Bamboo Basics

With proper know-how and vigilance, you can grow and tame this beautiful, trendy plant.
The Right Bamboo for You
Black Bamboo Black Bamboo
(Phyllostachys nigra)

The versatile nature of bamboo makes it adaptable to almost any size yard. In tight urban settings, Phyllostachys spp. provides a quick-growing screen. For mammoth homes on postage-stamp lots, bamboo helps bring the landscaping into scale, yet doesn't take up a lot of space. It also grows well in tubs as long as it's divided every two years, making it suitable for high-rise balconies or decks. Bamboo canes are rich in variety, too. They sport remarkable colors in solids, stripes, or mottles; they grow upright, zigzag at the lower joints (nodes), or swell like a turtle's back. Some have leaves variegated white or gold. And unlike trees, bamboo can be topped just above a node anywhere along a culm without suffering damage. Shortening culms, as the stalks are called, are handy when you need to preserve a neighbor's view but still want to assure yourself of privacy. Companion plantings can help bamboo blend in with the rest of your garden. Large-leaf underplantings of fuki (Petasites japonicus) and umbrella plant (Darmera peltata), both Zones 5-9, make spectacular companions for lofty bamboo in naturalized settings. So do contrasting forms and leaf shapes, such as those offered by evergreen conifers or Japanese maples (Acer palmatum). For those who must confine bamboo to relatively tight spots, shallow-rooted groundcovers, such as dwarf periwinkle (Vinca minor) and Japanese spurge (Pachysandra terminalis), will scramble about the margins of a grove. Although bamboo grows taller and wider in warmer climates, some bamboo from the Phyllostachys genus will grow in the coldest parts of the United States. The best species for colder sections of the Midwest and all of the Northeast are yellow-groove bamboo (P. aureosulcata), P. nuda, and P. bissetti. During heavy, wet snowfalls, bamboo culms can be weighted to the ground and may even break, though this is rare. Some species are more strongly upright than others, but growth habit varies widely across the country. Your best bet for selecting bamboo that will work for you is to consult an experienced grower, but here are two charts full of good species to consider. Download our charts for Kingly, Clump, and Groundcover Bamboo. (Downloading requires Adobe Acrobat software.)

Continued on page 2:  Practical Uses