Bamboo is a grass not a tree

As a matter of fact, bamboo is neither a tree nor a bush. Bamboo is a grass, belonging to the family Poaceae, sometimes called Gramineae. The same botanical family comprises some 12,000 species of monocotyledonous flowering plants, including cereals and grains, as well as lawns and golf courses.

Keep on the Grass

The fact that bamboo grows so tall (often to more than 100 feet) and becomes so woody (even harder than maple or red oak) makes it easy to mistake for a tree. But there are several definite characteristics to help us identify bamboo as a grass.

Bamboo growth habit

One interesting feature of bamboo is that an individual stalk will grow to its full height in a single growing season. Unlike other trees and shrubs, the bamboo will not continue to grow taller year after year. In subsequent years, the poles may put out more lateral shoots, becoming increasingly bushy, although the amount of bushiness will depend on the variety. But their height will not change.

It’s true however that younger bamboo plants will put up shorter shoots than mature plants, more than four or five years of age. So in this sense, an older bamboo plant will be taller than a younger one. But that’s not because the shoots keep getting taller. It’s only because the newer, more mature shoots have a greater height capacity. The culms of a more mature bamboo plant will also have a greater diameter.

This is fairly typical of grasses. They put up fresh growth which quickly reaches full height, and then spread from the base. Pruning from the top with encourage more fresh growth and bulk, but clipped blades or culms will not get any taller.

Annual and Perennial Grasses

Maybe when you think of grasses, you think about grains like corn and wheat that grow for one season, go to seed, and then die. That sure doesn’t sound like bamboo. No, those are annual grasses.

But there are plenty of perennial grasses as well. Just think about the grass in your front yard (or your neighbor’s yard). Or other ornamental grasses, like blue fescue or fountain grass. The keep putting up fresh growth each year, slowly expanding their footprint. Eventually, after five or ten years, they may die. Every plant has some sort of life expectancy, even perennials.

Bamboo propagation

Most annual grasses rely on seeds to propagate themselves each year. But most perennial grasses spread with their rhizome roots.

See our in-depth articles on Bamboo Flowering and Running Bamboo.

When you cut down bamboo, it’s not dead, because it lives underground. Cutting bamboo is something like mowing your lawn. It actually promotes more growth and helps keep the plants looking fresh and vibrant.

Again, think of other ornamental grasses. Fountain grass, for example, should be cut all the back at least once a year. Otherwise it starts to look shaggy and haggard. Now you probably don’t want to cut your bamboo back this hard, because it would take a couple years to fill out again. But it is a good idea to go through periodically and cut out some of the old growth.

Mowing the lawn?

There are some dwarf varieties of bamboo that only grow a few inches tall, and they make a great ground cover, particularly in a Japanese garden. You should actually cut these back every year, maybe even with a lawnmower on a high setting. It’s especially a good idea if you are gardening in a colder climate where the bamboo leaves are likely to go brown in the winter.

Shape and structure

With giant timber bamboos, which can get more than five inches in diameter, it’s tempting to refer to the girth of a bamboo pole as a trunk. But this is tree talk, and does not apply to bamboo.

As a grass, the individual stalks are hollow and should be referred to as culms. But we often call them canes, or shoots, in the case of fresh growth. Sometimes we call them poles, but that’s more appropriate for a culm that has already been cut down.

When new culms emerge from the ground, they appear like conical shoots, with a sharp point. Usually the fresh shoots are wrapped in a protective paper, known as a culm sheath. This is another typical feature of grass. As the culms get bigger, they outgrow their sheaths, which dry up and peel off.

And watch out, because they grow mighty fast. As mentioned above, the bamboo culms will reach their full height—which could easily be somewhere between 10-100 feet tall—in a single season.

Further Reading

For more fun facts about bamboo, check out some of our other great articles.

Ask the experts: 12 Common questions about bamboo The complete guide to growing bamboo 10 Best bamboo varieties for your garden

PHOTO CREDIT: Lee Soo Hyun (Unsplash)

Hollow bambooInner wisdom

In addition to being a giant grass associated with tropical climates and the Far East, bamboo is famously hard and hollow. Its hollowness helps make the bamboo lightweight and flexible. You will also find that bamboo is much easier to saw through, compared to solid wood.

Is every bamboo hollow?

Hollowness is the general rule with bamboo, but there are exceptions to the rule. Among the 2000 kinds of bamboo in the world, the vast majority are hollow. But some canes have thicker walls than others, and a few of them even grow solid.

When we talk about wall thickness, this is not the same as the diameter. The diameter describes the girth of the poles. Bamboos can vary from less than a half inch in diameter to more than five inches in diameter. But the wall thickness refers to how much woodiness there is between the inside and the outside of the ring. Usually it’s just a centimeter or less, and the center is hollow.

All different varieties of bamboo have different wall thickness, and this is a very important quality to consider if you plan to use the bamboo for construction. Bamboo with thin walls will bend more easily, which might make for better fishing poles. On the other hand, thicker bamboo will be stronger, sturdier and better for building substantial structures.

Bamboo in the node

Sometimes you’ll see a cross-section of bamboo that is solid. But in most cases, this is not from a bamboo that is completely solid. More likely, it was cut at the node where the bamboo is solid. The spaces in between, the internodes, are probably still hollow.

This is another feature that makes bamboo fun to work with. Cut a thick bamboo pole just below the node and some inches above the node, and you’ll have a simple yet attractive drinking cup. Keep in mind, the bamboo is not entirely water proof, so it shouldn’t be used to make a vase for flowers. It’s perfect, however, for something like a pencil holder.

If you do want to make a bamboo vase, the best method is to use a very thick diameter bamboo culm, and slip a narrow glass inside. The glass won’t be visible from the outside, but it will hold the water. Otherwise, the bamboo will gradually soak up the water, eventually leaking and making a big mess.

Solid bamboo varieties

One of the few varieties with a solid stalk is Phyllostachys heteroclada f. solida. Commonly known as simply “solid bamboo”, this is a subspecies of “water bamboo”, thriving in swampy areas and river beds of central Asia.

Dendrocalamus strictus, a timber bamboo native Southeast Asia, also has the nickname of solid bamboo, and for the same reason. This could be somewhat confusing, except that these varieties have very different habitats and growth habits. Phyllostachys is a genus of temperate runners, and Dendrocalamus bamboos are tropical clumpers. In most cases, D. strictus has very thick walls, but is not completely solid.

Dendrocalamus stocksii grows in northern India and has completely solid canes. This species is also interesting for the fact that its flowers never actually go to seed.

In South America, most members of the Chusquea genus also have solid stems. One of the more interesting species, C. quila tends to spread out and grow like a vine. They appear predominantly in Chile and Argentina.

Further reading

To learn more about other bamboo varieties and growth habits, take a look at some of these interesting articles.

10 Best bamboo varieties for your garden 11 Cold hardy bamboos Best bamboo varieties for construction Dendrocalamus strictus, aka Bambu Batu Moso Bamboo: King of grasses

PHOT CREDIT: Takeo Kunishima (Unsplash)

Bamboo flower

From food to flooring, bamboo has thousands of practical uses. But when’s the last time someone brought you a bouquet of bamboo flowers? When was the last time you even saw a bamboo flower, for that matter?

Perhaps never, because bamboo flowers are both infrequent and inconspicuous. Or you may have seen a blossoming bamboo and not even realized it. No, they aren’t so exciting to look at, but bamboo flowers can be a fascinating thing to study.

How often does bamboo flower?

Like most characteristics of bamboo, the answer to this question varies greatly between species. There are, after all, more than 1,200 varieties of this noble grass.

The short answer is: rarely. Bamboo flowering cycles are generally very long, often between 40 to 60 years. In some cases, more than 120 years will pass between blooms. And because the period is so long, most gardeners will only see an individual specimen flower once in their lifetime, if they’re lucky.

As a result, the flowering cycles of bamboo are not entirely well understand, and remain something of a mystery. But we do know a few things.

Flowering terminology

To better understand the nature of bamboo flowers, it will be helpful to review some botanical terms and concepts.

Monocarpic: This describes a plant that will only flower once and then die. This is not to be confused with an annual plant, including most grains and vegetables, who go through their whole life cycle in a single growing season. Many varieties of bamboo are monocarpic, but not all of them. Bromeliads are another example of a monocarpic plant. It may take some years for the plant to flower, and afterwards the plant dies. Polycarpic: Flowering multiple times before dying. This is the opposite of monocarpic. Gregarious flowering: Also called mass flowering or synchronous blooming, this refers to plants of a given species that all bloom at the same time, regardless of their location. This is one of the most fascinating characteristics observed in a several species of bamboo. Species that exhibit this unusual behavior are typically monocarpic. Sporadic flowering: Each specimen flowers on its own schedule, and not on a mass scale. Most bamboos flower sporadically, and most of them are polycarpic. Gregarious bamboo flowering

This exotic behavior remains one of bamboo’s greatest mysteries. As if there is some kind of alarm clock in the cells of certain bamboo species, every individual member of that species will flower at the same time. This is especially bizarre because the flowering periods are so long and irregular.

Phyllostachys bambusoides, also known as Japanese timber bamboo, is one such example. Sometimes it has a flowering interval of 130 years. Then every specimen of P. bambusoides—regardless of its location around the world—will blossom, go to seed and die.

Mautam: Mass flowering crisis

Probably the most exceptional case of flowering in bamboo, or perhaps any plant species, occurs with Melocanna baccifera. In an event called Mautum, meaning “bamboo death”, every member of this bamboo species flowers and leads to a famine in the region.

In northeastern India and parts of Myanmar, this variety of bamboo covers vast areas of forest. Every 48-50 years or so, all the M. baccifera blooms, goes to seed, and sparks an unexpected environmental cataclysm. The last time it happened was in 2006.

The unfortunate series of events runs something like this. After about half a century of ordinary vegetative growth, all the bamboo across the region flowers and turns to seed. Because of the general size, shape and geographic location, the seeds of bamboo are often called bamboo rice.

Although it has little or no culinary value for humans, the sudden proliferation of bamboo rice in rural, northeast India is a great boon for the local rodent population. Rats flock to the fields to participate in this once in a lifetime feast. And as they do so, their population skyrockets.

This is all wonderful for the rats and their burgeoning families. And it’s of little consequence to the people in the area, so long as the rats are well fed. But once the bamboo rice runs out, chaos and panic ensue. Enormous numbers of hungry rats now raid the surrounding villages, decimating storehouses of grain, leading to a widespread famine.

In 1966, the Mautam occurred, and warnings from village elders were dismissed as ignorant superstition. Subsequently, crops were destroyed, many starved, and a major political uprising took place. The obvious lesson here: listen to your elders.

