Archive for the ‘Agriculture & Gardening’ Category

Moso Bamboo the king of grasses

Moso Bamboo, also known as Phyllostachys edulis, is nothing new, but in recent years it has sparked a revolution in agriculture, textiles and construction.

Of the roughly 1,500 varieties of bamboo that populate the earth, it’s easy to argue that Moso Bamboo is the most important one of all. When you hear about bamboo clothing and bamboo flooring, these are products of Moso. When you see bamboo scaffolding on skyscrapers in Hong Kong and China, it’s very likely Moso. And when people speak of bamboo growing a foot or two a day, Moso is one the varieties that can actually do that.

Cultivating Moso Bamboo

Native to Southern China and Taiwan, Phyllostachys edulis thrives in the warmer, subtropical climates. In these regions the plant can reach its full potential, with towering culms of 90 feet or more, and growing a couple feet a day in the growing season. But like most Phyllostachys, it can also tolerate more temperate zones. Just don’t expect it to grow to such an impressive size.

Members of the genus Phyllostachys are running bamboos, meaning that they spread and propagate by way of sprawling rhizome roots. From this complex underground root system, new culms shoot out of the ground in the growing season and quickly grow to their full height. A mature grove of Moso Bamboo will put out shoots with a 4-5 inch diameter.

Check out our in-depth article on Running Bamboo to learn more.

Once every 50 years or so, a Moso Bamboo plant will flower and produce seeds. In some varieties of bamboo, every member of a given species will flower at the same anywhere in the world. This phenomenon, known as synchronous blooming or gregarious blooming, does NOT occur with Moso. Instead, it exhibits sporadic flowering.

In many varieties of bamboo, the plant will die after it flowers and goes to seed. This is called monocarpic. This is NOT the case with Moso. A healthy stand of Moso can produce thousands of seeds and most of them will germinate, while the mother plant survives. Rats and rodents, however, will generally eat a significant portion of these tender seedlings, which tend to be only 2 mm in diameter.

Can I cultivate and farm Moso Bamboo in the U.S.?

The preponderance of commercial Moso farming takes place in China, where the species is indigenous. It’s much happier in that subtropical climate. Within the U.S., the deep South probably has the best growing conditions for Moso Bamboo.

It also does particularly well in Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. A company called Only Moso launched a commercial bamboo farm in Gainesville. Florida, in 2011. Some farmers grow Moso in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest, where it does reasonably well. But without the extra hot summers, it does not reach its maximum height and girth.

The Many Uses of Moso

The magnificent size and vigorous growth habit of Moso Bamboo makes it the perfect candidate for a wide range of practical and industrial applications. Moso from China has become especially important for the production of bamboo flooring and bamboo clothing.

Bamboo Flooring

Bamboo flooring took the building industry by storm about 20 years ago, quickly becoming available from hardware stores and flooring specialists everywhere. Unlike traditional hardwoods, bamboo reaches maturity within 4-5 years, while the trees could take 20-100 years to mature. Bamboo, with its high metabolism, can also sequester about 50% more carbon than a typical forest.

In addition to the ecological benefits of bamboo, Moso also produces a very hard wood, making it an ideal material for things like flooring and cutting boards. According to the Contractor’s Guide for Green Building Materials, standard bamboo flooring has a Janka hardness rating of 1180 to 1380. This is comparable to most oak varieties, rated around 1300 to 1400. More innovative types of bamboo flooring, using a woven strand technique, have scored from 3000 all the way up to 5000.

As much as we like to advocate the use of bamboo as the environmental silver bullet, it is important to be aware of certain ecological concerns. As a laminated wood, bamboo flooring does require a urea-formaldehyde (UF) adhesive to bond together. These adhesives can off-gas and pose other environmental problems. Still, bamboo uses far less formaldehyde than other materials like particle board. And formaldehyde-free bamboo is also available now.

Another issue, when bamboo flooring exploded in popularity, was the removal of native forests in China for the purpose of cultivating commercial bamboo. This sort of deforestation has led to the destruction of natural wildlife habitat and soil erosion, and could easily outweigh any environmental benefits of bamboo. It’s important, therefore, to learn as much you as you can about your bamboo supplier, and see that they meet all the highest standards of certification.

Bamboo Clothing

Remarkably hard on the one hand, bamboo can also produce a rayon fabric that is incredibly soft on the other. Shortly after the appearance of bamboo flooring, we began seeing socks, t-shirts and towels made from bamboo.

Along with the well-reported ecological benefits of bamboo—fast-growing and readily renewable without the need for pesticides and herbicides—bamboo fabric also boasts a number of advantages in performance. Most obvious is bamboo’s softness. Like cotton or any other conventional textile, bamboo can be woven into any kind of fabric. But the result is always uniquely soft, with an uncommon mix of cool silkiness and warm fuzziness.

Additionally, bamboo material is naturally anti-microbial, hypo-allergenic, odor-resistant and temperature regulating. It may sound too good to be true, but the properties of bamboo are plainly evident if you sleep on a set of bamboo sheets or wear a pair of bamboo socks two days in a row. We’ve also heard from many customers with sensitive skin disorders and serious allergy issues that bamboo is one of the only materials they can wear.

Bamboo’s very high absorbency also makes for some exceptionally nice towels. But be advised, bamboo socks and t-shirts will take a bit longer to dry for this same reason. Generally this is not a problem. If you’re keeping your carbon footprint down and using a drying rack instead of an electric dryer, just leave the clothes on the rack a little longer. If you’re traveling however, and trying to dry your clothes on a line in your hotel room overnight, bamboo might not be your best choice.

Some have expressed concern over the pulping process that goes into make viscose fabric from bamboo. In fact, caustic soda (or lye) is used to extrude the cellulose from the stalks and leaves of the bamboo before it can be spun into thread and woven into fabric.

The primary concern here is how the manufacturer disposes of this bi-product after pulping. It is possible to reuse and recycle the lye, and certain manufacturers are bound to be more conscientious than others. We have always been committed to working with the most ecologically responsible producers as possible.

Most of us who work in the bamboo industry are determined to see it being used in the most ecological way possible. It’s good to know that many have been improving the standards of cultivating and processing bamboo over the years.

