Bamboo belongs to the family of sweet grasses (Poaceae) and is related to cereals such as wheat, oats, rice or maize, but also to lawn grasses. Accordingly one speaks also of the “Bambushalm” – even if it is over 20 meters high, because bamboo becomes tree high sometimes also in our widths. The variety of bamboo species is huge. There are 47 species with more than 1,000 varieties. A distinction is made between four groups: Dwarf bamboo (up to 1.5 metres in height), small bamboo (1.5 to 3 metres), medium bamboo (3 to 9 metres) and giant bamboo (over 9 metres). The largest is the tropical genus Gigantochloa: its species form up to 40 meter high stalks! The genus Phyllostachys has the greatest importance in Central Europe among the higher, thick stalked bamboo species. The plants usually carry the German name Flachrohrbambus, because their stalks are flattened on one side. This is where they differ from the bamboo genera umbrella bamboo (Fargesia), Arundinaria and Sasa, which are also frequently used in garden design.
The real bamboo (Bambusa) is not sufficiently hardy in our latitudes. In East Asia, the main area of distribution for most species, bamboo is so important that it can justifiably be described as having a formative influence on culture. It is used to make not only roof trusses and scaffolding, but also furniture, fences, water pipes, floor coverings, vessels, ropes, clothing and chopsticks. Its young shoots are also an important foodstuff. The botanical name “Bamboo” exists only since 1753 and was derived by the Swedish naturalist Carl von Linné from the Indian word “Mambu”.
Appearance and growth
Strongly growing species of flat reed bamboo such as Phyllostachys viridiglaucescens can reach heights of up to ten metres and a stalk diameter of seven centimetres in Central Europe – and within a season! Unlike trees and shrubs, each stalk grows to its final height in the year of budding and then remains unchanged for several years. However, this does not happen overnight: their longest and strongest stalks only form after 15 to 20 years. Bamboo does not only grow rapidly upwards, but also in width. Its rootstocks, the rhizomes, spread underground in many bamboo species. If you’re not careful, the bamboo hedge that was originally planted as a screen will turn into a whole bamboo grove in no time at all! As beautiful as the plant may be, it is questionable whether the neighbours share the love. Therefore, most bamboo species must be planted with a stable rhizome barrier. Exception: Umbrella bamboo forms such short runners that it retains its horshy growth character into old age. The stalks of the giant grasses are hollow inside and can reach a diameter of up to 30 centimetres in tropical species. In our latitudes, however, they rarely become more than five centimeters thick. The regularly arranged, bulging stripes (nodules) divide the stalks into individual segments (internodes). The flat knots serve for stabilization. Who knows bamboo only processed, could think, the surface of the stalks is varnished. This is a fallacy: Bamboo naturally has this weatherproof and waterproof protective layer, which even protects it from fire and many chemicals.
Flat reed bamboos are winter green, have lanceolate, light green leaves on short side shoots and have green, yellow, black or yellow-green patterned stems, depending on type and variety – about 20 are available in the United States. Some types color its stalks with strong sun-insolation besides rust red. Bamboo blades are small works of art of nature and dance at the slightest breeze, which, despite their size, gives them a filigree, airy, light appearance. Bamboo blossoms are still a phenomenon today: umbrella bamboos only bloom about every 70 years and die afterwards. Foothills forming species such as Phyllostachys usually show flowers in somewhat shorter time intervals and have significantly better chances of survival. A disadvantage of the Phyllostachys species is their strong urge to spread: They form woody rhizomes in all directions just below the surface of the ground, from which new stalks sprout at regular intervals. They can conquer several square meters within a few years if they are not prevented from doing so by strong rhizome barriers made of high-strength plastic.
Everything for the undisturbed growth of bamboo now in our shop!
Excursus: The great bamboo dyingThe flowering time of the umbrella bamboo species is subject, as already mentioned, to a cycle of about 70 to 80 years. After flowering, the bamboo dies. From the seeds, a new generation of bamboo emerges, which begins to flower again 70 years later. After the great Fargesia blossom, which caused almost all umbrella bamboos in Central Europe to die around the turn of the millennium, a plant propagation company had grown new plants from seeds. These were then propagated thousands of times by meristem cultivation in the laboratory within a short period of time and marketed under various variety names. Soon it turned out that these new umbrella bamboo varieties began to flower again after only a short time. Some experts suspect that the special propagation method had disrupted the inner clock of the bamboos, others believe that the propagation was accidentally carried out using dividing tissue from plants that had not yet flowered. The events caused great uncertainty among hobby gardeners: Nobody knew whether he had now replaced his dead umbrella bamboo with a blossom-proof specimen, or whether the same fate would threaten his new bamboo after a short time. This problem has now been solved, as the nurseries are now multiplying their Fargesia species classically again by hand division.
Location and soil
The soil requirements of most bamboo species are not high. They grow on sandy, loamy and even peaty humus soils, as long as they are neither dry nor staunass. The giant grasses are also tolerant of the pH value. Flat-tube bamboos love a sunny and warm place in the garden, which should be protected from cold easterly winds – they can dry out the leaves in winter. However, the plants are also satisfied with semi-shade.