When the cycle returned in 2006, local officials were far better prepared. Indian army and local militia had been anticipating the Mautam for two years. Local villagers had been growing other crops, as well as fragrant plants like ginger and turmeric to help ward off the invasive rodents. Their preparations paid off, and famine was averted.

Further reading

For more fun facts about bamboo, check out some of our other articles.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Bamboo blossom (Wikipedia)

How fast does bamboo grow

Bamboo has many amazing characteristics. And the woody grass has a reputation for being the fastest growing plant on earth. That reputation is well-deserved, because some varieties of bamboo can grow more than a meter a day, under ideal circumstances.

How fast does bamboo grow, and how big does it get?

As there are more than 1000 distinct varieties of bamboo, these are difficult questions to answer. Some dwarf bamboos only get a few inches tall, and some giant timber bamboos can reach more than 100 feet in height. Of course, the timber bamboo grows much faster, but there are a number factors than come into play.

Bamboo’s growth rate

According to the Guinness Book of World’s Records, bamboo is actually the fastest growing plant on earth. Although Guinness does not identify a particular species, they report a growth rate of 35 inches a day. Other sources claim that bamboo can grow more than a meter in a day.

At 35 to 40 inches a day, bamboo is indeed the fastest growing plant on earth. But there are a few things you need to understand about bamboos and their growth habit.

First of all, this rate of growth is only possible with certain varieties of bamboo. Phyllostachys, a genus of running bamboo from Southern China, includes some of the fasting-growing species. Moso Bamboo (Phyllostachys edulis) is considered one of the largest and most vigorous varieties. Phyllostachys vivax is another impressive timber bamboo.

Guadua is a tropical genus from Central and South America, often called the world’s strongest bamboo. It grows incredibly fast, often getting up to 5 or 6 inches in diameter. Then there’s Dendrocalamus, from India and Southeast Asia, which is also incredibly large, strong and fast growing.

Moreover, bamboo does not grow this fast on a regular, consistent basis. During the growing season, which is generally in the spring—although some tropical climates get two growth seasons a year—the bamboo puts out fresh shoots.

Bamboo’s growth habit

If the bamboo is fully mature, at least four or five years old, it will put up maximum-sized shoots. For a month or two, these monstrous culms will skyrocket upwards until they reach their full height. The culm diameter will not get any larger after this. During the rest of the year, the bamboo may continue to bush out with more leaves and branches. But the individual bamboo culms will achieve their maximum height and girth within the short growing season.

Finally, the growing conditions are critical. Moso Bamboo, for example, is considered the fastest-growing species of temperate bamboo. Although it’s native to the subtropical areas of Southern China, Moso can grow very well in temperate climates. But in those cooler regions, it will never grow as fast and tall as it does in the heat of the subtropics.

Tropical, clumping bamboo, like Guadua and Dendrocalamus, will have a much harder time in temperate climate zone. In fact, they will be lucky to survive, let alone reach their full potential.

Temperate, running bamboos like Phyllostachys are also noteworthy for their aggressive, monopodial rhizome roots. Thankfully, they won’t spread at a rate of 2-3 feet a day, but their growth rate is formidable and something to aware of. Check out our article on running bamboos to learn more.

Bamboo height

With more than a thousand varieties, it’s impossible to make a generalization about how tall bamboo will get. Moso Bamboo, again, is one of the biggest, easily exceeding 100 feet in height.

Another remarkable species is Guadua giganteus, native to Colombia and Central America, one of several varieties referred to as Giant Bamboo. This New World specimen will commonly grow 25-35 meters high, or 80-115 feet.

But according to Guinness, the prize for the world’s tallest bamboo goes to Dendrocalamus giganteus, also called Dragon Bamboo and Giant Bamboo, from Southeast Asia. Living up to its name, this enormous species has been known to get more than 50 meters high, or 164 feet.

That’s still a far cry from the Hyperion, a 380-foot tall Coastal Redwood in Northern California, but pretty astonishing for a stalk of grass. Keep in mind, a maple tree, for example, will rarely grow taller than 150 feet.

Conclusions

There’s no doubt about it. The size and growth rate of certain bamboo species make them some of the most remarkable plants on earth. Growing more than a meter a day, you can actually sit and watch it grow. Grab a cold beverage (maybe with an umbrella in it), pull up a cozy rattan chair, and in 40 minutes you can see a tropical bamboo grow about an inch.

Indeed, this makes bamboo the fastest growing plant, or organism of any kind, on earth. Apart from these especially vigorous varieties of timber bamboo, the next fastest-growing plant is probably giant kelp. Macrocystis pyrifera grows a little more than two feet a day, reaching a maximum length of around 150 feet over the course of a long growing season.

Just don’t expect to see bamboo growing like this in your own garden. Not that you would want to. But unless you live in Costa Rica or Indonesia, it’s probably not going to happen. Within the U.S., you might see comparable growth rates in Hawaii or Florida. But you’re still not going to set a new world record.

Further reading

To learn more about the incredible properties of bamboo, check out some of these other interesting articles.

What’s so great about bamboo? Moso Bamboo: The king of grasses Growing Bamboo: A complete how-to guide
Tibetan Buddhist Sand Mandala nonattachment

The Tibetan Buddhist sand mandalas first arrived in San Luis Obispo more than a dozen years ago. Since then they have become something of an institution on the Central Coast. No one who observes the creation of these exquisite works of art can fail to appreciate the concentration and devotion that go into them.

The unique process, the unusual materials, the striking composition and the surprise ending make the Buddhist sand mandalas fascinating in every way. And the more you know about the monks, their religion and their mandalas, the more you can appreciate the significance of it all.

What is a Buddhist Sand Mandala?

As part of an ancient tradition, Buddhist monks from Tibet and Northern India (where many Tibetans remain living in exile) travel the globe producing these mandalas for all the world to see. The monks create these designs as a way to raise awareness about their culture, but also as part of a pious meditation.

Using sand of different colors, several disciples spend the better part of a week putting the picture together, roughly one grain of sand at a time. By the end of the week, they have created a spectacular image of an archetypal symbol. Buddhists, Jungians and dreamers of every stripe recognize the mandala, usually a circle inscribed inside of a square inside of a larger circle.

Once the multicolored masterpiece is complete, the monks conduct a quiet, reverent ceremony, with a bit of chanting and mindful reflection. At last, the creators of this ephemeral artwork carry the mandala away and peacefully dump the colored sand into a nearby creek. Meanwhile, onlookers gasp with disbelief and unease as the product of profound punctiliousness is washed away.

What is the meaning of the Mandala?

The symbolism of the mandala is deep and mysterious. An icon of sacred of geometry, the interlocking circles and squares serve as a kind of window into the universe. And others will interpret the cryptic image as a portal into the human soul.

Typically, Buddhist practitioners can use a mandala as a kind of talisman or focal point for their meditation. Gazing into the central circle can help to quiet the mind and bring the disciple in tune with the unblemished Self.

The ornate, abstract imagery gives the eye a place to focus. And spiraling into the middle circle, the practitioner can grow more self-aware on one hand, but also conscious of his/her position at the center of something infinite.

States of Consciousness

Another reading, which I’m very sympathetic to, describes the small circle as the earliest stage of consciousness. This is the condition of bliss before the infant mind has learned to distinguish between subject and object. The child is connected to all things in a state of “unconscious perfection.”

As a person ages, they learn to distinguish between pairs of opposites, something like Adam and Eve after the Fall. Older and more mature, the individual begins to divide the world of experience into different categories, good or bad, right or wrong, and so on. They see things as separate and distinct. The four-sided square represents this state of rational awareness, or “conscious imperfection.”

This state of mind persists through most of adulthood. But with extensive spiritual development, one can expand their consciousness into the larger circle. This expanded circle represents the undifferentiated whole, the field in which all things are connected. The devotee has arrived in the realm of “conscious perfection.”

This version of the mandala resonates for me because it feels consistent with so many other examples from world religions. Consider the parallel, for example, between circle-square-circle and birth-death-rebirth. It is a story as ancient as that of the complacent orphan who is lost, then called on an adventure, and finally returns as a hero.

The levels of metaphor run deep. And throughout the picture of the mandala, the imagery of steps and concentric circles would seem to reinforce that metaphor. And if this isn’t a concept worthy of profound meditation, then I don’t know what is.

Why do they create with sand?

You can find mandalas in many forms, in murals, jewelry and coloring books. But there is clearly something special about a mandala, usually 10 or 12 feet in diameter, that is made entirely of colored sand.

Few things in our world of sight and touch are smaller than a grain of sand. By itself, the grain of sand is infinitesimally insignificant. This makes the process of creation incredibly slow and fastidious. It forces the artist to slow down.

Just as Alcoholics Anonymous invites its members to take life “One step at a time”, the sand mandala requires one to proceed one grain at a time. At this pace, the monk can feel the whole world slowing down. And in doing so, his awareness gradually elevates, to a heightened state of consciousness.

In this state of mind, the concentrating monk might consider the many paradoxes of the human condition. S/he might think about the simultaneous greatness and smallness of all things. Like the Yin-Ying that reveals the coexistence of darkness and light, the sand mandala reveals a special balance of the microscopic and the macroscopic.

A Higher Order

Another metaphor at work here reminds us of just how small we are within the universe. And though this can make us feel terribly trivial and insignificant, we can also see our importance in the big picture. What is the universe after all, but a careful arrangement of tiny, innumerable units?

On their own, each grain of sand seems worthless and unimportant. But they make up everything. And the end result is a whole much greater than the sum of its parts. It’s not just a heap of insignificant grains; it’s a beautiful, mesmerizing mandala.

We can find a similar analogy in the ordinary ant colony. Individually, each ant is almost nothing. They would never accomplish anything. But in numbers, the colony takes on a higher intelligence of its own. Through an organization that no single ant could ever comprehend, the colony can literally move mountains.

Why do they destroy the Sand Mandala?

At the end of the week comes what some may consider the highlight of the process. Others might find it painfully anti-climactic. In a bold move, the monks pick up their masterpiece and pour it down the river.

How could they destroy their artwork following so many painstaking days of meticulous construction? After those long hours of putting the mandala together, one grain at a time, they just let the whole thing go.

I can imagine no more perfect embodiment of the Buddhist tenet of non-attachment. The ability to let go of attachments to ideas and objects is central to Buddhist philosophy. The creation of the mandala is all about the process, not the end result. Or as the Taoist proverb says, “The journey is the reward.”

