Non-Invasive Bamboo - What Bamboo Does Not Spread?

Non-Invasive Bamboo – What Bamboo Does Not Spread?

You’ve probably heard before that bamboo is invasive due to its rapid growth (both laterally and vertically). Because of its vigorous growth habit, bamboo can quickly overtake nearby plants. However, it rarely presents a serious issue because unlike most invasive plants, it doesn’t typically spread by seed.

Not every type of bamboo spreads far and wide, however. There are two main types: clumping and running. Clumping bamboo doesn’t spread and can be considered the “non-invasive” type.

Now you’re probably thinking: “Ok, so I should plant clumping bamboo. But what is it? What species are clumping bamboos? What techniques can I use to prevent spreading?” We hear you, and we’ll answer all these questions in this article, so keep reading!

Is bamboo invasive?

An invasive species is defined as “an organism that is not indigenous, or native, to a particular area” and that adapts so quickly as to be damaging to the native plants and/or animals.

Most of the bamboo grown in North America is non-native. However, you might be surprised to learn that there are actually three kinds of bamboo that are native to North America! They are all in the Arundinaria genus, and native to the south-east Appalachian zone.

That said, although most bamboo grown in North America today is non-native, it doesn’t necessarily have to be invasive. For a plant to be invasive, it must spread rapidly and be damaging to its surroundings.

This is where the two main types of bamboo vary greatly: running bamboo can spread rapidly and choke out other plants, while clumping bamboo is much more stationary. Let’s get into this distinction more.

Bamboo plant with many culms and the text: What Bamboo is not invasive?

Bamboo types: clumping vs. running

Bamboo roots are mostly superficial. Rhizomes commonly develop within the top six inches of soil. They create feeder roots that stretch further underneath the soil. Normally, the roots don’t spread any more than 20 inches beneath the ground.

Bamboo rhizomes develop in one of two ways. Some develop in a clumping form while others develop in a running form. Of the two, clumping bamboo is non-invasive while running bamboo can be a cause of concern if allowed to spread unchecked.

What is clumping bamboo?

Clumping or sympodial bamboo has pachymorph or u-shaped rhizomes that develop upwards and grow into a culm. New rhizomes appear from shoots on a present rhizome. This chain effect encourages shoots to multiply within the existing area, giving the bamboo a “clumping” form.

In optimal growing conditions, clumping bamboo can reach a mature height in four to six years. Although its growth habit is predictable and requires little restraining, you should still maintain it properly (which we’ll get into later).

Generally, clumping bamboos can survive drought better than runners. They burrow reasonably deep and can live in shady conditions. The compact and solid root system develops in a compressed clump and grows gradually, usually not expanding more than several inches in a single year.

Green bamboo leaves with blue sky

Clumping bamboo is tropical, meaning that it is not very cold-hardy, and it can be a challenge to grow outside of USDA zones 8-10. There are a few mountain bamboos that are more cold-hardy. On the flip side, southern clumpers can be giants and spread quickly, much like running bamboos.

When it comes to clumping bamboos, the main obstacle is the climate zone. Another concern is the distribution of the canes in the clump. Although bamboo is adapted to grow tightly together, sometimes clumping bamboo gets so tight that canes become deformed and dead canes get stuck in the center, making them hard to reach without cutting through the outer layers.

However, clumping bamboo is still one of the best options for both beginning and experienced bamboo growers.

What are the advantages of clumping bamboos?

  • The superficial, non-invasive root system
  • Better suited for container growing
  • A quick-growing grass type
  • Great for wind protection, sound barriers, and privacy screening
  • Drought tolerant
  • Can be trimmed or shaped as desired
  • Many types with varying colors, patterns, and sizes
  • Prevents soil erosion
  • Can keep your garden cool and shady

Non-spreading bamboo varieties for your garden

The most common clumping-type genera of bamboo are: Bambusa, Fargesia, and (less common) Borinda. There are many different bamboo varieties with different aesthetics and advantages. Let’s have a look at the species you can start growing in your garden or in containers today!