Before planting your bamboo, it is important to know which species it is. Never plant a flat-tube bamboo without a professionally placed rhizome barrier, because you would regret that after only a few years. Only use genuine rhizome barriers made of two millimetre high pressure polyethylene (HDPE). The 70 centimeter wide rolls are sold by the metre and screwed together with a special metal rail to form a ring. Plan for at least two metres in diameter so that the bamboo does not dry out and let the upper five centimetres look out of the ground – so you can see immediately whether a rhizome is pushing over the root barrier. Tip: There is a hardy bamboo species that does not form runners, namely the umbrella bamboo (Fargesia). The species Fargesia murielae and Fargesia nitida belong to the smaller representatives with a growth height of about three meters. However, their stalks are also rather thin and not as expressive as those of the also hardy, strongly growing flat-tube bamboos. When planting a bamboo hedge, you should take into account that the plants need at least one metre of space in width. Thoroughly loosen the soil and improve it with ripe compost or rotten leaves. In case of dryness you should water the bamboo hedge in time, because the soil dries out easily due to the lateral limitation by the necessary rhizome barrier.
The different types of bamboo do not need special care. Like most sweet grasses, they have quite a high potassium and nitrogen requirement and should therefore be supplied with a special bamboo fertilizer every spring. Alternatively, you can simply use long-term lawn fertilizer – it is quite well adapted to the requirements of ornamental grasses. If you want to fertilize purely organically, it is best to apply mature compost enriched with a few handfuls of horn shavings. On low potassium soils, you can supply your bamboo again with a commercial lawn autumn fertilizer in August. This makes the leaves more resistant to frost damage. It is important to give water in good time both in summer and in winter, because many species of bamboo quickly give off larger quantities of leaves during drought. However, the plants regenerate again as soon as the water supply improves.
The most suitable tub plants are weak bamboo species such as the umbrella bamboo variety ‘Bimbo’, which grows up to 1.50 metres high. Strongly growing flat-tube-bamboos, however, need at least one plant-vessel in the brick-bucket-format, otherwise they suffer quickly from dryness and take care of itself. Even better is a brick raised bed that is in contact with the ground at the bottom – this prevents waterlogging and the plant is additionally supplied by rising capillary water. Even lesser known bamboo species such as the up to two meter high, large-leaved species of the genus Indocalamus are very decorative in the large tub. As a rule of thumb, the diameter of the planter should be at least three times the diameter of the root ball. In addition to regular watering, the various types of bamboo in the tub also need fertilizer for a good supply of nutrients. It is best to fertilize them every two weeks with a liquid fertilizer for green plants.
Bamboos do not need a regular cut. If you want to thinn out the plants, you should always remove individual stalks directly at ground level. They provide excellent perennial supports for larger flat-tube bamboos. Bamboo hedges can also be cut to shape by shortening the hedge to the desired height. Please note, however, that once cut, stalks will not grow back – if the hedge is to grow higher, you will have to wait until enough new stalks have formed. The flanks of a bamboo hedge can also easily be shortened. The short side shoots then branch off and give the hedge a particularly dense appearance.
Freshly planted bamboo is somewhat sensitive to frost in the first few years. It is best to cover the planting area with a thick layer of leaves in autumn. It is important that the leaves are cleared again in spring – otherwise there is the danger that the soil warms up too much and the bamboo sprouts too early.
Whether as ground cover, privacy screen or in a bucket: the bamboo with its evergreen leaves is an ornament even in winter. With its elegant, graphic elegance, it fits very well into architectural gardens designed with modern building materials such as steel, concrete or gabions. Bamboo also cuts a good figure at the edges of ponds. With their picturesque growth, all higher bamboo species are perfect for single positions. For Japanese gardens, the flat-tube bamboo is usually a good choice because it looks very exotic. Depending on the species and variety, it forms stalks that can be up to ten metres long and as thick as an arm, while the thin, dense stalks of the three to four-metre-high umbrella bamboo are more reminiscent of reeds from a distance. Depending on garden style, soil and location, good planting partners are fan maple (Acer palmatum), velvet hydrangea (Hydrangea sargentiana), cut box trees and yews (Taxus) as well as irises (Iris), Chinese reed (Miscanthus), fungi (Hosta), day irises (Hemerocallis) and various ferns.
Perfect planting partners for the bamboo in our shop!
Bamboo hedges are very popular and have many advantages: they are evergreen, opaque and do not have to be shaped regularly with hedge trimmers. For hedges, upright bamboo varieties such as Standing Stone and Campbell are best used. Umbrella bamboo grows densely and therefore offers good privacy. In addition, it does not form runners. If you want to plant the flat-tube bamboo as a hedge, you have to install a rhizome barrier along the entire length, which makes the project quite expensive. In addition, the flat-tube bamboo does not offer a good sight protection at least in the first years because of its loose foliage and the far apart stalks. A beautiful, lesser known bamboo species for hedges is the upright arrow bamboo (Pseudosasa japonica). With its strikingly large leaves, it offers particularly good privacy and grows to heights of over four metres in mild climates. Although the arrow bamboo can freeze back in severe winters, it quickly forms new shoots in spring. Pseudosasa japonica forms runners like the flat-tube bamboo and therefore also requires a root barrier.
