Bamboo plants with green and dead culms ready to be pruned

How to Prune & Trim Bamboo Plants

If you want a perfect bamboo privacy screen or hedge, pruning and trimming should be part of your regular gardening tasks. This way, your bamboo will thrive and create an astonishing hedge.

Just think about it this way: Bamboo is a grass and it behaves like your lawn. In order to have a lush and thriving lawn, you have to trim it and care for it. The same goes for bamboo. You have to take care of them by pruning and trimming your bamboo plants.

Before we start explaining the tasks, we want to clear the grounds. Pruning and trimming are often used interchangeably. When we talk about pruning bamboo, we mean removing undesirable or dead branches and culms, as well as shaping the overall plant (like you would do with hedges). Trimming, on the other hand, takes care of overgrowth. So, it limits the height and spread.

Why should you prune and trim your bamboo plants?

Bamboos are classified as decorative plants because of their foliage, stems, and habit. The lush green foliage provides shade and aesthetic privacy. The stems have a wide variety of colors: green, black, yellow, striped, or spotted. Both together make bamboo an ornamental plant.

Bamboos can get very tall, but some varieties can even come in the form of a ground cover. So, don’t think all bamboo is massive. There are over a thousand species

Left alone, bamboo tends to grow unevenly and not all stems will be a delight to look at. A little maintenance ensures bamboo rejuvenation and encourages their branching. This is where pruning and trimming your bamboo plant would come in handy.

Trimming is very important with bamboo plants because of how fast they grow. If you don’t do this task often, it can overflow and exceed any limit. Clumping bamboo will get very dense and running bamboo may grow into areas you didn’t want. With regular trimming, you will save yourself a lot of headaches in the future. 

Clumping bamboo, in particular, grows very dense in a circular shape. Regular trimming or cutting away dead culms can lighten up the cluster a little bit and make it more appealing.

Running bamboo needs to be trimmed regularly so that it won’t grow on your neighbor’s property. Of course, you’ll have to install barriers but for a healthy bamboo, you still have to give it some room. If you leave one side open for new growth, you have to trim the roots.

One of the benefits of pruning and trimming your bamboo plants is that it can greatly improve the beauty and aesthetics. In addition, it improves their health.

Trimming and pruning bamboo is useful if you want to embellish the ornamental appearance by highlighting the stems and keeping the most beautiful culms.

A great advantage of bamboo when pruning is that it is a very resistant plant. So, even if you make a mistake you can make it look very good. 

Bleached bamboo stems and pruning tools with the text: Pruning & Trimming Bamboo

4 Methods to prune and trim bamboo

First of all, keep in mind that thanks to its resistance you can perform great pruning since it will grow again in a short time. Of course, be careful not to prune so much as to harm your plant. Definitely read our additional tips for pruning and trimming bamboo at the end of this article. This way you won’t do any harm to your plants.

1. Maintenance pruning

To start pruning bamboo, you should cut the dead bamboo culms which are easy to distinguish. They may have turned brown, probably have no foliage, or fell over. Removing those will give the plant’s energy to new shoots and growth.

Thinning involves cutting the oldest stem that is drying out or that is likely to cause overcrowding. You can also cut any stem that will cause overcrowding but when you have to decide, pick the least attractive or the oldest. You will see that you will develop a feeling for which one’s to cut away.

Also eliminate malformed and unsightly stem, to keep only the most beautiful. 

You should make a cut close to the ground or close to the root. This way you won’t see an undesirable brown stump.

2. Thinning

Each year, new bamboo shoots come to densify the groove more and more. Thinning this cluster will allow more airflow and sunlight. It also significantly improves its beauty. Some people may even want a specific density to showcase the ornamental stems.

Thinning should be done when your bamboo is fully mature. Once your bamboo plant is established, you can thin aggressively.

The purpose of thinning is to preserve the beauty and the particular elegance of bamboo. It is practiced every year and consists first of all in removing, by cutting them as close as possible to the ground, the dead stems of old bamboos and all those which would have suffered from the winter cold.

As you are removing a whole stem, you should cut it at ground level or a little lower. This way you’ll avoid the unattractive stump.

The thinning of the bamboo will leave room for the new and young, nicely leafy culms to the base, which will flesh out the tuft.

Golden bamboo with yellow stems and lush green foliage before pruning
Pruning and trimming of this bamboo grove could improve the aesthetics immensely

3. Limbing up or legging up

Do you want to reveal the intriguing colors of your bamboo culms? Limbing up is the best pruning method for this.

You will trim the lower branches (limbs) of your bamboo stems (legs). So, you’ll be exposing the stem. This enhances the beauty of your bamboo plant and gives it a unique look. It will also prevent the “limb” from growing again.

How much you want to reveal is up to you and maybe up to your fence. A lot of nature lovers have realized the beauty of the bamboo culms. So they plant it right in front of their fence to maximize privacy while looking at a lush green hedge instead of a fence. You can use this fence as a level for limbing up your bamboo. This way the foliage covers everything above.

4. Topping

Trim the stems to the desired height. Topping is carried out to eliminate an uneven look and limit the growth upwards. 

It is also a great way to make arching bamboos bend less. As you cut off the top the culm and branches, you also eliminate the weight of the foliage so that they will stand up straighter.

1. Step: Pick a desired height

It is best to take a look at it from a distance and pick a certain height. Especially bamboo hedges may require a certain height and width.

Keep in mind that the stem won’t grow anymore, only the branches will.

Once you decided on a height, you can start cutting. If you are a perfectionist, you can install a guideline. Simply tie it to the stems. This way you’ll have a reference. This, however, only works if you can cut them in place. Another way is marking the height. Measuring the height (e.g. 12 ft / 4 m) and add a mark for the cut. Then you can bend each culm and cut it.