SpeciesHeightHardinessUSDA Zone
Bambusa textilis ‘Gracilis’20-30 ft (10-12 m)13°F (-10C°)7-9
Bambusa multiplex10-30 ft (3-9 m)23-14°F (-5 to -10°C)8-10
Bambusa chungii20-25 ft (6-8m)21°F (-6°C)9-11
Bambusa ventricosa40-55 ft (12-17 m)18°F (-8°C)9-12
Bambusa multiplex ‘Riviereorum’20-30 ft (6-9 m)15-20°F (-21°C)6b-10
Bambusa ventricosa ‘Kimmei’30-40 ft (9-12m)21°F (-6°C)9-10
Fargesia murielae10-13 ft (3-4 m)-20°F (-29°C)5-9
Fargesia nitida10-12 ft (3-3.5 m)-20°F (-29°C)5-9
Fargesia nitida ‘Jiuzhaigou’9-12 ft (2.7-3.7 m)-20°F (-29°C)5-9
Fargesia robusta12-15 ft (3.5-4 m)0°F (-18°C)7-9
Borinda lushiensis25 ft (7.5m)25°F (-4°C)9-10

Bambusa genus

Bambusa is a genus of clumping bamboos that tend to have several branches growing out from the nodes. They can grow as tall as 35 ft (11 m). Bambusa bamboos are indigenous to Southeast Asia, the Himalayas, Papua New Guinea, and the Northern Territory of Australia. Here are some of our favorite clumping Bambusa varieties:

Slender tall culms of the Bambusa textilis variety with green foliage
Bambusa textilis

Bambusa textilis ‘Gracilis’ or Slender Weaver’s Bamboo

  • Height: 20-30 ft (10-12 m)
  • Stem diameter: 1.5-2 in (3.8-5 cm)
  • Hardiness: 13°F (-10C°)
  • USDA zones: 7-9
  • Light requirements: Partial shade or full sun

Unsurprisingly, Slender Weaver’s Bamboo has become a popular choice for privacy screens. It’s a beautiful upright bamboo that has lush, green, and dense foliage, making it a perfect provider of privacy! It can grow as tall as 30 ft (12 m) but it may be shorter depending on your climate and the growing conditions. Bambusa Gracilis is also a hardy plant that can survive temperatures as low as 10°F (-12°C).

Bambusa multiplex or Alphonse Karr Bamboo

  • Height: 10-30 ft (3-9 m)
  • Stem diameter: 2 in (5 cm)
  • Hardiness: 23-14°F (-5 to -10°C)
  • USDA zones: 8-10
  • Light requirement: Partial shade or full sun

The evergreen Alphonse Karr variety is a famous bamboo for fences or high screens and is, like the other clumping varieties in this list, non-invasive. Alphonse Karr has charming stems that are radiantly striped green or yellow with fresh growth in pinkish and greenish hues. It can be kept at around 10 ft tall with some general pruning.

Bambusa chungii with greyish blue culms in a forest
Bambusa chungii

Bambusa chungii

  • Height: 20-25 ft (6-8m)
  • Stem diameter: 1.5 in (3.8cm)
  • Hardiness: 21°F (-6°C)
  • USDA zones: 9-11
  • Light requirement: Partial shade or full sun

Bambusa chungii is a strikingly beautiful bamboo species commonly known as Tropical Blue Bamboo due to the dusty blue appearance of its culms. This unique species is native to Southern China and Vietnam. The culms grow upright and feature lush foliage which makes this non-invasive bamboo an excellent choice for privacy.

Bamboo culms of the Buddha Belly species with rounded internodes
Buddha Belly Bamboo

Bambusa ventricosa or Buddha’s Belly

  • Height: 40-55 ft (12-17 m)
  • Stem diameter: 2.25 in (6 cm)
  • Hardiness: 18°F (-8°C)
  • USDA zones: 9-12 
  • Light requirements: Partial shade or full sun

Bambusa ventricosa or Buddha’s Belly is a traditional decorative bamboo perfect for the hobby gardener. It’s known for its unusual habit to produce protruding culms (shaped like bellies), a tendency that’s directly impacted by the plant’s water weight.

