn’t drain well?
If you noticed that the soil is water-logged, you may need to improve it. This sounds very labor intensive but you need to do it for healthy plants.
First, you should know what is causing the drainage problem. Is the soil too hard, you should add sand and manure. Is it too sandy, you need some clay and/or manure. Once you figured out which one it is, get the necessary ingredients. If that’s not something you can measure, get a loamy soil and replace the soil in total.
Dig up the soil around the plants including the root system. Then mix the current soil with the additives, and put it back in or fill it with fresh soil.
If you have running bamboo, this might be a great opportunity to install a barrier if you haven’t done yet.