Impermanence

When we take the long view, we see that all things are impermanent. Everything comes and goes, and nothing lasts forever. It is in our nature to resist this law of existence, but resistance is futile. Dumping the naturally-colored sand into the river reminds us that, eventually, all things must return to their source.

Attachment, the Buddhists insist, only leads to suffering. The only thing we can truly count on is the present moment. In other words: be here now.

Further reading

For more engaging stories about Eastern culture and philosophy, check out some of these popular articles.

Mandala: Roadmap of the Mind The Ten Thousand Things of Taoism Bamboo Symbolism and Mythology Buddhist Thangka Paintings: Meaningful and Sublime
Running bamboo of genus Phyllostachys

Bamboo has a well-deserved reputation for being one of the fastest growing plants on earth. Indeed, some tropical varieties can grow more than a meter day in the growing season. Pull up a cozy chair and you can actually watch it grow.

Running bamboo has earned a particularly nasty reputation for its growth habits. That’s because those rhizome roots spread like crazy. Although in this case, you can’t actually watch them grow. But it’s led many gardeners to wonder whether planting bamboo might not be a good idea at all.

DISCLOSURE: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links. This means that, at no additional cost to you, we will earn a small commission if you click through those links and make a purchase. This helps us meet the cost of maintaining our website and producing great articles.

What is a running bamboo?

Among the 90 genera and roughly 1,500 species of bamboo, we like to divide them into two simple categories. Basically, we have runners and clumpers. The most widespread genera of runners are the Phyllostachys and Pleioblastus. Runners generally perform better in temperate climates.

The distinctive characteristic of running bamboo is the vigorous rhizome root system. The monopodial rhizomes tend to grow horizontally, spreading outward and overtaking an area. Sometimes, but not always, these monopodial bamboos can spread very aggressively. They can definitely be invasive. They can tear up your lawn, crawl under fences, and become very difficult to remove.

Clumping bamboos, by contrast, are happier in the tropical and subtropical climes. Bambusa is the primary genus of clumping bamboo. Like all bamboo, clumpers also have rhizome roots, but they are what’s called sympodial. These sympodial rhizomes mostly grow close together, branching out often, to create a tight cluster of culms. It’s unlikely for a clumping bamboo to become invasive.

Why would you want to plant running bamboo?

With so much potential to be invasive and disruptive, why would anyone want to plant a running bamboo? That’s a very good question. But as it turns out, there are a few good reasons to plant a runner instead of a clumper.

Definitely check out our article on the 10 Best Bamboos for your Garden.

Climate

When selecting anything to plant in your garden, one of the chief factors will always be the climate. And when you think of bamboo, you probably think of places like Hawaii, Southeast Asia and Central America. In other words, the tropics. Indeed, bamboo thrives in these regions, especially the clumping varieties of bamboo.

But most of us don’t live in the tropics. And for those of us who do, there’s usually already plenty of bamboo around. But for the rest of us, we need something more adaptable. No problem. There are many varieties of bamboo indigenous to the more temperate zones of Asia, including China, Korea and Japan. And as it happens, these temperate bamboos usually belong in the running category.

The largest genus of these more temperate Chinese bamboos is Phyllostachys. They do very well in a range of climates, and they are definitely runners. Nurseries throughout most U.S. states and Europe can sell Phyllostachys and other temperate runners and feel good knowing they will probably thrive.

So planting a running bamboo actually makes a lot of sense if you live in a more temperate zone. But these runners aren’t the only varieties that can grow in a cool climate. If you’re living outside the tropics and trying to avoid planting a runner, keep an eye out for varieties of Bambusa like Oldhammi, and most any bamboo from the genus Fargesia.

You might also have a look at our article on Cold Hardy Bamboos.

NOTE: Phyllostachys is also one of the easier bamboo varieties to identify. Look for the distinctive grooves that grow along the length of the internodes, alternating from one side to the other.

Fast Growing

As we have seen, bamboo’s vigorous growth habit can be a double-edged sword. But many growers are looking for something that will really display its vegetative might. Some gardeners just have a lot of respect for the great vitality and tenacity of bamboo and want to see it grow in full force. But usually they have more practical intentions, like trying to fill a large area quickly. 

Bamboo makes for an excellent privacy screen, and many people are in a hurry to establish their privacy. If you want a tall hedge to grow along your fence line, bamboo is an attractive option. And if you want it to cover the property line and fill in quickly, an aggressive runner can be even more appealing. 

Phyllostachys nigra, a popular species of running bamboo. Note the characteristic grooves on the internodes. Aesthetic Features

In many cases, gardeners will plant bamboo for specific aesthetic features. Whether to beautify the garden or to harvest the attractive poles, striped bamboo and black bamboo are very desirable. Phyllostachys nigra, better known simply as black bamboo, is one of the most popular species of all, due to its rich, dark color. The dried poles are especially attractive for crafts and light construction.

Certain other varieties of running bamboo also have very attractive features, like long and elegant poles. And for those who enjoy combining a medley of different bamboo species, they will have a hard time completing their landscape without at least one or two runners in the mix.

How can I maintain a running bamboo?

So you’ve decided to plant some running bamboo in your yard. Must you concede defeat and consign yourself to be overrun with woody grasses? Absolutely not! It’s not as easy as plucking daisies, but there are ways to contain running bamboos and keep them in check.

Containers

There are numerous types of containers you can use to prevent a running bamboo from taking over your garden. Planting bamboo in a pot is certainly one option, but be aware that a running bamboo will get root bound very quickly, even in a good sized pot.

I like to use half wine barrels (or whiskey barrels, depending what part of the country you’re in.) They have a more natural look in the garden, compared to your big black plastic pots from the nursery. And they’re spacious. Even so, I find myself un-potting the bamboo almost every year to split the rootball into three or four pieces. (Another advantage of running bamboo is that it’s pretty easy to propagate.)

Keep in mind, if you place your pot directly on top of soil, the roots will quickly find their way through the drain hole and into the earth. Be sure to place a stepping stone or something under the pot, or set it on a patio. Also avoid ceramic pots, as they are liable to burst from the expanding roots. And never use a pot that gets narrower at the top; you’ll never get your bamboo out without breaking it.

Root barriers

Your best bet is probably a high grade root barrier. You can order heavy duty plastic barrier and bury it around the perimeter of your bamboo area. This can be a very reliable system, but it’s not fool proof. Be sure to get the barrier at least two feet underground (unless you’re planting a dwarf variety).

Our best recommendation is the DeepRoot Bamboo Barrier, 30″ deep by 100 ft roll., which is available at Amazon.

And keep an eye on it. When they feel the urge to spread out, those monopodial rhizomes can be relentless. If there’s even the tiniest gap in your root barrier, they’ll burrow into it. And if there’s a thick layer of mulch concealing the top of the root barrier, the roots might easily crawl over it.

A lot of times, people move into a house and inherit someone else’s poorly planned bamboo garden. This could require some serious work to remove masses of roots. You can do some very heavy root pruning in this case, and then try to install a root barrier. But sometimes you just have to go Rambo: Dig a trench and fill it with concrete.

Root pruning

One of the most important things you can do to keep a running bamboo under control is simply monitor it closely. Dig around the base of the plant a couple times a year and see what’s happening. You can’t always tell just by watching what the bamboo is doing above ground.

When you find bamboo rhizomes racing away from the main grove, cut them back. If you’re dealing with a mature and well established bamboo plant, this could be a serious chore. Make sure you have the right tools, including a good spade, some sharp clippers, and a compact hand saw.

You might even need a Sawsall or other reciprocating saw, to really get in there. We recommend Makita’s Cordless Recipro Saw Kit, sold complete with saw blades and an extra battery, and available for quick delivery from Amazon.

Further Reading

To learn more about the wonders of bamboo in your garden and around the world, be sure to take a look at some of these other articles.

What’s so great about bamboo? How to Grow Bamboo: The Ultimate Guide 20 Best Bamboo Gardens in the World Bamboo Symbols in Mythology and Folklore

PHOTO CREDIT: Purely Pacha

New hemp laws in the United States

After nearly a century prohibition, new hemp laws are finally sweeping across the nation. In 1937, the federal government passed the Marihuana Tax Act, effectively banning the cultivation and use of both industrial hemp and marijuana.

Highly regulated hemp farming continued on a small scale through World War II, but after the 1950s, American hemp farming disappeared completely. The last hemp cultivation had taken place in the state of Wisconsin.

The first signs of hope came when President Obama signed the 2014 Farm Bill. This piece of legislation acknowledged the potential of industrial hemp as a commercial crop and created a framework for legal cultivation. Following its passage, many states set up pilot programs allowing farmers to grow hemp on a limited, experimental scale.

But things really changed when President Trump signed the Hemp Farming Act in 2018.

What is the Hemp Farming Act?

The federal government passed the Hemp Farming Act of 2018, as part of the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill. The new legislation finally removed industrial hemp from the Schedule 1 controlled substances. By definition, Schedule 1 drugs—including heroin and cocaine—are dangerous, addictive and without medicinal value.

At last, American farmers can grow hemp, or cannabis with less than 0.3% THC, like any other agricultural crop. After more than 80 years, the feds have finally acknowledged what many of us already knew, that hemp is not a drug at all.

See our in-depth article on the Difference between Hemp and Marijuana.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel introduced the legislation in spring 2018. His home state of Kentucky had already adopted similar rules for hemp, becoming one of the first states to do so.

Since the passage of the Hemp Farming Act, most U.S. states have gone ahead and adopted their own rules concerning the previously controversial crop. A staple of American agriculture is coming back into the fold. And the possibilities for textiles, building materials, biomass and petroleum-free plastics are enormous.

Non-psychoactive hemp is also being recognized for its medicinal benefits. While low in THC, some varieties of hemp produce significant levels of something else called CBD. Although CBD won’t get you high, it is being used widely to treat pain and anxiety and help with sleeping disorders. And with demand for CBD extracts skyrocketing, the interest in hemp cultivation has never been greater.

Where are the best and worst states to grow hemp?

As far as climate and terrain, two of the best states for hemp farming are South Dakota and Nebraska. But unfortunately, lawmakers in those states are moving at a glacial pace to open up this cash crop to their local farmers. Idaho and New Hampshire have also bucked the trend and kept hemp illegal, despite federal law.

Without a doubt, Kentucky leads the nation in hemp farming, research and legislation. Montana and Colorado are also seizing the moment and planting vast acres of hemp on their open plains. Colorado also has some of the most liberal laws on the cultivation and possession of recreational marijuana.

What do the new hemp regulations look like in your state? Hemp in Alabama

In early 2019, Alabama approved 180 applications from farmers wanting to grow hemp in the state. More than 150 of them went ahead and paid the $1000 permit fee to obtain the state license.

