Ok, so you are definitely planting bamboo in your garden or inside your house. But you are still wondering, which bamboo species you should pick. Well, you’ve come to the right place!
There are many, many different bamboos, which consequently means that you have to do extensive research. However, this article should help you along to give you a basis. I don’t want to sell you bamboo but I want to help you figure out what kind of bamboo you should buy based on your needs. Let’s not waste our precious time and dive right in!
What you need to know before purchasing bamboo
Before we can start, I want to start with the basics. There are two main types of bamboo: running and clumping. There is a huge difference between those two. I will list some pros and cons below. If you want to learn more about them and see graphics of the root systems, click here.
- Spreads fast and far with their long rhizomes (can travel many feet)
- You need to install root barriers and check on the spread annually (higher demand in maintenance)
- Fills in areas faster, which means you don’t have to buy as many plants
- More variety (easier to find for sale)
- Certain species may be restricted in your local area
- Doesn’t spread fast (only grows a few inches per year, which is just added to the current plant)
- Doesn’t fill up areas fast, which means you have to buy more plants for your project
- No root barriers are necessary
- Lower demand in maintenance (except for thinning and divisions if you don’t want it too dense)
- Fewer varieties available for sale
How to pick the right bamboo species?
There are thousands of bamboo species ranging from 100 feet tall to only a few inches tall. Each one has its own features, appearance, and price tag. In order to pick the right plant for you, you have to answer some fundamental questions to yourself. Otherwise, you might be left with a situation that you cannot control.
What’s your climate?
The next thing you have to consider is your climate zone. We typically sort bamboo plants is by USDA zones or hardiness temperature.
Bamboo is thought of as a tropical plant, but some species can be hardy to -20°F (-29°C). Typically speaking, if you live in zone 3 or 4, it’s best to plan on moving your plants inside in the winter. This means you can only grow them in containers.
Maybe you are not worried about the lowest temperatures, but you need a drought-resistant plant. Although bamboo loves a certain amount of water because it’s a tropical plant, you have still a couple of species to choose from.
Do you live on the coast and have to deal with salty air? There are only a few species that do well in coastal areas.
Where will you plant the bamboo?
This is actually something people don’t always think about beforehand. The spot where the bamboo grows is important though. Knowing how much sun is shining, how windy it gets there, and how the soil is, will be important for a healthy thriving plant.
Many bamboo species require shade, but others may need up to eight hours of sunlight. Some prefer morning and evening sun, while others love the mid-day sunshine. Bamboo of the Fargesia species, for example, curls up the leaves in full sun.
Another thing to consider is wind. Are you going to plant the bamboo in a windy spot? Do you want it as a windbreak or do you have a protected spot already? If you need your bamboo plants as a windbreak, you have to pick a sturdy plant. Thin culms will bend and break.
If you are growing in the ground, you should know the soil quality. It should drain well, otherwise, your bamboo will suffer from standing in water. This includes the layers below the actual plant. The rhizomes are only 1 ft deep (30 cm). The roots go deeper, about 2-3 ft (60-90 cm). The grounds below should still drain well, especially if you live somewhere where it rains a lot.
Are you going to grow your bamboo plants in containers? Then you’ll have more control over the soil and water. This also means you’ll have to water them more often and keep them more protected from drought and frost. Another task, container bamboo will add to your plate is repotting. They outgrow the planter every 2-3 years.
Do you want to grow the bamboo inside? This is surely a whole different thing. They are going to be more protected from the weather but this reveals other challenges. Please, check out this article about indoor bamboo!
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How tall do you want it to get?
When you are picking your bamboo plants, you have to know what height to expect them to get. This highly depends on the species, climate, and overall growing conditions. So, average or maximum heights may not even get close to what you’ll have.
Let me give you an example: You are picking Phyllostachys vivax because it’s a cold-hardy species that does well in coastal areas. You are living in USDA zone 6a, though. You might “only” get a height of 30-40 ft, instead of 70 ft. Although it says that P. vivax can grow in zones 6-10, you are still at the colder side of the spectrum here.
Another factor that affects the height is whether you plant bamboo in the ground or in containers. It might only grow to half of its potential height.
What look do you prefer?
Everyone has preferences. And when it comes to garden design, you might just have something specific in mind. Or you don’t.
Bamboo comes in different shapes and colors. You can get yellow bamboo, black bamboo, and even red bamboo. Do you want striped culms? Do you want zig-zaggy culms or irregularly shaped internodes? There are really plenty of options!