Cotton, by comparison, is extremely pesticide intensive to grow, as it is very vulnerable to insects and other pests. It also requires a great amount of irrigation, because it is typically cultivated in hot, dry climates. And even organic cotton must go through a processing stage before it’s spun and woven into fabric.

Phyllostachys edulis is edible

Finally, we need to talk out how Phyllostachys edulis got its name. Long before the advent of bamboo floors and bamboo underwear, Chinese foodies were making use of Moso Bamboo’s tender young shoots.

So Moso earned its botanical name from this characteristic. Actually, many varieties of bamboo have fresh culms that are edible. This species just happens to be one of the most majestic, widespread and recognizable in China. Not only that, but given the plant’s size, you can practically make a whole meal out of one shoot!

Take a look at our article on Edible Bamboo Shoots to learn more.

Guadua Bamboo

If you’re looking for other varieties of bamboo that are especially useful and fast growing, Guadua angustifolia is one to watch out for. Native to Central and South America, Guadua is a clumping genus of mostly timber bamboos. They make an excellent building material, and have been used widely throughout the continent to create some very impressive structures.

For more details, have a look at our in-depth article on The best bamboos for building and construction.

Further Reading

To learn more about the ecology and versatility of Moso and other species of bamboo, check out some of our other articles.

What’s so great about bamboo? 10 Best varieties of Bamboo for your garden Buddha Belly: Bamboo of the highest calling Hemp vs. Bamboo: The ultimate comparison

PHOTO CREDIT: Wikipedia

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

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.

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.

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
Hemp and Marijuana are different

When you work with natural fibers and sustainable materials, one of the greatest sources of confusion is the relationship between hemp and marijuana. Are they the same, or are they different? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve brought up the subject of hemp clothing or hemp paper, only to be asked: “Can I smoke it?”

Most of the time, of course, people would simply ask this in jest. But even in jest, there are shades of truth. The fact is, most people aren’t exactly sure what the difference is between the hemp that makes clothing and the marijuana that makes you giggle and crave Ben & Jerry’s.

Understandably, the distinction can be a little confusing. After all, that five-pointed leaf is pretty unmistakable. And Cannabis sativa is Cannabis sativa, right? Well, sort of.

Yes we cannabis

It’s true, hemp and marijuana are both cannabis plants, and for the most part, they are Cannabis sativa. The leaves look very similar, and in some cases identical. And botanically speaking, they belong to the same species. That means the pollen of a hemp plant can fertilize the flowers of a marijuana plant, and vice versa.

And at last, according to Johnny Law, they are one in the same. At least if Johnny Law is a federal agent. But we’ll get to that.

So what’s the difference?

The way I like to explain it is this: poodles and pit bulls.

Both of these dogs belong to the same species, Canis familiaris. They are all dogs, and we all know a dog when we see one. And as members of the same species, a male pit bull can fertilize a female poodle. So long as they can overcome certain mechanical challenges.

At the same time, we can easily tell the difference between a poodle and a pit bull. You wouldn’t carry a pit bull in a purse, and you wouldn’t train a poodle to protect your home from burglars.

Similarly with hemp and marijuana, they do belong to the same species. But they are not difficult to distinguish.

Now this is only an analogy, and maybe not a perfect one. But it’s pretty accurate. These days there are hundreds of varieties of cannabis, mostly high-grade marijuana, with all kinds of fancy names. And some varieties are more distinct than others. Somewhat like show dogs.

Other distinctions

Another way to know for certain that they are different is because many countries have managed to grow hemp while maintaining strict laws against marijuana. Typically, the laws in those countries say that if it contains less than one percent THC (the most important psychoactive compound), then it’s hemp.

Anything with more than one percent THC is illegal. And in the U.S., the new limit on industrial hemp is 0.3 percent THC. But the fact is, the marijuana people smoke these days typically has at least 4 or 5 percent THC, but usually more like 20 percent or more.

Sometimes, however, in places like Nepal, mountain hemp is in small production, and marijuana use remains illicit but common. My understanding is that these small producers are actually working with varieties that are tall and fibrous but still have enough THC to do the job.

In general however, it’s pretty easy to recognize a hemp farm, with its tall, lanky plants, in long, crowded rows. It looks more like corn growing. Marijuana tends to be shorter and bushier, with the high-grade stuff requiring quite a bit more individual attention.

It’s also true that even a non-psychoactive hemp plant can smell pretty fragrant. But it won’t have the same degree of resinous stickiness. And the aroma isn’t nearly as strong.

Males and females

A common misnomer, which I’ve often heard, says that marijuana comes from the females and hemp comes from the males. Now there’s just enough truth in that statement to make it sound believable. But it’s simply wrong.

When growing for the potent, resin-producing tops, pot farmers will keep the flowering females and eradicate the pollen-producing males. Otherwise the males will pollenate the females, and the flowers will be loaded with seeds. Maybe that was OK for Cheech and Chong back in the 70s, but today? Not cool.

With a hemp farm, on the other hand, you plant acres of seeds and come what may. Whether they produce male or female flowers has no bearing on the quality of fibers. And furthermore, who has time to wander through a hemp field at the cusp of flowering season to pull out the females?

On a side note, I always wondered why the D.E.A. never figured this one out. Though I’m grateful that they didn’t. But if they’d flown over Northern California with a couple dozen bushels of male hemp flowers, they could have ruined billions of dollars worth of top shelf ganja.

After all, the hemp can pollenate the marijuana, and a seedy crop would be worth only a fraction of its value. Once the females are pollenated and go to seed, their frantic production of resin and hyper-developed calyxes goes way down. Not only that, the seeds would be of no real use either, just unwanted hybrids of high grade weed and industrial grade hemp.

Breeding and selection

If we get back to the canine analogy, we can understand even more about cannabis. Consider the origins of domesticated house dogs. In former times, our ancestors lived among wolves. Over time they noticed that some wolves were gentler and more agreeable than others. By selecting those wolves and interbreeding them, they slowly developed a new strain of wolf that was somewhat more loyal and obedient.

With more time and effort, wolf keepers and dog breeders learned to look for and select other characteristics. Over the centuries dogs became very domesticated. And in just the past 200 years, breeders have used artificial selection to create the few hundred dog breeds that we have today.