Alabama farmers planted their first hemp crop of the century this spring. They are hopeful that the high demand for (non-psychoactive) CBD oil will make hemp a far more profitable crop that anything else that grows in the region. State regulators will test crops for THC levels and eradicate any cannabis plants that do not comply.

Hemp in Alaska

Alaska passed a pilot program for hemp farming in April 2018. Currently, however, farmers need special permission from the state to plant a field of hemp. In fact, under state law, it’s easier for Alaskans to grow recreational marijuana than industrial hemp. But with the tremendous interest in hemp farming, authorities are working quickly to adopt policies for the commercial crop.

Hemp in Arizona

As of June 1, 2019, farmers in Arizona can legally plant a field of hemp. The Arizona Hemp Program is issuing licenses to about 200 state residents who intend to cultivate the closely regulated crop.

A background check is required, and licenses are good for one year. The Arizona Department of Agriculture has complete details and application forms on its website.

Hemp in Arkansas

The Arkansas State Plant Board has given licenses to four large agricultural companies to cultivate industrial hemp in the state. Policy makers are still trying to iron out the details with federal regulators, while farmers are working closely with companies in Kentucky to obtain seeds for high-quality, low-THC (less than 0.3%) hemp. Additional hemp growers are hoping to obtain licenses as well, pending state approval.

Hemp in California

As of April 2019, the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) is now issuing applications from farmers wanting a state license to cultivate industrial hemp. However, it will be up to local county officials to review and approve the applications. Several counties continue to restrict or prohibit hemp farming, so it’s not yet clear how it will play out.

NOTE: Looking at which California counties maintain restrictions on hemp cultivation, I have my own theories. Some of the those counties include the state’s best-known marijuana producers, Humboldt, Mendocino, and Trinity to name a few. Industrial hemp cultivation could be very disruptive to producing high-grade marijuana, because one strain of cannabis sativa can easily pollenate the other. So perhaps there is an effort to protect marijuana producers from contamination by hemp pollen.

Hemp in Colorado

The Colorado Department of Agriculture’s Industrial Hemp Program regulates the cultivation of industrial hemp. Recreational marijuana, cannabis with more than 0.3% THC, is also legal in the state but separately regulated.

Colorado got a head start when they launched a pilot hemp farming program in 2014 and planted about 1,800 acres of hemp. Today there are more than 30,000 acres of hemp agriculture in the state. And following the U.S. Farm Bill, the numbers are rising quickly.

Most of these hemp farmers are hoping to cash in on the rush for CBD oil. Meanwhile, many small farmers are concerned that industrial scale hemp farming will drive them out of business.

Hemp in Connecticut

This spring, the state approved a pilot program to allow Connecticut farmers to begin growing hemp. About 200 farmers in the state have expressed an interest. The state is still clarifying the regulations for the production and sale of hemp products with the federal government. They expect to be growing hemp by this summer.

Hemp in Delaware

Delaware launched a pilot program for hemp farmers in 2018, allowing hemp cultivation for research purposes. Delaware currently classifies hemp like a grain. State officials are seeking approval for the USDA to begin farming hemp commercially.

Hemp in Florida

Florida has a pilot program that allows hemp farming for research through two of the state’s public universities, UF and Florida A&M. New legislation passed in May will go into effect in July and allow commercial hemp farming in the state for the first time. Farmers will have to apply to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services for a license to cultivate.

Hemp in Georgia

Governor Brian Kemp signed a bill in May to allow hemp cultivation in Georgia. Kemp had earlier signed a bill allowing for medical marijuana in the state. Hemp farmers will be required to obtain a permit through the state and pay a $50 per acre fee to farm the industrial wonder crop.

Hemp in Hawaii

Hawaii launched a pilot program for hemp farming in the Rainbow State last year. Currently, the only legal way to cultivate hemp in Hawaii is under a license from the Hawaii State Department of Agriculture. Licensed growers can obtain seeds from outside the state, pending approval from the HDOA. The state places no restrictions on the processing, manufacturing and sale of industrial hemp products.

Hemp in Idaho

Hemp is still illegal in Idaho, in spite of federal law. A bill that appeared to enjoy unanimous support promised to revise the law, but then died in session. State lawmakers have expressed an intent to get hemp legalized in time for the 2020 growing season.

Hemp in Illinois

Illinois passed its own Industrial Hemp Act last year, and as of spring 2019, farmers can now obtain a state license for cultivation. Just in time for this year’s planting season.

The Illinois Department of Agriculture charges a $100 application fee for each farm. Upon approval, there is an additional license fee of $1,000 for a three-year license, $700 for a two-year license, or $375 for a one-year license.

Hemp in Indiana

Governor Eric Holcomb  has just signed a new law into effect which makes commercial hemp farming legal in Indiana. The law, which had unanimous support in the legislature, will go into effect in July. Most plans for hemp cultivation are still for research at this point. Farmers will need to obtain a license from the state in order to complywith the law.

Hemp in Iowa

Governor Kim Reynolds signed a bill in May to make hemp farming legal in Iowa. The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship are continuing to work with the USDA to draft regulations. Farmers hope to be planting hemp in the state next spring.

Hemp in Kansas

This year, the Kansas State Research and Extension began growing industrial hemp as part of an experimental pilot program. Farmers can also apply for a research growing license from the Kansas Department of Agriculture. With more research on the best hemp varieties for Kansas’s growing conditions, new regulations and guidelines will be drafted.

Hemp in Kentucky

Historically the greatest hemp producing state in the country, Kentucky has led the way in revising national hemp policies. According to the State Agriculture Commissioner, the Kentucky has issued more than 1000 permits to farmers cultivating over 42,000 acres of hemp in 2019. This is nearly a threefold increase in acreage since 2018.

Growers must have a license from the Kentucky Department of Agriculture (KDA) to farm hemp. The KDA carefully screens all applicants and regularly inspects farms and processing facilities. It is illegal to possess live or unprocessed hemp without a license from the KDA.

Hemp in Louisiana

The Louisiana Senate approved legislation in June 2019 to legalize hemp production and create regulations for businesses selling CBD products around the state. Specific regulations will be drafted and submitted to the USDA by November 1. State lawmakers describe Louisiana’s hemp program as one of the strictest in the country.

Hemp in Maine

Maine’s Department of Agriculture is currently reviewing applications to grow industrial hemp for the 2019 growing season. A new law, passed earlier this year, recognizes CBD oil as a food product rather than a medicine. Maine farmers who receive a state license will be allowed to cultivate hemp for CBD oil and industrial uses.

Hemp in Maryland

A pilot program through the Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) allows farmers in the state to cultivate industrial hemp for research purposes. The MDA will screen all applicants carefully and inspect the growing facilities for compliance.

The state will be updating its hemp regulations this year to comply with new federal laws and expand hemp farming activities.

Hemp in Massachusetts

The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) Hemp Program issues licenses and oversees all industrial hemp production in the state as part of a pilot program. The state issued 13 such licenses in 2018.

Currently, state laws regarding the definition of “agricultural” land do not allow the cultivation of hemp. This means hemp can only be grown on non-agricultural land, which is subject to higher tax rates. Until these laws are amended, commercial hemp farming will not really be economically viable in Massachusetts.

Hemp in Michigan

The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development has a pilot program allowing eligible farmers to cultivate hemp in the state. Voters approved the Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marihuana Act in November 2018. Michigan lawmakers are working on legislation to expand hemp farming in compliance with the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill, which passed one month after the state ballot measure.

Currently, farmers must register with the state and obtain a license. The grower registration fee is $100. An additional license to process and handle hemp costs $1,350.

Hemp in Minnesota

Minnesota currently has a pilot program for hemp farmers. Interested growers can apply to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) for a permit that is good for one year. State lawmakers are in the process of developing legislation for permanent hemp farming. But until the USDA can review and approve the state proposal, hemp farmers will need a permit through the pilot program.

Hemp in Mississippi

Mississippi voted earlier this year to remove industrial hemp from the state’s list of controlled substances. At this time the state has no policies in place to allow farmers to grow industrial hemp. State legislators are waiting for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to announce specific regulations for hemp production.

Hemp in Missouri

The Missouri Department of Agriculture has issued only two licenses to cultivate and process industrial hemp. Currently hemp growers are permitted to cultivate up to 40 acres.

Farmers and the general public are now pushing to make hemp growing easier in the state where hemp was once a major staple. The new law, SB 482, has widespread support and would ease restrictions, remove acreage limits, and make it easier for universities to conduct research.

Hemp in Montana

Montana has been one of the most progressive states in terms of industrial hemp legislation. The state recognizes hemp, with less than 0.3% THC, as a commercial crop that any farmer can grow. Last year they cultivated more than 20,000 acres of hemp.

Farmers must apply to the Montana Department of Agriculture for a hemp growing permit. A Conditional Grower license permits farmers to purchase seed and plant it in the ground. Following further review, a Production license allows the farmer to grow, transport and sell hemp.

Non-psychoactive hemp is an excellent source of fiber and oil. Hemp in Nebraska

The Nebraska Hemp Act is currently under discussion in a state that has the ideal growing conditions for industrial hemp. Anywhere that grows corn is great for hemp. But currently, hemp cultivation is illegal in Nebraska, despite passage of the Federal Hemp Farming Act last year.

Hemp in Nevada

The Nevada Department of Agriculture (NDA) has implemented an Industrial Hemp Program open to eligible farmers in the state. The NDA is currently issuing permits to growers and regulating production and sale of hemp seed, oil and other products. The NDA has not placed a limit on the size of hemp farming areas.

Hemp in New Hampshire

A bill now moving through the New Hampshire State Legislature proposes to legalize industrial hemp, and appears to have broad support. If passed, the new new law would effectively put the state policy in line with new federal policy based on the 2018 Farm Bill signed by Donald Trump in December.

As for now, industrial hemp remains illegal in New Hampshire. Governor Sununu has spoken out strongly against marijuana, but has said little on the subject of its fibrous cousin.

Hemp in New Jersey

The so-called Garden State passed a hemp bill last November, one month before the passage of the 2018 US Farm Bill. The New Jersey Department of Agriculture (NJDA) recognizes the legality of hemp as a commercial, industrial crop, but is awaiting more specific guidelines from the USDA. According to its website, the NJDA is giving the issue the “highest priority”.

Hemp in New Mexico

In April, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed into law a new bill that makes hemp production legal in the state of New Mexico. While the Department of Health has been overseeing the production of medical marijuana, the Department of Agriculture is regulating industrial hemp.

So far most hemp farming has been experimental, but the new legislation should widen the playing field. Native American communities will also develop their own regulations and licensing procedures.