What purpose will it serve?
For some people, it might just be an accent in their garden. For others, it will be more than that.
Bamboo is great for privacy screens or hedges, for example. Some species can grow so tall that they’ll easily block off nosy neighbors.
Maybe you also want to benefit from edible bamboo shoots. In this case, you have to look into species that provide that. You can’t eat the shoots of every species and some are more delicious than others. Click here to see some bamboo species with edible shoots.
Another purpose could be woodwork. If you want to use some grown culms for woodwork or crafts, you should get timber bamboo.
What’s your budget?
This is an important question! There are regular plants and there are rare species. The space you need to cover and whether you want running or clumping bamboo will affect your budget.
All pre-purchase questions summed up again
So, with all this in mind, ask yourself these questions and be honest with yourself. Although bamboo is a grass it’s more like picking a tree for your backyard. You should think about it a bit longer than when you pick a flower. Ultimately, they grow super tall and then it’s harder to remove them.
- Do you have the time to maintain and contain your bamboo?
- Are any bamboo species restricted in your area?
- Do you want it to spread faster in order to fill in space quicker?
- Do you know your USDA Zone or hardiness zone?
- Do you have to deal with droughts?
- Where will you plant the bamboo (sun, wind, in-ground, planters)?
- How tall do you want the plant?
- What appearance would you like?
- What purpose will they serve?
- What’s your budget?
Where to buy your bamboo?
By now you should have an idea of how to decide what bamboo you want to buy for your intended purpose. So, let’s talk about where to buy bamboo plants.
Obviously the best option is to find a local nursery with bamboo plants for sale. This shouldn’t be too much of an issue in bigger cities and suburban areas. Especially if you aren’t seeking one specific bamboo species and are happy with the more common varieties.
It is a good idea to make sure the nursery has a good reputation so they can deliver accurate information about how a plant grows, especially in your region (the biggest benefit of buying locally!).
Local nurseries may also be the best way to get larger and older plants since shipping these types of plants can be costly.
Another benefit is that you can check for any diseases or illnesses. You cannot do this with plants that you purchase online.
Bamboo Plants Online
If you can’t find a reputable grower locally (which is often the case), you should be able to find a reputable grower online.
Buying through an online nursery can be beneficial in the sense that these specialize in bamboo alone and their expertise can help you find the perfect plant. Online nurseries also provide a larger variety of bamboo plants for sale than what you might find at a local nursery.
Although not recommended at all, if you don’t care exactly what kind of bamboo you get or if you’re willing to plant bamboo from seed or get small plants there’s a good chance you will be able to find cheap bamboo plants for sale.
Bamboo plants can be found for sale in many local stores, such as Home Depot or Lowes. It’s hard to determine what you’re going to get when you purchase bamboo from stores like this, but you can often get good deals. However, they probably won’t have the knowledge and quality that specialized nurseries have.
Another way to get cheaper bamboo plants is through local classifieds or at auction sites, such as Ebay. You may need to have some diligence when ordering bamboo from these types of locations.
Lastly, if you’re interested in buying more exotic varieties at a potentially cheaper price you should tune into the American Bamboo Society auctions which also happen at local chapters (there may be one near you!). These bamboos are obviously not cheaper than popular bamboo variations but they are grown by reputable breeders.
Some people get lucky and are able to get free bamboo specimens. The easiest way to do this is by taking a cutting (with permission, of course) from someone who already has an established plant.
Another way to find free bamboo plants is to check Craigslist or local classifieds. The downside of getting free bamboo is that there is a good chance you won’t know much, if anything, about the plant you get.
Picking out your bamboo plants
If you do have the privilege of picking out your bamboo in person these tips should help you.
Pick plants with large roots and large yellow rhizomes. Brown rhizomes are a bad sign! Note, though, that some parts of the rhizome will be covered by a sheath which can make it look brown. Since bamboo generates new culms each year, it’s more important that the plant has healthy roots above everything.
The next thing you should check out is the newest culms (especially if you can’t see the roots). Old culms may look big and beautiful or small and weak, but they won’t be a good representation of how the plant has fared since being potted. New culms should be healthy and vigorous. If you get a plant that looks like it has “ok” new canes expect the plant to look “ok” as it grows.
If you find the roots and culms to be looking great then the foliage should look decent as well… and that’s all the plant needs. But, if the plants you’re looking at have equally healthy looking roots and canes selecting the best foliage is a bonus.