2. Step: Getting the tools ready

You need to use sharp pruning shears, loppers, or hand saw depending on the culm width. Make sure to clean the tools before starting (disinfection). 

3. Step: Topping or trimming the top

When topping bamboo, you want to make the cut just above a node (the horizontal line). You may feel the urge to cut the branches to get better access but don’t do it! These will provide the lush foliage so you want to keep them. Only cut about 1/4 of an inch above the node. 

If you cut below the node you will have a brown top (all the way down to the next node).

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

What tools do I need in order to prune and trim my bamboo plants?

You might want to keep sharp pruning shears and a blade sharpener really close to you, they’ll come in handy when pruning your bamboo plant. You may opt-in for long handles for ease of use and for the higher branches.

If your bamboo has really large culms, a hand saw or heavy-duty loppers will be necessary. 

You’ll be needing gloves and eye protection as well.

If you want to shape your bamboo plants nicely, don’t forget the hedge trimmer. It’s very helpful for creating a small hedge and maintaining a ground cover bamboo. 

A ladder is only needed if you want to cut the tops and if you have very thick culms. Otherwise, you can easily grab and bend the stems to trim.

To cut large diameter bamboo neatly, and to cut dry bamboo stems, work with the hacksaw.

Here is a list of recommended tools for pruning & trimming bamboo!

When to prune or trim bamboo?

The best time to prune bamboo varies according to species and takes place either at the end of winter or at the end of spring. 

  • In February-March: before the resumption of vegetation for cleaning dry and damaged stem during the winter.
  • In late spring: running June-July for the trimming the top, training, and thinning.

Nevertheless, all bamboos can be pruned once a year, except during the period of growth of new stems from mid-April to the end of July. Meanwhile, fully grown culms can be cut at any time of the year. 

Dwarf bamboos can be pruned at the end of winter, to give them a more beautiful, denser, more regular shape.

Tips for pruning bamboo plants

You can keep your bamboo looking its best by pruning the plant from time to time. When doing so, the focus should not simply be on maintaining the appeal. As you get rid of any weak culms that draw the plant’s energy, you’ll also improve the health and promote new growth.

What should be pruned?

The first pruning should get rid of any weak or dead stems or branches. They usually turn brown or yellow, they are wilted or have a wrinkled appearance. You should know how your healthy stems look like. So, get rid of all the unhealthy ones first.

You can eliminate the dead culms without damaging the plant. Cut them with a sharp knife directly at the ground.

Cutting all branches in the lower third of the stem and pruning the branches in the middle third of the branch is recommended for a better appearance.

Prune any branch of the culms that looks wilted or dead. However, never cut off all branches of a culm. This will be deadly to the plant. You should leave at least 3 branches (absolute minimum).

Bleached bamboo plants with yellow stems and white areas
Here you see some bleached stems that could be cut

Tips for trimming your bamboo plant

Trimming serves to limit the size of the plant. Without occasional cutting, bamboo will continue to grow upwards as well as outwards. If you are growing your bamboo indoors, you may have to trim it before it gets too tall.

Where to cut a bamboo culm? 

To maintain the aesthetics of your bamboo plant, it’s important you consider the exact spot on the culm.  Simply cut above a node on the culm. This way you’ll keep the branches for wonderful foliage and you won’t have a brown stump. You see, a damaged internode will die. So, if you cut below the node the area between the node and the cut will become unsightly.

You don’t need to worry about choosing a spot to cut if you intend to get rid of the culm completely. Then you can cut the culms very close to the ground or closer to the root (about 1 ft / 30 cm deep).

Should you trim young bamboo?

It is recommended not to cut it until the bamboo is at least 3 years old. However, this is aimed more at commercial plantations in which it is intended to obtain an economic benefit, and in which the wood must have specific characteristics.

Even so, if it is cut earlier, the development of the plant can be affected, and this is not desirable in almost any scenario, even in the case of bamboo planted in the garden.

How much to cut?

To preserve the vigor and health of the plant, no more than 3/4 of the culms should be cut, it is even better not to exceed half of them.

Conversely, it is also not beneficial to leave all stems uncut indefinitely, as this also slows down the production of new culms and the renewal of bamboo.

You should never trim all branches. The plant needs it so you would simply kill the stem by getting rid of the branches.

Does bamboo regrow when trimmed?

If you cut off the top, the culm will stop growing taller. Only the branches will keep growing. Trimming the top of your bamboo plant doesn’t mean that the entire clump/plant stops growing. 

The bamboo plant is amazing, it would not regrow on the exact spot you cut it. New shoots would come up very close to the spot.

However, it’s best not to cut down all the stems. When you cut all of them, the grove sends up more shoots. You would get different sizes of culms when you cut just some of them during the shooting season.

Beware, your bamboo culms will not regrow if you completely remove the top of your bamboo (including all branches). The culms actually grow from the energy that is provided by the leaves. Without them, your plant will suffer and eventually die. So, the branches are necessary for new growth. 

Conclusively, trimming bamboo will not stop it from growing. However, the culms will grow from the base and not the cut culm. 

See-through tunnel made with dried bamboo stems
An example for using the bamboo stems that you’ve cut down

What to do with the cut stems?

Don’t throw away the cut culms. You can use them as stakes for potted plants or in the garden. Bamboo culms can also be used to make fences, privacy screens, pergolas, or arbors. There are so many options for crafts!

Pruning and trimming your bamboo plants is a magical touch for beauty, health, and rejuvenation. A little of your time and effort every year can achieve this. We hope this guide will make the entire experience easier for you.

Have you tried pruning your bamboo plants before? Tell us about it in the comments! Did we leave any questions unanswered? Let us know!

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About Us

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

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

We want to give you the best information possible on bamboo. Get inspired to grow bamboo or to switch to natural bamboo products!