Hemp in New York

Following the passage of the Farm Bill last year, the state of New York is expanding its Industrial Hemp Agricultural Research Pilot Program. The NY Department of Agriculture and Markets is encouraging agricultural cooperatives to submit letters of interest to participate in the research pilot program.

Farmers can also apply to grow hemp for seed, fiber and CBD oil. Application forms are available online.

Hemp in North Carolina

North Carolina continues to operate under the Industrial Hemp Pilot Program authorized in 2014. State lawmakers are eagerly awaiting more coherent hemp growing guidelines pursuant to the 2018 Farm Bill.

In the meantime, farmers can apply through the NC Dept. of Agriculture. The initial fee for all license holders is $250.  The annual fees are $250 for 49 acres or less, and $500 for 50 acres or more.  All license holders are required to pay an additional fee of $2/acre or $2/square foot of greenhouse, whichever is applicable. Licensed growers are subject to inspection and THC testing, which they will also have to pay for.

Hemp in North Dakota

Still waiting for more specific guidelines from the USDA, the state of North Dakota continues to operate its industrial hemp pilot program based on the 2014 rules.

Farmers interested in growing hemp can apply for a permit through the state. Applicants must undergo a background check and be part of an agricultural or academic research program.

Hemp in Ohio

In March the Ohio Senate voted unanimously to legalize the cultivation and production of industrial hemp in the Buckeye State. Ohio law now follows federal law, removing hemp products from the list of controlled substances.

The next step will be to create a licensing program to be regulated by the Ohio Department of Agriculture. Ohio farmers hope to see a program in place by the 2020 planting season.

Hemp in Oklahoma

In April, Governor Kevin Stitt signed legislation establishing guidelines for commercial hemp production in the state of Oklahoma. A pilot program will remain in effect for the remainder of this year.

The department of agriculture expects to see roughly 1,300 acres of hemp planted in 2019, about three times what was planted in 2018. Beginning in 2020, farmers in Oklahoma will move towards full-scale commercial production.

Hemp in Oregon

The Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) is developing a program to monitor and regulate industrial hemp production in the state. The ODA issues growing licenses on an annual basis, and interested farmers can visit the website to fill out an application.

Until further notice, the state of Oregon is following the tentative guidelines of the 2018 Farm Bill.

Hemp in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania has followed the federal government’s move to legalize industrial hemp in 2018. The PA Department of Agriculture has formulated a growing program which includes mandatory permitting and monitoring.

The new program removes much of the cumbersome framework which growers, processors and marketers needed to navigate. Farmers interested in Pennsylvania’s program and the permitting application can visit the PDA website.

Hemp in Rhode Island

No one expects Rhode Island to become the nation’s number one producer of industrial hemp. But the state implemented a pilot program last fall and now has one licensed hemp farmer. A second company has applied for a license to process CBD, so the two could soon find themselves working together. It’s a small world when you’re living in Rhode Island.

Hemp in South Carolina

Prior to the 2018 Farm Bill, South Carolina had a pilot program that licensed only about 40 farmers to grow hemp in the state. In February, the state senate passed a new bill that will lift those tight restrictions and greatly expand hemp farming.

The Dept. of Agriculture will continue to review applications for hemp farmers and put a limit on the acreage of hemp they can plant. But anyone who passes the background check should be able to obtain a hemp growing license in the state.

Hemp in South Dakota

South Dakota legislators passed a bill to legalize industrial hemp earlier this year, but Governor Kristi Noem vetoed the bill and the state Senate was unable to override the veto. Most lawmakers who opposed the legislation expressed concern over not being able to distinguish hemp from marijuana. So South Dakota remains one of a handful of states that have not approved the commercial crop.

Hemp in Tennessee

The Tennessee Department of Agriculture continues to issue licenses through its industrial hemp pilot program. But since the passage of the 2018 US Farm Bill, the state has greatly expanded its hemp cultivation. More than 2,600 Tennessee farmers have licenses to grow hemp this year.

Interested famers can apply for a license from the state. All growers are required to have a license, but hemp processors are not.

Hemp in Texas

House Bill 1325 proposes to make industrial hemp and hemp-derived extracts legal in the Lone Star State. The bill appears to have broad support in both chambers of government, but the Texas lawmakers seem to be dragging their feet on the issue. Currently there is no pilot program for hemp farming of any kind in the state.

Hemp in Utah

In December 2018, Utah legalized industrial hemp and possession of the hemp extract CBD. Utah residents no longer need a registration card from the department of health to possess CBD oil. But those interested in cultivating hemp will need a license from the department of agriculture.

Applications for hemp growing licenses are available at the Utah Dept. of Agriculture website. Utah State University is currently conducting extensive research to determine the optimal strain of cannabis with the highest levels of CBD but less than 0.3% THC.

Hemp in Vermont

The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets (AAFM) recognizes hemp with less than 0.3% THC as an agricultural product. The agency is currently establishing guidelines to regulate the cultivation, production and sale of hemp and hemp related products in the state. These rules will also address standards and expectations for record keeping, reporting, testing, and labeling, and include enforcement provisions as outlined by both state and federal law.  

Hemp in Virginia

As of March 2019, changes to the Virginia Industrial Hemp Law have removed the restriction that hemp only be grown for research purposes. Registered growers can now cultivate hemp commercially in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Applications and complete details concerning the Industrial Hemp Grower Registration are available on Virginia’s government website. There is an application fee of $50.

Hemp in Washington

Prior to 2018, Washington State had a pilot program for hemp farmers, consistent with the 2014 Farm Bill. With the passage of the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill, that state now accepts hemp as a legal, commercial crop.

The Washington Department of Agriculture (WSDA) will continue to issue permits to hemp growers. But there will no longer be a research element requirement. The WSDA is in the process of establishing new guidelines that will comply with the latest federal statutes.

Hemp in West Virginia

West Virginia’s Industrial Hemp Development Act authorizes hemp as a commercial, agricultural product, while recognizing the need to strictly regulate marijuana with more than 0.3% THC.

Individuals can apply to the state for a commercial hemp growing license. Applicants must submit to a background check and clearly describe the area they intend to cultivate. Universities and institutes of higher learning can also obtain hemp growing licenses for research purposes.

Hemp in Wisconsin

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) continues to run a hemp farming pilot program based on 2014 federal law.

Since the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, interest in the program has blossomed. More than 2000 individuals and businesses applied for hemp growing and processing permits for 2019. In 2018, the DATCP issued a total of 247 grower licenses and 100 processor licenses. 

Hemp in Wyoming

At the bottom of the list, alphabetically if not politically, Wyoming remains one of the last states to lift its prohibition against hemp farming. Situated between Colorado and Montana, two of America’s largest hemp producers, Wyoming is in a perfect position to launch a competitive hemp program.

With the passage of HB171 in March, Wyoming lawmakers are now establishing new policies to get the hemp industry off the ground. The state plans to start issuing hemp farming permits in accordance with USDA regulations, but not in time for the 2019 planting season.

Further Reading What’s the Difference Between Hemp and Marijuana Hemp vs. Bamboo: The Ultimate Comparison
Giant bamboo for building and construction

With all the talk about bamboo construction and building houses from bamboo, a lot of people are asking: What are the best varieties of bamboo for building?

In fact, most botanists recognize more than 1200 species of bamboo, or as many as 2000. And while each variety of bamboo is special and amazing in its own way, only a handful are well suited for construction.

The best bamboos for building typically belong to one of these four genera: Guadua, Dendrocalamus, Bambusa and Phyllostachys. We’ll get into the specific varieties in a moment, but first there are a few things you need to know about bamboo in general.

Know your bamboo

With thousands of varieties of bamboo to choose from, you can truly find a perfect species for any occasion. There are ideal specimens for making fishing poles, excellent bamboos for eating, beautiful accents for your Japanese garden, cold hardy varieties for the mountains, and adaptable candidates for bonsai.

And of course, there are plenty of varieties that have multiple uses. Bambusa oldhamii, for example, can provide an excellent privacy hedge, and its fresh, young shoots are also tender and delicious to eat. Oldhamii‘s long, straight canes even make for a great building material.

And there are many more varieties that look beautiful in the garden while also having other valuable functions. But then some bamboos are strictly ornamental. They might grow prolifically and add plenty of character to your landscape design, but their canes aren’t as useful. And finally, some varieties may be ideal for producing giant poles for construction, but just aren’t practical to plant in your backyard.

Your bamboo criteria

So determining the best variety will depend on a lot of factors. If you want to grow the bamboo yourself, you will need to be sure that it’s suitable for your climate and soil type. Most of the best bamboos for building are indigenous to tropical and subtropical climates.

Now if you live in Florida, that’s great. But if you’re in New York or Minnesota, it’s going to be a challenge. You might be surprised though, to see how many varieties of bamboo can thrive in a place like Oregon.

Whether you decide to grow the bamboo yourself, or order dry poles from a building material supplier, you will need to consider your specific needs. First of all: how big do you need? Some bamboos grow over 100 feet tall and up to 8 or 10 inches in diameter. Keep in mind, these results are rare. They are also based on ideal growing conditions, which you may or may not be able to provide. Furthermore, if you want to order 100-foot bamboo poles and have them shipped, it could be pretty costly.

If you’re looking for bamboo that’s 3-4 inches in diameter and 30 or 40 feet long, that’s very doable. Even if you live in a temperate climate, you should be able to grow bamboo this size. But it requires some space to spread out. Don’t expect to grow bamboo like this in a small, suburban backyard without ruffling some feathers with your neighbors. It can get out of control.

Then you have a number of other factors to consider. Most bamboo, you’ve no doubt noticed, are hollow in the center. And the best varieties for building will have the thickest walls. But some types of bamboo, in Vietnam for example, are actually solid. This could be desirable, or not, depending how you want to use it.

Also, for decorative purposes, you will want to think about the color. Some bamboos are very dark, almost black, and look beautiful when dried. You may want to use some black bamboo (Phyllostachys nigra) for decorative accents. Although it does not have ideal properties for building. Keep in mind, most bamboo is dark green when it grows, but turns yellow once it dries.

Your bamboo building budget

At last, you need to think about how much you want to spend on your construction project. Bamboo has a reputation for being a remarkably renewable and inexpensive building material. And while it is very renewable, it is not necessarily cheap to build with.

In subtropical areas of Central America and Southeast Asia, where the bamboo is ubiquitous, the raw material is basically free. The bamboo will grow back faster than you can raise a house. And simple structures, resistant to floods and earthquakes, can be assembled at a minimal cost.

If you’re planning a bamboo house in the U.S. however, you will need to comply with strict building codes and regulations. That will probably involve hiring an engineer and an architect. You will also want to obtain specialized hardware for connecting corners and sealing gaps.