We can tell this same story about other house pets and most of our cultivated crops. So many of our green vegetables, for example, are actually Brassica oleracea. But after centuries of artificial selection, we have taken this naturally occurring specimen and produced broccoli, kale, cabbage and cauliflower, all from a single species.

Cannabis cultivars

The story of cannabis cultivation goes back thousands of years, to the earliest farmers in China and the Far East. Like any other species of plant or animal that we have domesticated, people first discovered the untamed, common ancestor of hemp and marijuana growing in the wild.

With a little prehistoric trial and error—a combination of curiosity and ingenuity—early humans began to discover the manifold properties of the cannabis plant. Those inclined toward weaving and basketry noticed the strength and utility of its fibrous stalks.

Meanwhile, the practitioners of herbal medicine appreciated its fine aroma, especially as its leaves and flowers smoldered over the fire. And before long, they’d be lying on their backs, gazing up at the stars, listening to the crackling sounds coming from their own dry mouths.

From there, we can find the first major fork in the family tree of cannabis. You might say that one took the low road and one took the high road.

One small step for plant

Weavers and craftspeople selected those specimens with the longest, strongest stalks and fibers, and propagated them. And the witch doctors and astrologers sought out the plants with the stickiest, smelliest and most resinous flowers.

Of course, this is an oversimplification of a very long and slow process. What happened must have taken place over the course of centuries through a combination of accidents and inexact science. Naturally, some cultures may have been more selective than others. And in all likelihood, different varieties would have already been more commonly occurring in certain climates and regions.

One great leap for plant kind

Fast forward to the 19th century. The agricultural revolution has transformed the relationship between people and their natural resources. Also, the industrial revolution has transformed the way people process their resources and turn them into products.

In the 1790s, Eli Whitney’s cotton gin changed the face of the cotton industry, making it ten times faster and easier to process the plant, separating seeds from lint. More than just faster and easier, cotton also became astronomically more profitable. The industry skyrocketed, leaving hemp and flax (linen) somewhere in the shadows.

But a century later, the invention of the decorticator did something similar for hemp. This new machine greatly sped up the process of breaking the hemp stalks and loosening up their fibers. And we can see how this resulted in two things.

On the one hand, hemp’s viability as a textile crop took another leap forward, renewing its competitive edge against cotton. Also, the use of heavy machinery made it more necessary to work with hemp varieties containing less resin. In other words, the more fibrous and less psychoactive hemp was encouraged to be made even less psychoactive.

The prohibition of hemp and marijuana

It’s impossible to explain the relationship between hemp and marijuana without discussing the story of cannabis prohibition. After all, many laws see hemp and marijuana as the same thing. And when we look at the history, it appears that much of this confusion was actually quite intentional.

One step forward, two steps back

With the publication of The Emperor Wears No Clothes in 1985, Jack Herer told the story of hemp prohibition as it had never been told before. So much of what we know about hemp today is a direct result of Herer’s painstaking research and activism.

Essentially, Herer was able to connect the dots between a burgeoning petrochemical industry, a yellow journalism empire, a faltering bureaucracy for alcohol prohibition, and the demise of industrial hemp.

In 1919, Dow Chemical received a patent for pulping wood for paper by means of a new sodium-sulfite process. At the time, hemp was timber’s number one competition for paper making. Dow had the chemicals, and William Hearst, the newspaper mogul, owned the trees. Dow Chemical, in the 1920s, also began experimenting with nylon, which would be another fierce competitor with hemp.

In the meantime, the U.S. federal government was creating a huge law enforcement bureaucracy to maintain alcohol prohibition, an idea whose days were numbered.

A forces coalesced, it was clear that the chemical, textile and lumber industries had a great interest in eliminating hemp. At the same, Henry Anslinger and his law enforcement cronies were looking for a new class of inebriated criminal to persecute. And Hearst, who had already used his newspapers to incite the Spanish American War 25 years earlier, had all the tools of propaganda at his disposal.

Reefer Madness

Through the 1920s and 30s, the pages of Hearst papers across the country wailed with horror stories of stoned out Mexicans and jazz enthusiasts on rape and murder sprees. A horrified public, who had so recently rallied behind the movement to outlaw alcohol, was ready to do the same with marijuana.

Interestingly, we can even thank Hearst and his newspapers for giving us the word marijuana. (Back then they often spelled it marihuana.) Surely, they had other slang terms for cannabis at the time, but it was the Hearst empire’s master stroke to bring the Spanish name for Mary Jane into common usage. Just a few years after driving Spain out of Cuba, anti-hispanic racism was at an all-time high.

Smoke and mirrors

So the gullible, newspaper-reading public jumped on board, and the Marihuana Tax Act passed in 1937. Henry Anslinger held his post as the first commissioner of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Narcotics (later to be called the Drug Enforcement Agency or D.E.A.) for 32 years. And unbeknownst to most everyone, the chemical and tree-pulping industries got just what they wanted, and a whole industry was swept away.

With the passage of the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act, it became prohibitively expensive to cultivate cannabis. And without registering under the act, it was simply illegal to grow or possess cannabis. So the tax act effectively became a criminal law. And for the next 60 or 80 years, hemp and marijuana shared their illegal classification.

Hemp revival

Following the publication of Herer’s book, a cottage industry sprouted up in America, promising that hemp could save the planet. Beginning in the late 1990s, supporters started holding hemp rallies at federal building and on court house lawns. A few fringe members of society even set up businesses importing, producing and selling hemp products. For the first time in several decades, products clearly labeled as cannabis hemp were becoming available to American consumers.

All of which led people to ask, is this even legal? And why or why not? In fact, hemp products were probably always legal. But there was definitely some uncertainty surrounding the matter.

When I got into the hemp business in 1991, it was illegal to grow hemp anywhere in the U.S. But it was legal to import hemp fiber, hemp fabric and finished hemp products. So you could find hemp product made in the U.S.A., but the hemp was grown usually in China or Eastern Europe. Hemp seeds were also legal, so long as they had been sterilized, most often through a heat or irradiation process.