Especially the dwarf bamboos of the genus Pleiobastus (formerly Sasa) are excellent evergreen groundcovers – but with all consequences. In addition to the best-known Pleiobastus pumilus, three to four other soil-covering species are available on the market. If you plant a bamboo as ground cover in your garden, you should limit the entire area with a good root barrier beforehand, as the up to 20 centimeter high dwarf bamboo spreads over rootstocks like its larger relatives. Combine the competitive grass only with robust, deep-rooted woody plants such as pines. Even most shrubs do not withstand the root competition of the dwarf bamboo in the long run. The uniformly green bamboo surfaces are particularly popular in Japanese garden design, especially as they remain virtually weed-free without great care. They are often planted as lawn replacements and are simply kept short with the lawn mower.
From the flat reed bamboo there are species and varieties with blue-green, black-violet, yellow and even yellow or green striped stalks – which often arouses the collecting passion among bamboo lovers. The most popular green striped variety is Phyllostachys vivax ‘Aureocaulis’. In mild regions it can grow to heights of over eight metres and forms up to eight centimetres thick stalks. Green stalks with yellow stripes show Phyllostachys aureosulcata. The five to seven metre high species forms strong, stable stalks, is quite frost hardy and well suited for hedges. The five to seven metre high Phyllostachys bissetii is considered to be the most frost-resistant flat-tube bamboo. It forms deep green stalks and is also suitable for bamboo hedges. One of the most popular flat reed bamboos is Phyllostachys nigra, the black bamboo. It grows about five metres high and initially forms green stalks, which later turn violet-black in the sun. It shows initial frost damage from -18 degrees Celsius and is therefore not quite as frost hardy as the species and varieties mentioned above.
About 15 different species and varieties of the umbrella bamboo are common in European gardens, some of which, like the flat-tube bamboo, have different stem colours. The colour palette ranges from reddish brown to dark green and green-yellow. Red-brown stalks, for example, show the still quite unknown variety ‘Jiuzhaigou 1’. It has only been spreading in Europe for about ten years. Juizhaigou 1′ is with two to three meters growth height somewhat smaller and more dainty than most other Fargesia forms and is considered very frost hardy. Tip: If you are looking for an umbrella bamboo today that looks as similar as possible to the old Fargesia murielae, you should choose the ‘Standing Stone’ variety because it has a particularly picturesque, upright growth. Also very beautiful and vigorous is the variety Fargesia robusta ‘Campbell’ with dark green stalks and light leaf blades.
Bamboo is reproduced exclusively by division in spring. If you are lucky enough to witness a flower, you can also try sowing – but it takes a few years for the plants to reach a sizeable size.
Bamboo in the our store-Shop
Diseases and pests
Although bamboo is not particularly susceptible to disease, it occasionally has to contend with pests. These are mainly mealybugs and mealybugs, aphids, scale insects and the warmth-loving bamboo mites which are quite common on the Upper Rhine and in the Rhine-Main region.
Whether potted plants such as oleanders or indoor plants such as orchids: The scale insect infests the most diverse plants. René Wadas, a herbalist, will give you his tips on pest prevention and control: Production: Folkert Siemens; Camera: Fabian Primsch; Editing: Dennis Fuhro; Photo: Flora Press/Thomas Lohrer
Interesting facts about bamboo
Did you know that ….. a panda only eats bamboo? He spends up to twelve hours a day destroying up to 40 percent of his body weight in bamboo shoots and roots. Per day and pandaschnauze that makes 15 to 30 kilograms – lucky that bamboo grows back so fast!… Bamboo produces considerably more oxygen than an area of forest of the same size?… the Chinese use bamboo to regenerate the soil leached out by rice fields? After ten years, rice can be grown there again…. in former Siam (today: Thailand) the complete capital was built on floating bamboo rafts?… raw bamboo shoots contain toxic prussic acid, which, however, is broken down during cooking? Panda bears are insensitive to prussic acid…. Bamboo wood contains silicic acid that neutralizes poisoning? In many Asian countries, wood has traditionally been used to make a brew that detoxifies the body… the lucky bamboo you can buy in garden centres is not really bamboo, but a dragon tree?
I am Don Burke, one of the authors at My Garden Guide. I am a horticulturist that cultivates, grows, and cares for plants, ranging from shrubs and fruits to flowers. I do it in my own garden and in my nursery. I show you how to take care of your garden and how to perform garden landscaping in an easy way, step by step.I am originally from Sydney and I wrote in local magazines. Later on, I have decided, more than two decades ago, to create my own blog. My area of specialization is related to orchid care, succulent care, and the study of the substrate and the soil. Therefore, you will see many articles dedicated to these disciplines. I also provide advice about how to improve the landscape design of your garden.