Most bamboo builders want to create a house with the minimal carbon footprint. That’s why they choose bamboo over conventional lumber. In keeping with this philosophy, they will want to incorporate passive solar, rainwater catchment and other green features. These elements could drive up your initial costs, but save you money in energy and utilities in the long run.

Best bamboos for construction Genus Guadua

For the smallest carbon footprint, your choice of bamboo will depend mainly on what variety is available in your area. In South and Central America, there is really only one choice of bamboo for construction. And it’s one of the most important varieties of bamboo on earth.

The genus Guadua contains about 20 different species. These are all massive timber varieties, and some of them grow more than 100 feet tall and more than 6 inches in diameter.

Guadua is a neotropical variety, meaning that it grows indigenously in the tropic and subtropic regions of the New World, namely Central and South America. And these are clumping bamboos, as opposed to the more aggressive running types. G. angustifolia, native to the area between Venezuela and Peru, is the most widely used. But other species are also common, depending mainly on the geography.

Bamboo construction is widespread in Latin America, especially in Colombia and Ecuador, where it has a long history. Simón Vélez, of Colombia, is one of the best known gurus in the field of bamboo construction. His bamboo structures in Asian and Latin America are legendary.

Guadua angustifolia

Alexander von Humboldt and Simón Bolívar brought attention to the Guadua bamboo in the 1800s, praising its strength and utility. And because of its rich history, botanists and bamboo enthusiasts from around the world have studied this genus extensively.

Today, international efforts are under way to propagate Guadua in more parts of Central and South America. INBAR (The International Bamboo and Rattan Organization) is working with organizations in Ecuador and throughout the continent to promote the use of bamboo for affordable housing.

In addition to its superior size and strength, Guadua also has excellent ecological properties. This fast-growing variety can convert significant amounts of CO2 and plays an important role in habitat restoration. In areas of deforestation, around the Amazon for example, bamboo is an excellent pioneer crop. It grows quickly, restores the soil, and paves the way for the return of other native species. And because Guadua is a clumping bamboo, it’s not going to take over the whole forest.

Genus Dendrocalamus

Native to the tropic and subtropic regions of India and Southeast Asia, Dendrocalamus includes several species with important uses for construction. Most members of this clumping genus can grow up to 50 or 60 feet tall with mature culms of 3-5 inches in diameter.

Here at Bambu Batu, we have a particular affinity for Dendrocalamus strictus. This species is sometimes called Male Bamboo or Calcutta Bamboo. And in Indonesia the natives refer to it as Bambu Batu, which translates literally as Rock Bamboo.

Revered for its hardness, this species is common for furniture and light construction, as well as paper making. The culms have especially thick walls, and in dry conditions they are nearly solid. Another nickname for this species is Solid Bamboo.

More popular for heavy construction, Dendrocalamus asper is another giant species that grows throughout Indonesia, Southeast Asia and the Philippines. This prolific species is used for everything from houses and bridges to housewares and musical instruments. Its young shoots can also be the source of a nutritious meal.

You’ll find the most impressive monuments of D. asper on the island of Bali in Indonesia. Here, John Hardy and the architecture and design firm known as IBUKU have built some of the world most astonishing bamboo houses and structures with D. asper.

In fact, they have even built a school with the world’s first all-bamboo campus. Check out the Bali Green School to learn more. Or visit Bamboo U to sign up for one of Hardy’s intensive courses in bamboo construction.

Genus Bambusa

One of the more common genera of bamboo, Bambusa contains well over 100 species, mostly native to Asia and the Pacific Islands. Many of these clumping bamboos are popular garden specimens, especially Oldham’s (B. oldhamii). Bambusa varieties are also well-known for their tasty and edible shoots.

Most species of Bambusa grow tall and upright, with handsome canes up 40-60 feet high. The best species for building puposes is probably B. bambos. Also known as Giant Thorny Bamboo, this variety can get up to 100 feet tall. Its poles have very thick walls, and when growing, the plant has a very dark green appearance.

Besides home construction, this species is also useful for a variety of applications. Bambusa poles are versatile for fencing, scaffolding, thatching, and crafts.

Genus Phyllostachys

Another of the largest genera of bamboo, Phyllostachys also contains more than 100 varieties. Native to China and Taiwan, it’s mostly subtropical but tends to tolerate a more temperate habitat. For this reason, it is commonly found in many more parts of the world.

But be careful, because unlike the other three bamboo genera above, Phyllostachys is definitely a runner. This means their roots will grow aggressively, and they can easily get out of control. Some people like how fast these bamboos cover a large area, especially when they are trying to create a large privacy hedge. But it doesn’t take long for your privacy screen to go on the attack and uproot the rest of your yard. And your neighbor’s yard.

In China, this genus is especially ubiquitous. The Chinese use numerous varieties for everything from construction and scaffolding to chopsticks and handicrafts. You can generally recognize a Phyllostachys specimen pretty easily by the distinctive groove that runs along its internodes. (See image.)

Phyllostachys with its distinctive groove

In temperate climates, P. vivax is one of the more popular varieties of timber bamboo. Its massive poles have a lovely yellow hue and grow up to about 60 feet tall and 4-5 inches thick.

One of the most important bamboo varieties of all, P. edulis is now the primary species of commercial bamboo. Commonly referred to as Moso Bamboo, this is the source for bamboo flooring and clothing, two major industries that have emerged in the last 20 years.

Further reading

To learn more about the many varieties of bamboo, their many uses, and how to select the best variety, take a look at these other articles.

10 Best bamboos for your garden 11 Cold hardy bamboos for snowy climates Dendrocalamus strictus, aka Bambu Batu Buddha’s Belly Bamboo The complete guide to growing bamboo What’s so great about bamboo?
How to grow bamboo

The benefits of cultivating and using bamboo are almost endless, and you can read all about them in our article What’s so great about bamboo? And even if you’re not growing bamboo on an industrial scale, you can think of all sorts of reasons to plant it in your own home garden.

But before you start planting bamboo, you need to be sure you know what you’re doing. Bamboo, after all, is a mighty plant. Sometimes it seems to have a mind of its own. So if you’re not well informed and prepared, you might just end up with a great mess on your hands.

In order to help you get the most out of your bamboo, and to make the most out of your garden, we’ve prepared a comprehensive how-to guide. This should include everything you need to know about growing bamboo. From choosing the best varieties for your landscape, to watering, pruning and transplanting, we cover it all.

And by following these basic instructions, you should be able to create a lush and beautiful garden. Of course, it helps to have a green thumb, but it’s certainly not essential. Even you’re thumb isn’t green already, it will be by the time you get through this how-guide and spend a few weekends among the rhizomes.

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Why grow bamboo?

There are dozens of reasons to plant bamboo in your garden. But before you get started, you need to think about YOUR reasons for growing bamboo. Because your reasons will play a very important role in determining which varieties of bamboo you want and where you want to plant them.

Perhaps you want to grow bamboo for a privacy screen. This is one of the most common reasons why people plant bamboo. Many varieties of bamboo grow very quickly and get very tall and bushy, like a hedge. Some even grow up to 50 or 60 feet high, tall enough to provide privacy in your upstairs in windows.

But maybe privacy is not a concern, and you just want some beautiful bamboo to decorate you garden. You’ll want something that looks good with your landscape. A lighter, yellowish bamboo could bring a good contrast. Or dark canes with deep green might work better.

Are you going for a Japanese garden look, or just something tropical? Do you want an eye-catching centerpiece with unique character in the middle of your garden? Or just a some accents alongside an already established landscape? Bamboo could accomplish any of these things.

If your property is spacious, bamboo could be just the thing to fill some of that empty space and cover it quickly with greenery. Do you want to hear thick canes knocking in the window, or just the light rustle of leaves? If you have sloping land or waterways, bamboo’s complex roots are also ideal for erosion control.

With a small garden, in a suburban neighborhood or even an apartment, you may be better off keeping your bamboo in a pot. You might even want an indoor plant, which could be tricky, but not impossible with bamboo.

And maybe none of these practical and aesthetic purposes mean anything to you. You might just be interested in sequestering as much carbon as possible, and producing the maximum amount of clean oxygen. Bamboo is great for that, too.

Like I said, the reasons for planting bamboo are almost endless. You could just be aspiring botanist, or even an accomplished botanist, dazzled by the fact that bamboo is both a wood and grass. And with as many as two thousand species and subspecies, you’d like to cultivate as many varieties as you possibly can.

Choosing the best variety of bamboo

Once you’ve given some deep thought to why you’re growing bamboo and what you want to get out of it, you can make a better decision on which variety or varieties to plant. You’ll also need to consider how much space you have in your garden. Finally, you need to be aware of your local condition. Your climate zone and soil type will have a significant effect on how your bamboo performs.

To learn more about selecting the right species, check out our article on the 10 Best Bamboo varieties for your garden.

Running or Clumping Bamboo? Runners without borders

Usually, when people think of bamboo varieties, they split them into two categories. First you have your running bamboos, with their notoriously aggressive rhizome roots. This unstoppable growth habit has earned bamboo a bad reputation in some gardening circles.

Running bamboos have no respect for property lines or antique rose gardens. They can tear up your lawn, and your neighbors’ lawns. They can also wreak havoc on your sprinkler system, even your plumbing and your gas line. Bamboo has even been known to get into the exterior walls of a house.

And when you (or your neighbor) finally decide you’ve had enough, you’ll have your work cut out for you. Removing a well-established grove of running bamboo can be one of the greatest challenges in a master gardener’s play book. Bring out all your heavy tools, including a pick ax and a saws-all. You might even need to rent a back-ho.

Run for your life

But it doesn’t have to be like this. Unfortunately, a lot of amateur bamboo enthusiasts will run to the hardware store and grab a few inexpensive pots of golden bamboo (Phyllostachys aurea). Because it grows so prolifically, or invasively, it’s quite easy to propagate. For that reason it’s pretty inexpensive and easy to come by. But it can be a monster when you let it loose in your garden.

All members of the genus Phyllostachys are runners and should be handled with care. Luckily, you can easily recognize a Phyllostachys by the prominent groove (sulcus) that runs along the length of each segment (internode).

Phyllostachys bamboo with the distinctive groove.

Knowing this, you might wonder, why would I ever plant a running bamboo? But as it happens, there are a few running bamboos that are among the most popular strains. Black bamboo (Phyllostachys nigra) has beautiful deep green foliage and dark canes that look wonderful in the garden and are lovely for building. Phyllostachys vivax is also popular for its massive height and girth. Its poles provide great privacy and are excellent for construction purposes.