Hemp education

Basically there were two purposes for getting involved in the American hemp industry at that time. On the one hand, we wanted to bring hemp back to the forefront of American agriculture and industry. Even if it couldn’t save the planet, it could play a role in getting the world on track towards a more sustainable way of thinking, farming and manufacturing.

Secondly, we recognized a need to educate the public about the great many uses of hemp and its long fascinating history. Nearly a century of misinformation had created an environment of confusion and misguided governance. And as a bi-product of this education, we felt confident that people would be forced to reconsider their attitudes on marijuana once they learned more about cannabis hemp.

But at first, it seemed like the campaign to educate was producing more confusion than clarity. After remaining in the dark for all those decades, the cloudy questions came wafting out from behind the curtain like smoke through the sliding window of an old VW bus.

If it’s not marijuana, then why is it illegal? If it’s illegal, then how can you sell it? So what do they do with all the leaves and flowers after they separate the stalks? Can I smoke these pants? Or did I ask that already? And by the way, do you know where I can score a satchel?

It was a slow, uphill battle, but gradually people began to understand. And they took pride in their hemp wallets. And their hemp jeans held up like iron. And no satchels, but the hemp backpacks sure got some good mileage.

Is hemp still illegal?

Yes, U.S. federal law still considers hemp and marijuana to be the same thing. That is, until quite recently, hemp and marijuana were lumped together as a Schedule 1 drug.

In 1970, the Controlled Substances Act went into effect and named cannabis a Schedule 1, along with crystal meth, cocaine, LSD and heroin, to name a few. By definition, a Schedule 1 drug has high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use.

Only with the passage of the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 did the federal government finally remove certain hemp products from the Controlled Substances Act.

State laws vs. Federal laws

You’ve probably heard that most of the country has decriminalized marijuana or legalized it for medical or even recreational purposes. These are state laws and they still contradict federal law. But for the time being, the feds are choosing to look the other way, while the states and their glassy-eyed residents do as they please. Perhaps the day is not far off when the U.S. penal code finally accepts the fact that marijuana’s worst side effect is criminal incarnation.

Thanks to the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018, also known as 2018 U.S. farm bill, industrial hemp with less than 0.3 percent THC is now an ordinary agricultural commodity. Hemp farmers across the country have access to water rights, federal agricultural grants, and the national banking system. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell introduced this legislation, which had already passed with some popularity in his home state of Kentucky.

As of 2019, industrial hemp farming is finally making a comeback in the U.S. Currently, the states of Montana and Colorado are leading the way, along with Oregon, Kentucky and Tennessee.

On the cutting edge of cannabis

Since the psychedelic revolution of the 1960, the hybridization and artificial selection for high-THC cannabis has surged ahead at a mind rattling pace. As hippies ventured around the world on their soul-searching sojourns, they kept returning to California with exotic seeds of Panama Red, Colombia Gold, Thai Stick and the coveted Afghani.

The south Asian strains of Afghanistan and the Indian highlands are commonly known as Cannabis indica. But it’s not clear whether the indica varieties actually belong to a different species. Clearly, sativa and indica strains are capable of cross pollenating, and with some rather astonishing results.

Shorter and bushier in character, indica genetics have no place in an industrial hemp crop. But some amount of indica is highly desirable in most marijuana varieties. Whether for medicinal use or pure recreation, indica tends to produce the more sedated effects. Turn on the black light and turn up the Pink Floyd. Sativa, on the other hand, will get the heart racing and send you hiking into the woods or painting a mural in your living room.

Cannabinoids

Some say that cannabis plants contain a total of 420 diverse cannabinoids, or active compounds. It sounds good, and it would explain the bumper stickers. But it’s hogwash. A more scientifically accurate number would be around 120. And a benefit of hybridizing different strains of sativa and indica is to get more of these cannabinoids working in harmony.

The most important cannabinoid, as far as psychotropic side effects are concerned, must be THC. As mentioned above, this is the compound they test for when distinguishing between industrial hemp and mind-altering Mary Jane.

But the psychoactive landscape is far more complex than simply the fluctuating levels of THC. Of the 100+ compounds, several of them are considered important, but all of them add a little shade of color to the overall rainbow. Even though many of these cannabinoids are not actually psychoactive on their own.

THC typically occurs in the highest levels, and is the principal psychoactive constituent of marijuana. We might say that it’s responsible for the Jimi Hendrix effect, capable of rocking your world. CBN is another constituent, appearing in trace amounts, usually in older or low grade cannabis. We could say it produces the Doobie Brothers effect, something hardly noticeable.

And these days everyone is talking about CBD, reputed for its medicinal properties, although not exactly psychoactive per se. Studies show that CDB can be very beneficial for pain, anxiety and other conditions. And I like to think of it as producing the Crosby Stills & Nash effect. It doesn’t make you loopy, but it sure sounds nice.

Can a low-THC hemp plant produce significant levels of medicinal CBD?

If industrial hemp has less than one percent THC, and plants with more THC are considered marijuana, then you might ask, what about CBD?

Now that recreational and medicinal cannabis are legal across more than half of the country, maybe it’s not such a pressing question. But cannabis genetics can get confusing, and so can the laws. So I’d like to know. Where is all this CBD oil coming from?

Those obsessive pot breeders who have spent the last 40 years getting THC levels from 3 percent to 30 percent, are now changing course. They aren’t giving up on THC, but to satisfy a new market, they are bringing back older strains with lower THC and higher CBD. Because it’s impossible to grow cannabis that’s very high in both.

In fact, the highest levels of CDB, up to 30 percent, occur in cannabis varieties with negligible amounts of THC, like hemp. But there’s a third category that has balanced quantities of CBD and THC, and these strains are the source of most commercial CBD oil.

Hemp flowers for CBD

With the passage of the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill, industrial hemp cultivation is now legal at the federal level. While a handful of states have yet to lift the prohibition, most of the country is moving forward quickly to make the most of this incredible crop.

And one of the greatest economic incentives right now is CBD oil. Currently a billion dollar a year industry, many expect CBD to grow as much as twenty-fold by the year 2020. Researchers and farmers are working hard to develop and identify strains that produce the most CBD while still falling below the 0.3% THC level to qualify as industrial hemp.