Bambusa multiplex ‘Riviereorum’ or Chinese Goddess Bamboo

  • Height: 20-30 ft (6-9 m)
  • Stem diameter: 1.5 in (3.8 cm)
  • Hardiness: 15-20°F (-21°C)
  • USDA zones: 6b-10
  • Light requirements: Partial shade or full sun

Chinese Goddess Bamboo (also known as Hedge Bamboo) is a heat-loving and deer-resistant bamboo. The species will die back if the ground temperature falls to 8°F, but it will eventually grow back in summer. It can be cultivated as an ornamental grass with leaves and stems that stay green when the temperature is above 15°F.

Bambusa ventricosa ‘Kimmei’ or Yellow Buddha’s Belly Bamboo

  • Height: 30-40 ft (9-12m)
  • Stem diameter: 1.5-2 in (3.8-5 cm)
  • Hardiness: 21°F (-6°C)
  • USDA zones: 9-10
  • Light requirements: Partial shade or full sun

Yellow Buddha’s Belly Bamboo is an outstanding ornamental bamboo. Its tremendous flexibility and hardiness make it an exceptional alternative for various purposes like privacy screening, fences, windbreaks, bonsai, and more. It’s also recognized to be remarkably drought-resistant. Like its brother Buddha’s Belly Bamboo, it has a tendency to form beautiful and unique protruding culms. 

Fargesia genus

The Fargesia genus of bamboo is a mountain bamboo from West and South-West China. Bamboos in this genus are more cold-hardy than most and can thrive in shaded places with moderate temperatures. This type of bamboo is not recommended for areas with hot and dry climates where the temperatures stay above 70°F (21°C) even during the night, but it’s a great option for regions that get too cold for other types of bamboo.

Fargesia murielae or Umbrella Bamboo

  • Height: 10-13 ft (3-4 m)
  • Stem diameter: 0.5 in (13 mm)
  • Hardiness: -20°F (-29°C)
  • USDA zones: 5-9
  • Light requirements: Partial shade or full sun

Umbrella bamboo is named for its iconic umbrella shape: the foliage grows so dense and heavy that the culms bend outward beautifully. It’s a cold-hardy bamboo that can grow well in cool temperatures (down to -20°F or -29°C) and can grow as tall as 15 ft (5 m).

Bushy Fragesia nitida in a garden landscape behind a house
Fargesia nitida [Photo source: Bamboo Garden]

Fargesia nitida or Fountain Bamboo

  • Height: 10-12 ft (3-3.5 m)
  • Stem diameter: 0.75 in (1.9 cm)
  • Hardiness: -20°F (-29°C)
  • USDA zones: 5-9
  • Light requirements: Partial to full shade

Like Umbrella Bamboo, Fountain Bamboo gets its name from its unique shape. The lush and dense foliage makes it look like a water fountain because the culms bend outward. It’s very cold-hardy, resisting temperatures as low as -20°F or -29°C. It can get as tall as 12 ft (4 m). 

Red bamboo stems
Red Dragon Bamboo

Fargesia nitida ‘Jiuzhaigou’ or Red Dragon Bamboo

  • Height: 9-12 ft (2.7-3.7 m)
  • Stem diameter: 1 in (2.5 cm)
  • Hardiness: -20°F (-29°C)
  • USDA zones: 5-9
  • Light requirements: Partial shade or full sun

Red Dragon Bamboo is a very special variety of the Fargesia genus. The culms turn red when exposed to the sun! They start out in a grayish tone and turn dark red or purplish after some time in the sun. This variety does best in partial shade or with indirect sunlight. It is a rather rare and expensive bamboo that grows as tall as 12 ft (4 m). 

Green thin bamboo culms with white sheaths
Fargesia robusta

Fargesia robusta or Campbell Bamboo

  • Height: 12-15 ft (3.5-4 m)
  • Stem diameter: 0.75 in (1.9 cm) 
  • Hardiness: 0°F (-18°C)
  • USDA zones: 7-9
  • Light requirements: Partial shade or full sun

Campbell Bamboo is another unique Fargesia variety because it looks as if it’s striped or checkered. The sheaths are cream-white and the culms are light green. Fargesia robusta is more tolerant to sunlight than the other Fargesias. It also grows quite fast. 

Borinda genus

This bamboo genus includes the largest temperate clumping bamboos. They all form quite long internodes, which makes them look a little stretched. The culms are large, strong, and durable. The Borinda genus originated in the high altitudes of the Himalayan Mountains.