Privacy screens and hedges are one of the most common reasons why people choose to plant bamboo. And when they do this, they want the hedge to fill in quickly. Therefore it makes sense to select a fast growing variety of bamboo, and that’s usually a runner.

Containing bamboo

If you do end up planting a running bamboo, you can also take precautions so that it doesn’t get out of control. The best method is to bury a rhizome root barrier deep into the ground and surround your bamboo with it.

The most popular, most effective, tried and true bamboo containing material is available online from Amazon. It’s the DeepRoot Bamboo Barrier, 30″ deep by 100 ft roll. This stuff is nearly invincible, going a serious 2.5 feet underground, and the 100-ft roll gives you enough length to contain a pretty major privacy hedge.

Once you’ve got your root barrier in the ground, you can rest easy know that your bamboo will stay in its place. Because without a reliable containment system, the roots are liable to get everywhere. And they might not do it right away, but eventually, a runner’s gonna run.

You can also try confining your bamboo in a large pot. I like to use half-barrels, which look more natural in a garden setting, but also have a lot of space. Even so, a bamboo in a barrel will never reach its full size the way it will when its roots are allowed to run free in the ground. And that’s a shame if you’re grown a nice big timber bamboo.

Furthermore, when you put running bamboo into a pot, you can run into other problems. The bamboo can get root-bound quickly. So you’ll need to transplant and divide the rootball regularly. Otherwise, your pot might burst. It’s also very difficult to water bamboo when it gets root-bound. The water will tend to roll off without actually penetrating down into the roots.

Check out our in-depth article on Bamboo Containment for more details.

Clumpers make good neighbors

As you can see, growing running bamboo can be a challenge. So it’s easy to see why many gardeners prefer to seek out clumping varieties. Even so, it’s important to realize that not all clumpers are equal.

Just as some runners are far more aggressive than others, this is also a range of growth habits among clumping bamboo. Typically, the clump will spread until it reaches full maturity. For some clumping varieties, the mature plant might only be 5 or 6 feet across, but others can get 15 or 20 feet wide.

So just because you have a clumping bamboo, it doesn’t mean you can go ahead and plant it right next to your property line. It’s still going to spread out, and could potentially get into your neighbor’s flower beds. Similarly, a clumping bamboo won’t necessarily be happy in a pot. Because most pots are going to be much smaller than the full size of a mature clumper.

If you really prefer to plant in pots and containers, you’ll be better off looking for dwarf bamboo varieties. There are actually quite a few such bamboos to choose from, some being far more dwarfish than others. A dwarf green stripe, for example, only gets a couple feet tall. And a dwarf Buddha Belly can get more than 10 feet tall, although it probably won’t if it’s in a pot.

Again, take a look at our article on the 10 Best Bamboos for your garden for more details about some specific varieties.

Tropical or Cold Hardy?

Once you’ve got a good handle on the size of bamboo you want to grow, and you’ve thought through the aesthetic considerations, you need to be sure you’re planting a bamboo that’s appropriate for your climate. Most bamboos are native to tropical and subtropical zones, but again, there’s wide variety to choose from.

Some tropical bamboos will actually do fine in cooler climates, while others may simply languish. And there are a lot of varieties that come from mountainous regions and will grow well in the snow. Although many will not tolerate such low temperatures.

It’s important to get the specs on your bamboo, especially if you live in an area that snows. We have an article on Cold Hardy Bamboo if you’re looking for some specific recommendations.

Sourcing and Propagating Bamboo

When you’re deciding what bamboo to grow in your garden, your best bet might be to visit a local nursery. Even better if you can find a local bamboo specialist. There are quite a few in California and Oregon, as well as down in the South. Specialists will know the varieties most suited for your part of the country.

Here are a few very reputable bamboo nurseries.

Bamboo Sourcery in Sebastopol, CA Bamboo Giant in Santa Cruz, CA San Marcos Growers in San Diego, CA Bamboo Garden Nursery in Portland, OR Lewis Bamboo in Alabama

If there is no bamboo specialist in your area, you can try your luck at a regular nursery, or you can order plants online. Most of these nurseries ship live plants nationwide.

How to grow bamboo from seeds

Bamboo flowers very irregularly, so obtaining seeds can be difficult. Most bamboo specialists only sell live, established plants. But if you’d really prefer to grow you bamboo from seed, it can be done.

Start by getting some nice bamboo seeds. You’ll probably have to order them online. Because growing from seeds is tricky, you’ll want to plant a lot of seeds, at least ten or twenty. Many of them may not survive.

For best results, get some peat pellets to start your seeds. You can easily order an inexpensive package peat pellets from Amazon. These pellets soak up water, and maintain the ideal level of moisture to germinate your seeds. During germination, you want to keep your seeds warm. It could take a week or so before you see them sprout. Always keep the pellets moist.

A bright spot in the window with a tray and a clear lid will create the perfect environment. You can also order germination trays from Amazon. Keep in mind, seedlings naturally sprout in the shade of taller plants, so indirect sunlight is best. Too much direct sunlight can be lethal.

Once the seedlings get a few inches tall, which could take a few weeks, you can place them into small one-gallon pot with some good potting soil. The design of the peat pellets makes it very easy to transplant them into dirt when you see the roots coming through the bottom. Also add some mulch to the pot, and see that the top of the peat pellet is slightly covered.

Keep the small pots in a bright window with plenty of indirect light, or in a sheltered spot outside with full shade. Water regularly, but be sure to let the soil dry out in between waterings. If the leaves start to curl, they need more water. If the leaves turn pale or brown, they are getting too much direct sunlight.

Once the roots have filled the pot, you should see some of them poking through the holes in the bottom of the pots. This could take some months, depending on the bamboo variety and your growing conditions. At this point, you can carefully transplant the young bamboo into a larger pot, or put it right into the ground. (See soil preparation section below.)

Propagating bamboo cuttings

The most common way to propagate bamboo is by root cuttings. This is much easier and produces much quicker results than growing from seed. It’s also the more common method used by mother nature.

Note: This is not the sort of cutting that’s commonly done with other plants and trees. Many plants can be cut where the stem is still soft and green, not yet brown and woody, and placed in water. Within days, you will frequently find that the cutting has grown roots. From here, you can transplant the rooted cutting into soil. Some plants can grow like this in a vase of water indefinitely. Lucky bamboo, is a perfect example. But lucky bamboo is not actually a bamboo or a member of the grass family. Cuttings from grasses will not root. (See our article on Bamboo vs. Lucky Bamboo.)

To take a cutting of bamboo, you need to break off a chunk of roots. This method typically has a very high success rate. Also, must bamboos need to be cut back periodically anyway, especially if they are in pots or growing in a residential neighborhood.

In some cases, you might just be able to break off a section from the main rootball. But usually, the root network is so tightly developed that you’ll need a strong saw to get through it. Making a clean cut will also be healthier for the plant, both the “mother” bamboo as well as the cutting.

Generally it’s easier to do this sort of operation when the soil is wet. And try to avoid doing it during the cutting season.

If you’re dealing with a potted bamboo, simply lift the whole root mass out of the pot. Then you’ll want to cut it into at least three or four sections. This will ensure that the new sections have plenty of room to spread out once they are repotted. Also, there’s a chance that some cuttings won’t survive the stress, so it doesn’t hurt to have some extras. Once replanted, with some nice, rich potting soil, be sure to keep them pretty wet for the first few weeks. The young cuttings, once established, will make great housewarming gifts.

If you’re taking cuttings from a bamboo in the ground, it can be a little more difficult. You probably need to do some digging to get in there and make a clean cut. And you might need to make several cuts, around and below, to separate from the main rootball. Just make sure there’s enough growth on the cutting. A cutting with at least one mature cane and a few younger shoots should look great and transplant nicely.

Preparing the soil for your bamboo

Bamboo is pretty hardy, and it can survive in most soil types, under a variety of harsh conditions. But if you want your bamboo to thrive, rather than just survive, you need to start by giving it a good soil medium.

Whether I’m planting bamboo in the ground or in a pot, I like to mix about half-and-half potting soil and compost or manure. Just be sure the compost or manure is not too hot and fresh. Horse manure is generally a good choice. If the manure is too hot (fresh cow pies or chicken poop), the tips of the bamboo leaves will likely turn brown.

How you prepare your planting mix will also depend on your specific soil type. If you planting in rocky or heavy clay soil, you will want to add more sand in the mix to improve drainage. If you have very sandy soil, you will want to use extra compost or manure to enrich the mix.

Another trick I like to use when planting in pots is to cover the bottom with small stones or peach pits. This helps to promote good drainage, while also preventing the soil from slipping out of the drain holes. I’ve seen many cases where the roots kept pushing out the dirt, little by little, until the pot was almost all roots and no soil. This makes it almost impossible for the roots to absorb the water they need.

If you’re planting in the ground, start by digging a good sized hole, maybe twice the size of your rootball. If it’s hard, clay soil, make the hole at least 3 times the size of your rootball. If you’re using a root barrier, dig the hole according the maximum size you want the bamboo to spread. Then bury the barrier. Be sure to get at least two feet deep. The root barrier is strongly recommended with any running variety, especially if you live in a residential neighborhood.

Then mostly fill the hole with your mix of soil and compost, and give the soil a good soaking. Then place the bamboo into the soil, with the surface just slightly higher than the surface of the surrounding ground. Then water it once again. After the second watering, the bamboo should sink a little further into the ground. Finally, level it off by covering the whole area with some mulch or wood chips.

Maintaining your bamboo

Now that you have just the right varieties of bamboo happily established in your garden, you need to make sure you keep them happy.

Feeding and fertilizing

I’m a firm believer in organic gardening and using what’s local. So I’ll never buy a jug of Miracle-Gro. I like to use different kinds of compost tea, and sometimes I use pellets that release slowly. But also happen to know a lot of farmers and landscapers, so I have a good source for compost tea. I can also get horse manure pretty easily.

Either way, just follow the directions, and add some nutrients about twice a year. I like to fertilize in spring and fall. Then, if I’m adding horse manure, I’ll top it off with a few more inches of mulch. The mulch helps keep the nutrient and the moisture in place. And eventually the mulch breaks down, adding more nutrients and also helping with drainage.

When to water bamboo

Bamboo likes to have a pretty steady supply of water. Depending on your climate, it usually needs watering once or twice a week. Of course, if it’s raining, your job is done. But if it’s a heat wave in the height of summer, you might need to water it every day. If you see the leaves curling, that usually means it’s thirsty. It might take a couple days after watering for the leaves to get back to normal.