CBD producers are even growing hemp very similarly to marijuana. Because the CBD is produced in the cannabis flower (just like THC), it’s more advantageous to only grow female plants. So many hemp growers are now seeking feminized seeds, more likely to produce female plants. They are also growing from clones, cuttings taken from female plants that are guaranteed to be female.

If these practices continue, cultivating bushy hemp plants to produce the largest possible flowers, it might indeed become very difficult to distinguish low-THC hemp from high-potency marijuana.

Is hemp oil the same as CBD oil?

Hemp oil and CBD oil are actually two very different things. But unfortunately, a lot of sloppy marketing material has created a whole new wave of cannabis confusion. Hemp oil, sold as a nutritional supplement high in minerals and fatty acids, is actually oil from the hemp seed. (High-grade marijuana, to be clear, consists only of female flowers and does not produce seeds.)

CBD oil, by contrast, is extracted from cannabis flowers. In the absence of THC, CBD does not itself produce any psychoactive side effects. Yet it does have a long list of medicinal benefits.

What does the future of cannabis look like?

It’s impossible to say, but I think that legalization is definitely going to open the doors to some surprising innovations in both hemp and marijuana. From industrial products like paper, textiles and insulation; to nutritional supplements like hemp nut and hemp oil; and a full spectrum of medicinal products.

Currently, the promise of low-THC hemp to produce medicinal CBD for pain and anxiety is the most interesting thing on the horizon. Will this lead to a gold rush for farmers looking to avoid conventional pharmaceuticals and the risk of getting high? Will the distinction between industrial and medicinal grow hazy? Who knows how all this will unfold.

We should expect to see a fantastic array of new cannabis offerings. But as with any new and changing industry, we need to stay and informed and be wary of things that are not what they seem. As discerning consumers, it’s up to us to hold cannabis to the highest standards so that it can live up to its greatest potential.

Further reading

To learn more about hemp and bamboo as a viable natural resources, check out some of our other popular articles.

Hemp Laws in all 50 U.S. States Hemp vs. Bamboo: The ultimate comparison What’s so great about Bamboo?
Questions about bambooAnswers to the most frequently asked questions about bamboo

The world of bamboo is vast and fascinating. With so many varieties, so many uses, and so much to know about this remarkable plant, we never seem to run out of questions, myths and misconceptions.

So let’s cut to the chase and answer 12 of the most common questions about bamboo that we hear all the time from our readers and customers.

1. Why is bamboo called a grass?

Botanists classify bamboo as a grass because of its perennial, flowering, monocotyledonous growth habit. Like all grasses, bamboo has stems that are mostly hollow except at the nodes, and grows with leaves that form a sheath around the stem. The grass family, Poaceae, includes about 12,000 species, with approximately 1,500 species of bamboo belonging to more than 100 different genera.

2. Which bamboo is non-invasive and easy to contain?

Most bamboos propagate themselves with underground roots called rhizomes. We call these types of bamboo “runners” because of how the rhizomes spread quickly and aggressively. Other varieties of bamboo have a more compact growth habit and we call them “clumpers”. Most species of the Bambusa genus are clumpers, including the very popular Oldhami. Alphonse Karr is another popular clumper.

For more suggestions, check out this article on the 10 Best bamboos for your garden. We also have an article on How to contain and control your bamboo, because even the clumping varieties will spread over time.

3. Which bamboo grows the fastest and tallest?

Bamboo is famous, in some cases infamous, for how fast it grows. Some varieties can grow up to two feet a day, but that’s under optimal conditions (usually in the tropics) and only during the new growth season. The genus Phyllostachys includes some of the most vigorous species of running bamboo. The tallest and thickest varieties of bamboo are generally referred to as timber bamboo; some are runners and some clumpers. Phyllostachys vivax and Olhami are among the most popular timber bamboo.

Again, check out our article on the 10 Best bamboos for your garden.

4. What species of bamboo is Lucky Bamboo?

Sorry to burst your bamboo-loving bubble, but Lucky Bamboo is not actually a bamboo at all. Rather, it is a species of the temperate houseplant, Dracaena. But don’t fret, almost all varieties of bamboo are lucky by their very nature!

You can read our article on Dracaena sanderiana for more details.

5. Will bamboo grow in Canada and cold climates?

Good news! Even if you live in Canada, Minnesota or the heights of the Rocky Mountains, you can find an assortment of cold hardy bamboo species that will thrive in your area. The most cold hardy varieties belong to the genus Phyllostachys (mostly runners) or the genus Fargesia (mostly clumpers).

Definitely take a look at our article on the Best cold hardy bamboos. You can check your local nursery, or you may want to order specific varieties of bamboo online.

6. Will bamboo grow indoors?

Generally, bamboo does NOT grow well indoors. Being a grass, bamboo requires a lot of fresh air and sunlight. Some bamboos prefer shady places in the garden, but not inside the house. You can keep bamboo in a sunny window for a few weeks, maybe even a few months, but it will not thrive. White flies, spider mites and other pests can become a problem. If it has to be indoors, better to stick with Lucky Bamboo. (See above.)

7. Why is bamboo eco-friendly?

Bamboo’s incredible rate of growth and self-propagation makes it an incredibly renewable and sustainable resource. And its versatility makes it an ideal substitute for timber, cotton, even steel. Unlike most crops, bamboo grows naturally in dense “mono-crop” settings without the need for pesticides and fertilizers. Furthermore, an area of bamboo can produce 35 percent more oxygen than the same area of trees, making it an excellent remedy for carbon pollution.

8. Can you eat bamboo?

Absolutely. Asians have been enjoying the nutritional benefits of fresh bamboo shoots for thousands of years. Not every species of bamboo has tasty shoots, but a few of the more popular edible varieties are Bambusa oldhamii, Phyllostachys edulis, and Phyllostachys bambusoides.

To learn more about the history and nutrition of eating bamboo, you can read our article on Edible bamboo shoots.

9. What kind of bamboo do pandas eat?

There are roughly 40 different species of bamboo that make up the diet of the giant panda bear. None of these includes Moso bamboo, which is the Chinese variety used most widely for commercial purposes, including bamboo clothing and bamboo flooring.

