Bamboo is the fastest growing woody plant in the world. The rate of growth has been clocked at up to 47 inches in 24 hours; however they can only maintain this rate of growth for a short period of time. The phenomenon is due to the unique rhizome-dependent system, which is also dependent on soil and climate conditions. Prehistoric species of bamboo reached the height of 250 feet. Bamboo is found in many diverse climates, from the tropical regions to cold mountainous areas. It has high economic and cultural significance in East and South East Asia, where it is used in building material, as a food source, and in gardens. The biggest concern in the maintenance of bamboo is the control of spreading, which can be quite aggressive. There two varieties the clump type which does not spread and the running type which has a more aggressive behavior.
- Bamboo is happiest in moderately acidic loamy soil. They need at least five or more hours of direct sunlight a day, plenty of water, and fertilizer. Young plants like a light shade and a windbreak.
- Plant bamboo three to feet apart for a dense screen. They will grow at a rate of one to two feet per year and reach their mature height in five to six years. The spreading type should be planted further apart, however it will take longer for the screen to fill out. They grow at a rate of three to five feet a year and run outward at the same rate.
- Root pruning is recommended for control of spreading. A barrier of high-density polyethylene can be used to control spreading; however it must be installed properly. The barrier should be placed 30 inches deep around the tree. The rhizomes can and will turn downward when they bump into an obstruction, the barrier must be deep enough to prevent their advance. A less expensive method is to dig a trench about eight to ten inches deep around the planting. This method requires you to regularly check the planting, to insure the rhizomes are not trying to cross the trench, and cut them off. Checking for invading rhizomes must be done every fall, whether if you are using the trench or barrier method.
- Mulching with two or more inches of organic matter around the planting and where you want it to grow is recommended. Do not rake the leaves of the bamboo, as they recycle silica and other nutrients needed by the bamboo, they also keep the soil moist.
- Planting can be done any time in mild climates as long as the plant has time to harden off before the first cold spell.
- Growing bamboo in containers is possible, however more care is required and the plant is not nearly as hardy as the plant grown in the ground.
- Staking or guying the young plants may be necessary to prevent damage from the wind. The guy ropes should be tied to the culms about half way up, and to short stakes on three or four sides of the plant to provide enough strength to prevent uprooting of the stakes.
- Watering should be frequent and liberal. Daily during hot weather and twice weekly in mild conditions. Do not water newly planted bamboo every day, this may cause excessive leaf drop, and they can also suffer from too little water.
- Fertilizing in necessary to produce a healthy plant. A lawn fertilizer high in nitrogen such as 21-5-6 is good. An organic fertilizer high in nitrogen is better, it should be spread two to three inches deep around the base and outward where you want the plant to spread.
- Pruning is necessary to maintain the attractiveness of your bamboo. This includes the removal of older ugly culms, and any dead branches. The bamboo can also be trimmed in topiary fashion, or to form a hedge similar to other hedge plants. These two methods of trimming should be done when the young culms are at their full height in the spring or summer. There should be only one major trimming of your bamboo, with touch up trimming done at other times of the year.
The bamboo is a unique and interesting plant. It requires a lot of work to maintain the growth to the area you want to cover. Bamboo makes a beautiful screen or hedge, and it long lived, it may well be a good investment in time and effort.