Potted bamboos are the most sensitive when it comes to watering. They can dry out quickly, especially in black plastic or clay pots. They might need watering every other day. But pots can also have drainage problems. If the water isn’t draining the roots can have mold and rot issues. Be sure the pots are not root bound, and allow the soil to dry thoroughly between watering.

Pruning your bamboo

You might never need to prune your bamboo. Most bamboos varieties that are sold in nurseries are pretty attractive and look good naturally. Their leaves will fall and just add to the mulch. But in same cases, pruning is a good idea.

Certain varieties, especially striped bamboo like Alphonse Karr look great when you remove the lower branches. When you cut back all the growth around the bottom 3 feet or so of the plant, it really shows off the distinct color of the canes.

Buddha Belly is another species where you want to show off the shapes of the culms. Also, pruning Buddha Belly from the top will encourage the poles to grow more zigzagged, when produces a very interesting effect.

If you have bamboo privacy hedge, you may want to prune the top to make it clean and level. Personally, I prefer to let it grow naturally to it’s full height. Eventually the mature canes will top out at around the same place. But in some well-manicured gardens, a clean, square hedge might look more attractive.

More important, however, is the pruning of the roots. Especially with running bamboos, but also with clumpers, you want to dig in at least once a year, maybe more, and see where the roots are. In some case, the running rhizomes can be spreading much faster than the above ground bamboo would lead you to believe. You can cut these back with a sharp spade, or use a good pair of clippers for more precision.

Harvesting bamboo

Congratulations, you’ve successfully grown a bumper crop of bamboo! If you’re really into it, like me, you have some showcase pieces around the center of your garden, like Buddha Belly and Alphonse Karr. Then your perimeter will be lined with a nice bamboo hedge. And finally, you might have some compact, dwarf varieties to fill in the gaps and accent your more majestic specimens.

Among the varieties, you will certainly have at least one or two that produce tall, straight handsome poles for building and home decor purposes. Black bamboo dries out beautifully, with its rich dark brown tones. You can use it for any number of light carpentry projects. Then you may have some giant timber bamboo for heavier construction. Maybe some surfboard racks in the garage or some framing in the man cave. The possibilities are limitless.

Select the nicest canes, just the right size for whatever project you have in mind, and cut them down to just an inch or two above the ground. Any sharp wood saw should do the trick. Bamboo is very easy to cut through, because it’s hollow (usually). Just make a clean cut, and try to cut as close to the node as possible.

From there you can cut it down to the size you want. You will probably want to let it dry before you get too crafty with it. The color change, usually from green to yellow when it dries out. Small poles will take a few weeks to dry. And giant timber poles can take a few months. Best to let them cure slowly, in a dry, shady place.

Conclusion

Now you are ready to tame the wild beast. Maybe check out some bamboo photography collections to get inspired on what varieties to plant and how to use them for maximum effect in your garden. Then look for a some good spaces in your garden that need some revitalization. Maybe pull out some old Morning Glory vine or some other nuisance, and make room for a spectacle of bamboo. Plant wisely, and your bamboo garden could soon be the envy of the entire neighborhood!

buddha belly bamboo with bulbous culms

A fast-growing clumper with well-defined culms, Buddha Belly stands out as one of the most popular varieties of ornamental bamboo. While its irregular shape makes it less than ideal for poles and other uses, Buddha Belly Bamboo looks gorgeous in any garden.

The botany of Buddha Belly Bamboo

Buddha Belly and Buddha’s Belly are common names for the species of bamboo known as Bambusa ventricosa. Bambusa is a large genus of clumping bamboo. Typically, Bambusa varieties have multiple branches coming off of each node.

Most species of Bambusa, including Buddha Belly, are native to Southeast Asia, China and Melanesia. More specifically, Buddha Belly is indigenous to Vietnam and the Guangdong province of southern China. It can also grow happily in subtropical regions around the world.

And Ventricosa, the speciation, means wide in the middle and tapering at the ends. This accurately describes the distinctive culm shape that earned this strain of bamboo its common name.

Why is it called Buddha Belly?

Under most circumstances, the culms of Bambusa ventricosa grow more compact, with shorter internodes that bulge out in the middle. So unlike most of the more common bamboos, with their stick-straight canes, the bulbous culms of this variety look like chubby little bellies. And when you think of chubby bellies in Southeast Asia, it’s hard not to think of the laughing Buddha.

Buddha’s Eightfold Path promises to bring deliverance from suffering. And Buddhism is the most popular religion in this part of the world. Furthermore, bamboo is already recognized to be something of a magical plant. So naming an already attractive variety after the Buddha just makes sense.

Why is Buddha Belly so popular?

Of course, nearly every variety of bamboo has a look of tranquil elegance. But to the untrained eye, most types of bamboo look very similar. Buddha Belly’s distinctive shape is what gives the plant its unusual appeal. Also, in addition to the bulging bellies, the canes will sometimes grow in a zigzag, rather than simply upright. Neither straight nor narrow, this plant has real character.

Also, this species of bamboo grows quickly, but not aggressively. This is an ideal combination. Furthermore, it’s an excellent candidate for bonsai. (See Growth Habit, below.)

And naturally, it doesn’t hurt to have a great name. Invoking the name of Buddha adds an air of majesty to the plant. At the same time, the mention of his belly brings a sense of levity to the situation.

Bamboo, in general, already holds a high place in Asian culture and religion. And its association with Buddha is nothing so unusual. The fact that bamboo has such strength and resilience, but also flexibility, gives it a sort of Taoist connotation, too. It’s important to be able to bend in the breeze and flow like water. Also, bamboo is hollow, reminding us of the Buddhist principle of emptiness.

For more great examples of bamboo in Eastern legend and folklore, check out our extensive article on Bamboo Symbolism.

One of the most highly sought after subspecies is the Yellow Buddha Belly Bamboo (Bambusa ventricosa kimmei). The young shoots come up green, but gradually turn to yellow, sometimes producing some beautiful stripes. The Yellow Buddha can easily get up 40 or 50 feet tall, but the bottom few feet are usually bare, leaving the handsome culms visibly exposed.

Growth Habit

One of the most important things to understand about bamboo, when you plant it in your garden, is how it grows. Some running bamboos are incredibly aggressive and must be vigilantly contained. Other clumping varieties are pretty tame. And some are downright unpredictable.

How fast does Buddha Belly grow?

Part of what people like about Buddha Belly, besides it bulbous culms and irregular shape, is just how fast it grows. It is a clumping variety, as opposed to a runner, with those out-of-control rhizome roots. But even so, it is an unusually vigorous clumper.

So give this plant some room to spread out. If you’re looking for a privacy barrier, the Buddha Belly will fill out quickly. Or if you’ve got the space, give it a central position in the garden and make a showpiece out of it. It looks stunning at night with some good lighting.

How big will it get?

Your standard variety of Buddha Belly can get up to about 30 feet tall in the best conditions, with 2.5 inch culms. But there are also a number of subspecies to be aware of.

Giant Buddha Belly (Bambusa Vulgaris cv. Wamin) will reach full maturity after several years. At that point the whole clump can be about 15 feet in diameter with poles as much as 45 feet tall.

Another subspecies is known as Dwarf Buddha Belly, and this one is much more compact, as the name implies. Still, it’s a fast grower and can reach full size after just a few years. A mature plant will get up to about 12 feet tall. A bit more manageable, but equally attractive, this variety is very popular, especially in warmer climates.

Can I keep my Buddha Belly in a pot?

Yes, this variety does pretty well in a container. But like most large plants, they are more comfortable in the soil where the roots can stretch out and drain well. A potted plant will require more attention, and it won’t grow nearly as tall as a Bambusa planted directly in the earth.

If you prefer potted plants, and you have time to give them extra care and attention, Buddha Belly also makes for an ideal bonsai specimen. (See below.)

How much water does it need?

Under normal conditions, you’ll want to give your Buddha Belly a deep watering about once or twice a week, depending on the weather. If you’re bamboo is in a pot, just be sure it has good drainage. It should be able to dry out thoroughly in between waterings.

Will Buddha Belly survive in cold, freezing temperatures?

Buddha Belly and Giant Buddha Belly are somewhat cold hardy, and a mature plant will be more cold resistant than a young one. In some cases they can survive temperatures as low as 20º F.

Dwarf Buddha Belly bamboo is going to be less cold hardy. For this reason, the dwarf variety is more popular in places like Florida and Southern California where it’s not likely to freeze. But a little overnight frost probably won’t kill it.

Why is my Buddha Belly growing without bulbous culms?

In some cases, you might find that your Buddha Belly culms are growing like ordinary bamboo, without the characteristic bulging or zig-zagging. But don’t worry. Master bamboo gardeners have developed some tricks to help encourage this desirable trait by inducing stress.

One way to promote bulging culms is to prune the tops of the poles at least once a year. Without their tops, the bamboo will also tend to do more zig-zagging.

Stressing the plants with water deprivation is also a very effective method. Of course, you have to be careful not to over-stress and kill the plant. Generally, the leaves will start to curl when a bamboo is in need of water.

Buddha Belly Bonsai

One more reason that Buddha Belly is so popular is its adaptability for bonsai. Whenever you take a tree and miniaturize it in a small Chinese pot, you have a pretty great effect. Some trees can’t handle this kind of stress, but Buddha Belly, as mentioned above, thrives under stress.

Maintaining a bonsai means pruning the tops as well as the roots on a regular basis. This keeps the plant or tree small and prevents the roots from getting bound. With some trees, it also has the effect of making thicker bark and smaller leaves.

If you have the patience to do this with a Dwarf Buddha Belly Bamboo, you’ll surely be delighted with the results.

Can I grow this bamboo indoors?

Ordinarily, growing bamboo indoors is a very bad idea. Bamboo is a grass and wants to be outdoors in the sun and the breeze. But Buddha Belly is quite adaptable. Although it prefers full or partial sun, it can grow acclimated to an indoor climate. Keep it close to a window with good lighting and fresh air.

Can I propagate my Buddha Belly?

In general, it’s a bit more difficult to take cuttings from a clumping bamboo than a running bamboo, but it can certainly be done. Buddha Belly is a fast grower, so you usually end up with more bamboo than you need anyway.

For best results, try and break a small clump, with at least two or three culms, off of the main root ball. You will need a sharp saw to make a clean cut. Do this during the growing season and when the soil is damp. Keep the roots of the cutting intact, and transplant quickly into fresh soil.

Further reading

To learn more about some of the most popular varieties of bamboo, take a look at these other informative articles.

Growing Bamboo: The complete how-to guide 10 Best bamboo varieties for your garden 11 Cold hardy bamboos for snowy climates Dendrocalamus strictus, also known as Bambu Batu
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