10. When does bamboo flower?

Different species of bamboo have different flowering schedules, which can vary dramatically. Many varieties only flower once every hundred years or so. Interestingly, in many cases, almost every specimen of given species, anywhere in the world, will flower at the same time when the blooming cycle comes around. In some cases, the bamboo will die after flowering. Because bamboo typically propagates itself by spreading its roots, the flowering is not so important for survival the way it is in other plants.

11. Can you grow bamboo from seeds?

Bamboo can be grown from seed, although it’s not the standard practice. It’s much easier to propagate bamboo by taking root cuttings and dividing established clumps. To grow bamboo from seed is more of a novelty for real bamboo and botany enthusiasts. Growing from seed can result in a slightly different strain, rather than the identical copy you get from a cutting.

12. What’s so great about bamboo clothing?

Bamboo has gained increased attention in recent years with the advent of bamboo clothing and textiles. The benefits of bamboo clothing are almost too numerable to list. To begin with, bamboo’s tenacious growth habit makes it incredibly renewable and sustainable. As mentioned above, bamboo grows quickly, requires no pesticides and herbicides, and needs no replanting after harvesting. This is in sharp contract to conventional cotton which is extremely pesticide intensive.

In addition to the ecological advantages of bamboo, anyone can easily feel the difference when they handle a luxuriously soft bamboo t-shirt or bamboo bath towel. Not only is bamboo fabric soft, but it has antimicrobial properties that make it hypoallergenic and resistant to odors. You will also discover the temperature regulating qualities when you wear a bamboo shirt or sleep on a set of bamboo sheets — warm in the winter, cool in the summer!

Further reading

To learn a great deal more about bamboo, check out fundamental articles:

What’s so great about bamboo? Growing Bamboo: The complete how-to guide The best bamboo varieties for construction

Photo Credit: David Clode (Unsplash)

Arashiyama Bamboo GroveBamboo Tourism

So you’re in love with bamboo, and you just can’t get enough of it? Welcome to the club.

My name is Fred and I’m a bambooholic. That’s right. Without my regular fix of noble bamboo grasses, I get terribly wound up. When the monotony of ordinary life brings me down, or a particularly grueling day at the office leaves me on edge, there’s only one thing to bring me back to center.

That’s right, there’s nothing so calm and balancing as a quiet stroll through a majestic grove of bamboo. And when that’s not available, an inconspicuous seat among a few clusters of potted bamboo will do just fine.

If I could, I’d travel the world to visit all the greatest bamboo forests in the world. And I’d pay a visit to every arboretum and botanical garden with a bamboo collection worth mentioning. Well, unfortunately that hasn’t been possible yet. But in the meantime, I’m keeping a list of the world’s best bamboo gardens, just in case the opportunity arises.

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.

The Bucket List of Best Bamboo Gardens

Now if you Google “best bamboo garden” — and maybe you already have — you’ll probably get pages and pages of results for Chinese restaurants, all cleverly (if not originally) named Bamboo Garden. Maybe someday we’ll get around to writing reviews for bamboo themed restaurants. But don’t hold your breath. Instead, grab your notepad and your world atlas, because we’re heading on a tour of the world’s greatest bamboo gardens.

NOTE: We present following list in no particular order, although the gardens are numbered to make the list easier to scroll. Otherwise we have organized the list by continent, beginning with Asia, which not surprisingly lays claim to the greatest number of incredible bamboo gardens, especially in Japan.

ASIA:

1. Arashiyama Bamboo Grove in Kyoto (Japan)

In a city teeming with monuments of historic and cultural significance, the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove of Kyoto — also called the Sagano Bamboo Forest — adds yet another rich layer of texture to this glorious metropolis. A natural forest of sprawling, towering bamboo, the Japanese Ministry of Environment manages the grove as a tourist attraction and natural reserve. There are several trails leading through the park, where visitors can feel themselves being swallowed up by the massive grasses. Once upon you could come here and meditate to the sound of rustling leaves and clonking bamboo poles, but today the forest has risen to the status of world-class, must-see destinations, so don’t expect to have the place all to yourself.

2. Higashikurumeshi Chikurin Park, Tokyo (Japan)

A peaceful botanical garden with a naturally flowing spring and some 2000 thriving shoots of bamboo, Chikurin Park is located close to the train station and charges no entrance fee. If you’re looking for an oasis of bamboo in a quiet suburb of Tokyo, this densely wooded grove is well worth a visit.

3. Hokoku-ji Temple in Kamakura (Japan)

A Zen Buddhist temple dating back to the 14th century, Hokoku-ji is often referred to as the Bamboo Temple. Amidst the various structures, all beautiful specimens of Japanese architecture, you’ll find of grove of about 2000 Moso bamboo poles. If you want to take in a genuine Zen experience with your bamboo, this is the destination.

4. Suzume-no Oyado Ryokuchi Park in Tokyo (Japan)

Though not one of Japan’s larger bamboo collections, this grove has been established for more than 200 years. The metropolitan park is named after the large species of sparrow (suzume in Japanese) that once overwhelmed the area. Today you’ll still find many of these and other birds among the bamboo, but not in the great quantities of centuries past. You can also visit a traditional and fully restored Japanese house here.

5. Wangjianglou Park in Chengdu (China)

Deep in the heart of this central Chinese super-metropolis (population approx. 14 million), Chengdu’s Wangjianglou Park is the ultimate urban hideaway. With charming teahouses and meticulous landscaping that sprawls out for acres and acres, the highlight of this stunning park is arguably its historic and extensive collection of bamboo. Numerous monuments here are dedicated to Xue Tao, a famous Tang dynasty poetess, whose passion for bamboo has been well documented. In her memory, the landscape architects also planted more than 200 species of bamboo, and today they have grown to magnificent size and splendor.

6. Zizhuyuan Park, Purple Bamboo Garden in Beijing (China)

One of Beijing’s seven largest parks, with a history tracing back to the 12th century, the Purple Bamboo Garden consists of three lakes and a series of canals and bridges occupying more than 100 acres. The bamboo planting began in the 1500s, during the Ming Dynasty, and today you can find more than 50 species growing on the premises, as well as an assortment of bamboo structures. The park earned its name from the abundance of purple bamboo, but the quantity and diversity of bamboo growing in the park is truly astonishing.

