While most temperate bamboos are cold hardy, there are a few that are not. In addition, every plant’s cold hardiness also has its limits. In order to ensure that your plants do not get damaged by the freezing cold, there are certain things you need to do to protect your bamboo plants.
To keep your bamboo healthy in winter, you have several options. You can move them to a warm shelter (this usually works for bamboos in pots). You can prepare the soil for better insulation. Using bubble wrapped planters would also be a great idea.
However, what works for in-ground bamboos may not work for bamboos in containers. So, how you’ve planted your bamboo and whatever age it is, we’ve prepared a detailed guide to help you prepare your bamboo plants for winter.
Do you want to jump ahead?
First, how does winter affect bamboo plants?
Keeping your plants healthy through the winter will promote spring growth. When bamboo freezes, it stops the flow of fluid and nutrients in the plant. This causes serious damage to the bamboo.
During winter months, adequate insulation is very important. You won’t have many problems in winter if you’ve got a hardy bamboo plant. On the other hand, if your plant isn’t hardy and it gets exposed to freezing temperatures, you’ll probably damage and eventually kill your bamboo plants.
The wrong bamboo for your climate
Winter becomes even more harmful to your bamboo when you’ve got the wrong plant for your climate. If you live in a climate with cold temperatures, you should have planted a cold-hardy bamboo species. If your area has a short cold period, then you can do well with a tropical species.
Bamboo is usually sold with a label that carries certain details which will normally include its tolerance to extreme cold. There are certain bamboos that will only tolerate mild climates. Other hardy species might tolerate the cold winter of the mountain regions but only down to a certain level.
What it comes down to: you should know your USDA zone and get bamboo according to this. For instance, the label may state the plant is hardy to -4°F (-20°C) and other species may indicate they will only survive in temperatures down to 23°F (-5°C).
However, you should check the least temperature recorded. These days, extreme weather patterns mean we can’t rely on the records of lowest temperatures thinking that it won’t go lower than that in the future.
If you have temperatures that regularly go down to 14°F (-10°C) there is no telling if one year that will go down to 5°F. In that case, getting bamboo that is hardy to 5°F would be perfect. It ensures that it will survive and recover well for the next growing season.
Again, if you intend to plant in containers, ideally, you should go for a lower USDA zone like zone 5 if you live in zone 6. This is because bamboo grown in planters has less insulation than bamboo grown in-ground.
How to prepare your young bamboo plants for winter?
Established bamboo can survive quite well in winter. Most bamboo plants can thrive throughout the winter season without problems once they are established.
However, during the first few years, your bamboo is just beginning to establish a full colony of underground rhizomes. So as your bamboo increases in biomass, it’ll stay better insulated during the winter season naturally.
Bamboo plants are more prone to frost damage in their first three years. So at this point, your plant is more vulnerable and would require more attention and preparation. So if your bamboo is not hardy and you get freezing temperatures for weeks, it might result in the death of your bamboo.
Nevertheless, a sudden drop in temperature might not badly damage your plant. It’ll only be severed when the ground freezes, actually once your roots are alive then your plant will revive in spring. Since this is the case with new plantings and bamboo that isn’t hardy, let’s examine how to prepare bamboo in a container and in the ground.
Preparing bamboo in pots & planters for winter
Bamboo plants in containers are going to freeze faster than in-ground bamboo. This is because the soil of the bamboo planted in containers would not benefit from the natural insulation provided by the earth. So, the roots are going to be colder and likely suffer in the winter.
Mostly, bamboo planted in a larger container would get more insulation for their rhizomes. You should know that the freezing of the container would impede the transfer of nutrients and cause damage to the foliage.
How to prepare container bamboo for winter?
There are a few methods you can use to prepare your bamboo planted in a container for winter:
- Move them inside: The advantage of potted plants is that they can be moved indoors. You can decide to move them to a sheltered position like the garage, or into a greenhouse if you have one big enough to contain your plant. This is the safest method to keep your bamboo healthy in winter.
- Keep the bamboo plants at 40-50°F (4-10°C).
- You must know that your bamboo needs light. So you’ll have to move them outdoors again as soon as the temperatures rise.
- You should add a thick layer of mulch on top and around the soil. This would boost the strength of the soil and give insulation (it’s like a blanket). About 2-4 inches or more of pine needles, wood chips, grass clippings, or whatever you have available provides excellent protection to the root zone during hard freezes and dry winter conditions.
- If you can’t move them in, you can use soil warming cables to heat the soil and prevent the soil from freezing.
- Use bubble wrap around the planters or wrap the pot in burlap (especially if the bamboo is not hardy to your temperature).
Winterize bamboo planted in the ground
Since ground temperatures are usually warmer than it is above the ground, this makes in-ground bamboo less prone to freezing. In-ground bamboo also has a much larger root mass that can endure harsh weather conditions. So you basically don’t have to do much to prepare them for winter, but let me suggest these few procedures.
How to prepare in-ground bamboo for winter?
- To prevent the soil from freezing, you can apply heavy mulch around the plants. It can be as thick as 6 inches. This will keep the roots warmer and more moist.
- Covering your young bamboo with mini greenhouse tents would be a great idea. However, you should know that this would block rain from entering your soil, so you would have to water your plant later.
Additional bamboo winterizing tips
Mulching is the best idea in any case. Bamboo is not too picky with this, it just requires warmth. So you can even try leaves and pine straw. Adding mulch would protect your bamboo from the harsh weather, even summer temperatures. So, mulching should be done anyways.
For severe winter conditions, you can place stakes around the perimeter of your bamboo, place wire mesh around the stakes, ensure that you fill the area up with mulch (the deeper the better).
Don’t be in a hurry to cut the culms
It’s not an awesome idea to cut back culms right before winter. While this might help to preserve the appearance, it’s not beneficial to the health of the plant.
In more severe weather such as prairies, it’s important to protect your plant from the wind. So, trimming your plants can harm them. You should wait until the end of the cold season.
You shouldn’t rely on anti-desiccant sprays
Anti-desiccant sprays may have been known to work effectively. Anti-desiccant sprays are used on plants to retain water and hold in moisture throughout the cold winter months. But here’s the thing, you should not use it as a substitution for the normal procedures to keep your plant healthy.
Allow snow to melt
If you find your bamboo covered in ice or snow it is best to leave it alone and wait for it to melt. Bamboo is very flexible, but shaking the culms at this time will likely lead to damage.
Make sure your soil drains well
In Winter, a well-draining soil would save your bamboo a lot of trouble. If your soil holds water, it’ll freeze faster. So ensure you’ve got a well-draining soil before winter. This is very important for bamboo plants in containers.
Try insulating materials
Using bubble wrap around containers or any other insulating material would help with shorter freezing periods.
Don’t worry about the shedding leaves
Your bamboo may get yellow leaves or shed leaves due to stress. And the freezing cold is definitely stressful for your bamboo.
If your bamboo starts shedding its leaves in winter. Don’t worry too much about it. Although bamboo stays green all year round, there can be exceptions.
This may not happen every winter but it’s certain that the underground part of your plant is still alive and will regrow in Spring.
Finally, if your bamboo dies to the ground, it’s not time to give up on it. There’s a slight chance it’ll recover.
With minimal effort, you can prepare your bamboo and keep it healthy through the winter.
Do you think preparing your bamboo for winter is pretty difficult? Then, you should select cold-hardy species that would survive the winter cold.
Normally, hardy plants would survive cold winter climates, bamboo is no different. You can choose from the hardy species that can tolerate a range of low temperatures and freezing weather.