Bamboos are grasses; the silica in their stems is what makes them hard and treelike. They are evergreen plants and may be treated that way in landscaping, although some hardy species that winter in temperate climates may die back in the cold and resume growth in spring. Bamboo can be a graceful and resilient addition to a garden. It does help to know how each type of bamboo grows before deciding to add it to the landscape.
Clumping bamboo is slow-growing, solid and can even be soaring and spectacular. Plants form thick stems and are not considered invasive, so they are safe to plant as a hedge or a small stand of isolated plants. Smaller clumping bamboos that reach from 10 to 20 feet tall are fern leaf, Alphonse Karr, feather bamboo and Mexican weeping bamboo. Larger clumping bamboos grow from 40 to 50 feet and include Buddha's belly, Oldham, punting pole and weaver's bamboo. The largest bamboos are commercially grown for use in making furniture, construction and harvest of edible shoots. Bamboo that grow over 100 feet are dendrocalamus, guadua and gigantochlea.
Running bamboo grows fast and wherever it wants to. If you have your own ideas about where the bamboo stops and the yard begins, install root barriers before you attempt to add running bamboo to your garden. The grass is ideal for quick-growing fences and hedges because it spreads so rapidly. Stems are not as thick as clumping bamboo but they are graceful, leafy and green and can behave admirably when contained. Root barriers should extend from just above the soil down to 24 to 30 inches to prevent shallow spreading rhizomes from galloping everywhere. Running bamboo prevents soil erosion and adapts really well to containers.
Dwarf bamboo are ideal for patio containers, rock gardens and reflective corners of the flower garden. Some are running bamboos so be sure to check about planting and care before adding them to the garden. Sasa and shibatea khumasaca are miniature running bamboos that grow in pots and may be used for bonsai. Black bamboo, a cultivar with stems that turn black, is also a bonsai favourite.
Uses and Cautions
Use bamboo to hide an ugly fence or to create a fence that encloses or borders your garden. Plant them as a grove in a corner of the garden; most bamboo will tolerate partial shade so you can plant them in shady spots and save the sunny garden patches for vegetables. The plants prefer good-draining soil but running bamboo will push through clay easily. They can be lightly fertilised but are fairly low-maintenance plants. In some parts of the U.S., bamboo is considered an invasive species, so if you are planning to add it to the garden, have a plan for where it will and will not grow and how to contain it.
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