7. Juknokwon in Damyang (Korea)

The South Korean county of Damyang is well-known for its thriving bamboo forests, and the residents have gone so far to make a tourist attraction out of their prolific bamboo. In addition to the verdant arboretum, the region is also home to a bamboo theme park, a bamboo museum, and a bamboo festival. The arboretum, “Juknokwon”, features some very scenic and well-maintained walking paths and an artificial waterfall.

8. Son Tra Mountain Bamboo Forest and Museum in Da Nang (Vietnam)

Vietnam’s largest bamboo museum is the essentially the work of a single monk named Thich The Tuong. He started collecting and planting bamboo in this idyllic corner of the country about 10 years ago as a way to preserve and share this vital symbol of Vietnamese heritage. He claims now to have more than a 100 species of bamboo on his property. You can discover an amazing array of treasures — both natural and manmade — throughout the surrounding forests of the Son Tra peninsula.

9. Carolina Bamboo Gardens (Philippines)

Carolina Gozon Jimenez began this garden in the year 2000 on a 5 hectare (12 acre) plot of land just outside the crowded capital city of Manila. Today the beautifully landscaped acreage features about 45 species of bamboo, both indigenous and exotic. Some very striking bamboo structures also showcase the plant’s impressive potential as a construction material. Most interesting of all may be the Bambusetum, Carolina’s bamboo gene bank, preserving a diversity of bamboo genetics for generations to come. The facility also hosts seminars and events to promote bamboo and environmental stewardship.

SOUTH AMERICA:

10. Serra dos Órgãos National Park near Rio de Janeiro (Brazil)

In any other setting, this bamboo garden would be a highlight in itself, but here in the 40-square-mile national park, the bamboo almost gets lost in the landscape of dramatic rock formations and lush vegetation. A peaceful trail leads through the grove into a place of zen known only to real bamboo aficionados, but that’s only one small facet of this stunning landmark. Come for the bamboo, stay for the spectacular topography!

Sunrise over Serra dos Órgãos National Park with the iconic “Finger of God”. (Wikipedia) 11. El Paraiso del Bambu y La Guadua (Colombia)

A real Mecca for the most serious bamboo enthusiasts, Colombia’s “Bamboo Paradise” is like a living monument to this astonishing plant. Outside of Asia, Colombians probably make better use of bamboo than any other nationality on earth. An educational facility and agro-tourism destination, the Paradise hosts tours and workshops, and grows some of the most impressive bamboo specimens in the world. Demonstrations provide participants with hands-on experience in planting bamboo and using it for a vast range of purposes, from ecological conservation to construction. Of course, all the buildings on the premises are fashioned from giant timber bamboo.

NORTH AMERICA:

12. Manoa Falls Trail near Honolulu (Hawaii)

A very popular hike on the island of Oahu — where it’s pretty difficult to walk into the woods and find anything less than sensational — this trail will lead you up the mountain through a lush jungle and a gorgeous bamboo forest before reaching the namesake waterfall. At the bottom of the hill, Lyon Arboretum (formerly Manoa Arboretum) offers plant lovers a spectacle of tropical diversity,  brimming with palms, gingers, heliconias, bromeliads, and aroids.

13. Pipiwai Trail and Bamboo Forest of Maui (Hawaii)

Located within the Haleakalā National Park (famous for its 7-mile wide volcanic crater), this 6-mile trail will take you through a massive, wild forest of bamboo that stretches out as far as the eye can see. For such an majestic and expansive forest of bamboo, it’s one of the easiest in the world to reach. Prepare to be mesmerized by the sound of leaves rustling and bamboo canes knocking together. Keep going and you’ll reach a couple of incredible waterfalls, one of them (Makahiku Falls) over 200 feet tall. Technically, bamboo is not native to Hawaii, but then nothing really is, because the terrain was created by volcano eruptions. Everything living on the islands today arrived from elsewhere, by wind, by sea or by bird.

14. The Makaleha Hike on Kaua’i (Hawaii)

Unlike many other bamboo gardens on this list, this one is no walk in the park. I mean that quite literally. To reach this wild bamboo forest, you may have to explore deep into the outback. Although the trail is officially less than three miles, it is recommended only for expert hikers. Bring rugged hiking shoes, and a first aid kit, just in case. Along the way you can expect to see 5 or 6 waterfalls and a plethora of biodiversity. And beware: if you wander too far from the river, you might also expect to get lost in the dense forest of bamboo and jungle!

15. Allerton Botanical Garden on Kaua’i (Hawaii)

Covering 80 acres on the south shore of Kaua’i, this botanical garden offers one of the most picturesque settings on an exceptionally picturesque island. Among its rich array of tropical wonders, the garden has a glorious grove of golden bamboo. Besides the stunning diversity, this garden emphasizes landscape design, so you don’t have to be a trained botanist to appreciate the meticulous planning and outdoor aesthetics.

16. Bamboo Giant in Aptos (California)

As we’re based in San Luis Obispo, on California’s Central Coast, I just had to include this “local” favorite, a phenomenal nursery nestled in the coastal hills just south of Santa Cruz. But if you think this is merely a case of provincial favoritism, think again. Bamboo Giant encompasses 38 acres of sprawling runners and clumpers and koi ponds and bamboo pagodas — just big enough to feel lost, without actually getting lost. I’m guessing there are well over a hundred varieties of bamboo on the property, but it’s hard to say. For the most part, the various groves are very well labeled with little markers, which can be very rewarding for more horticulturally curious bamboo lover like myself. But eventually, even I reach the saturation point and lose count. Anyway, if you happen to fall in love with a certain strain of bamboo, you can take some home in a pot, because it’s all for sale.

17. Bamboo Garden in North Plains (Oregon) Overlooking the Bamboo Garden Nursery in North Plains, Oregon

Boasting the largest collection of temperate bamboos in the United States, the Bamboo Garden Nursery occupies more than 20 acres in a beautiful woodland setting, just outside of Portland, Oregon. The garden operates as a nursery, with hundred of varieties of bamboo for sale, but it’s also open to the public. In addition to the outdoor groves, there are numerous greenhouses on the premises. Spend a couple hours and you can expect to see some interesting wildlife among the bamboo as well.

