Questions From The Plant Clinic: Clumping Bamboo
Is bamboo a good option for your garden? It has a bad name in some places, but part of picking a plant for your landscape is knowing the right plant for the right place. Clumping bamboo can be a great choice for some spaces. In this article, Master Gardener Volunteer Carol teaches you how to pick a bamboo that will work for your landscape. You can read more articles by our Master Gardener Volunteers [here].
If you have a fence you want to hide or a neighbor’s house you don’t want to see or hear from, you might consider planting some clumping bamboo. When most people hear the word bamboo, they think of the plant that can take over your whole yard in what seems like an instant, but there are actually two kinds of bamboo growth habit.
What is Bamboo?
Bamboo is a grass and an amazingly versatile plant. Some bamboo species can live for 100 years, spreading using their underground runners before flowering and then, once they flower, dying. There are more than 1000 species of bamboo ranging in height from 1 foot to 100 feet. Three species, all running bamboo, are even native to North America. You can harvest bamboo to make stakes or fences or place mats. It is a popular source for flooring, and I have seen it in Asia being used for scaffolding for building projects. Of course, you can even eat the sprouts (undeveloped stem shoots) of some species.
Running Bamboo – An Invasive Addition
Running Bamboo spreads by rhizomes (underground runners) that may grow out 20 to 30 feet from the main stem before emerging from the ground. It can go under concrete to colonize new areas of a landscape, and can be difficult to remove. In some cases if it is abandoned to escape into local native areas, it can also push out local ecosystems and replace them with a monoculture of bamboo. Dr. David Coyle of Clemson University named it Invasive of the Quarter in a 2019 article [here]. While it does seem bent on overwhelming the world, the other type, clumping bamboo, stays in tightly growing clumps and is easy to manage.
Clumping Bamboo – A Well Behaved Addition
Clumping bamboo has the advantage of growing quickly so it is a renewable resource when harvested for commercial uses. In your yard, plants spaced 4 feet apart will grow into a living fence in a season. It prefers full or partial sun, but I have some planted in the shade that are growing slowly but otherwise doing well. It needs plenty of water while it is getting established and prefers a moist environment. Be sure to pick a variety that does well in our Central Florida climate. New shoots start to come up in the spring and this is the time to fertilize.
Alphonse Karr Bamboo (Bambusa multiplex)
One type you might consider for your garden would be Alphonse Karr Bamboo (Bambusa multiplex). A Chinese bamboo, it normally grows to 25 to 35 feet, its stalks or “culms” are yellow with a green stripe and Its new fronds are tinged with pink. It is cold resistant to -5°, drought and wind resistant, grows in full sun to partial shade and makes a great hedge.