Borinda lushiensis or Yunnan 4 Bamboo

  • Height: 25 ft (7.5m)
  • Stem diameter: 1.5 in (3.8cm)
  • Hardiness: 25°F (-4°C)
  • USDA zones: 9-10
  • Light requirements: Partial shade or full sun

Yunnan 4 Bamboo is a tall bamboo with the most amazingly colored culms of a vibrant blue. It’s the tallest of its genus and grows up to 25 ft (8 m) tall. The characteristic of this variety is its dense green leaves. They are best grown in semi-shaded areas or a screened spot.

What are the different techniques of planting non-invasive bamboo?

Now that you know all about the different kinds of clumping bamboo, it’s time to know how to plant it! Luckily, it’s easy to cultivate clumping bamboo. However, although it’s already generally non-invasive, there are a few ways of planting it in a way to minimize the risk of it spreading. 

Pruning shears, a knife, and pliers on a table with bamboo sticks
Cutting tools

Culm cutting

Culm planting has several benefits: it’s easy, the transplant survival rate is high, and the growth rate quick. You can plant an entire culm or a cutting of it (with at least one node and one internode). Culm planting is a reliable method to use especially for beginning gardeners, as the culm will quickly be encouraged to form fresh shoots from existing nodes.

Simply take a cutting of an existing bamboo plant that’s at least 3-4 years old, and plant it in the ground or in a pot. Make sure to strip the leaves first. You can also seal off the end to prevent rotting with wax, and for extra assurance you can dip the end that’s going in the soil in a rooting hormone to encourage root growth.

Air-layering

Air-layering is rapidly gaining popularity in the bamboo cultivating world. This method works great for any kind of bamboo, but especially the larger kinds. Since air-layering doesn’t require you to take the cuttings off the parent plant, the success rate is quite high.

For this to work, you need to create a mix of soil, humus, and rooting hormone. Put this mix into plastic bags. Then, cut back the sheath of a branch shoot at the node of the parent bamboo so the fresh culm is exposed. Place the bag with soil at the base of this and tightly wrap it around the culm. Leave for a month or two, and when you come back, roots should have formed! At this point you can cut the shoot off entirely and plant it in a new spot.

Planting an entire stump

Another way to propagate your bamboo is to take an entire stump out and replant it in a new spot. This technique is great for propagating clumping bamboos because it also helps thin out tight clumps.

Take care when digging out a new stump; the fewer roots damaged, the better. With clumping bamboo, you can often get multiple culms out at once, which you can further divide and separate. Each will hopefully grow new roots and shoots when replanted.

To plant, dig a new trench and plant the stumps vertically. Cover with soil and straw, then water in. Usually, the stump can produce shoots and spread roots in 30-50 days. To keep the cycle going you can repeat this process the next season for a healthy growth habit!

Branch cuttings

A bamboo branch has two main types: the main branch and sub-branch. The sub-branches are best used for cuttings. They are quick to produce buds that germinate and spread roots. Taking a branch cutting doesn’t harm the parent bamboo.

When selecting a branch, look for one that is solid with small internodes, plump buds on its first to third nodes, and branch support with buds ready to sprout roots. A branch cutting can grow into a good-sized young plant in about three months, and can be transplanted again (out of the pot, for example) in about four to five months.

Do I need to confine my bamboo?

When it comes to growing bamboo, you’ve probably heard that you need to confine it to prevent it from spreading beyond your garden, out of pots, into the sidewalk, etc. However, this is mostly for running bamboo! Clumping bamboo is unique because its root system doesn’t spread as quickly nor as far as running bamboo.

Therefore, unlike with running bamboo, you don’t need to confine your clumping bamboo. If it does start spreading too much, you can trim back the outer shoots.

You can grow clumping bamboos in pots and planters, but be aware that eventually, they can outgrow this space without proper maintenance. When planting directly in the ground, it’s recommended to plant the bamboo about 2-4 feet away from any walls to provide some opportunity for growth and area for managing between your bamboo and the wall.

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Woman (Natalie) and man (James) in front of bamboo

We are James and Natalie – newly-weds & nature lovers!

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