EUROPE:

18. Bambouseraie bamboo garden in Languedoc (France)

Looking for another excuse to visit the south of France? Here it is. (You’re welcome.) About 30 miles northwest of Nimes, the Bambouseraie has been propagating flora and welcoming visitors since 1856. Among this prepossessing collection of oak, gingko, magnolia and more, you’ll soon find that this privately run botanical garden specializes in our favorite grass: bamboo. Today the leafy menagerie includes about 300 varieties, making it one of the most diversified bamboo collections on earth. (Experts put the total number of bamboo species somewhere between 1200 and 2000.) Wander about 80+ acres of bamboo groves and soak up the serenity as you bathe in the glory of this amazing plant. They even have a bamboo hedge labyrinth, so you can truly get lost!

19. Kew Botanical Gardens in London (U.K.)

Not necessarily one of the most impressive groves of bamboo, no must-see list of botanical gardens would be complete without mentioning the Royal Botanic Garden of Kew, which covers a tremendous 326 acres and calls itself the home of a mind-boggling 8.3 million plant and fungal herbarium specimens. For an enhanced sense of tranquility, the bamboo garden lies hidden in a quiet corner between the lake and the Rhododendron Dell. In addition to the several resplendent stands of bamboo, you’ll also find some prehistoric ginkgo trees and a traditional Japanese farmhouse. Keep an eye out for the local dragonfly population as well.

And last but not least!

20. Batumi Botanical Garden (Autonomous Republic of Georgia)

Who would have thought that a world wide tour of bamboo gardens would bring us to the former Soviet state of Georgia? Me neither. It’s probably pretty off-the-beaten-track for most of us, but the Batumi Botanical Garden definitely deserves a spot on the bucket list. I thought I’d been to every great Botanical Garden in Europe, from Lisbon to Bucharest, but here’s a new one.

Now if you’re like me, you might think a former Soviet territory would be the last place on earth to find a tropical wonderland. And so, where is Georgia anyway? You may want to consult an atlas, but Georgia is located on the eastern shore of the Black Sea, between Russian and Armenia; it also borders Turkey and Azerbaijan. So is that in Europe or Asia? God only knows.

This immense garden covers more than 250 acres of rugged terrain on this remote stretch of subtropical coastline known as the Green Cape of the Black Sea. Open to the public since 1912, a few of the gardens highlights are its majestic, 125-year-old magnolia trees and giant sequoias. Batumi also boasts an incredible diversity of succulents, palms, roses, camellias, citrus, evergreens, and yes, bamboo. An astonishing collection of East Asian plant life comprises about 40 percent of the garden, including some exquisite Japanese gardens and a profusion of bamboo forests. If you’re looking a for a far-flung botanical adventure, this one’s for you!

The world’s a big place, and bamboo is notoriously prolific, so I’m sure we’ve missed some significant examples here. A certain corner of Central America? The entire island of Bali perhaps? If you have a favorite bamboo forest or garden that we overlooked, please let us know in the comments section below.

FURTHER READING: If you’d like to learn more, take a look at some of our most popular articles about bamboo.

Best bamboo varieties for your garden Growing Bamboo: The complete how-to guide Bamboo symbolism in mythology and folklore Bamboo shoots: delicious and nutritious Bamboo Q & A: Ask the experts

Featured Image: Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, Kyoto, Japan (Unsplash)

Cold hardy bamboo in the snowCan I grow bamboo in the snow?

We hear this question all the time, especially from our friends in Canada. Can I grow bamboo where it snows? The short answer is YES. But the long answer is that it really depends what variety of bamboo you are growing.

NOTE: To make shopping easier, this article may include one or two affiliate links.

There are more than a thousand species of grass in the bamboo family, and the majority of the most popular bamboos for gardening come from the tropics or subtropics, so they much prefer the warmer climates. But with that many varieties to choose from , you can be sure that a sufficient number of bamboos will grow happily in the snowy mountain regions and far northern latitudes like Canada.

In fact, there are dozen of varieties of cold hardy bamboo to consider. Most of them belong to either the Phyllostachys or the Fargesia group (genus) of bamboo. Phyllostachys is one of the most prevalent genera of bamboo, primarily native to China and including about 50 distinct species. Almost every species of Phyllostachys is a fast spreading runner (with an aggressive rhizome root system), and many of them are cold hardy, down to -5 or 10º F.

Fargesia is another major genus of bamboo, also indigenous to China and southeast Asia. Unlike Phyllostachys, the Fargesia bamboos are chiefly dense growing clumpers. This and their cold hardiness have made many varieties of Fargesia very popular among gardeners.

Cold hardy runners Phyllostachys aureosulcata: The “yellow groove bamboo” is easily recognizable for the yellow stripe that’s visible on the dark green culms. A subspecies known as “crookstem bamboo” has shoots that sometimes grow in a zig-zag manner. This visually interesting and attractive variety can grow up to nearly 50 feet in height, even in freezing temperatures. But in zones were it regularly gets below -10 or 15º F, it probably won’t grow more than 10 feet tall. Phyllostachys heteroclada f. solida: This subspecies of “water bamboo” is commonly known as “solid bamboo”. It’s one of the few varieties that actually has a solid stem, rather than being hollow inside. It’s also a bit more cold resistant than ordinary water bamboo, hardy down to -10º F. Phyllostachys bissetii: Very dense growing, with a thick bushy canopy, and very cold hardy. The one-inch shoots will grown up to about 20 feet in height. Phyllostachys nuda: A very attractive and cold hardy species, its shoots get 1-2 inches in diameter and 25-30 feet in height. Young shoots appear very dark, almost black, turning a rich, dark green as they mature, usually with pretty, white rings around the culm nodes. Phyllostachys atrovaginata: Popularly known as “incense bamboo”, this variety has a waxy coat that gives the culms a very pleasant fragrance in hot weather or when rubbed. Many gardeners appreciate how fast his bamboo grows, with thick culms of 3 inches or more in diameter and up to about 40 feet in height. Good at temperatures as low as -10 or 15º F. Phyllostachys parvifolia: Like water bamboo, the rhizomes of this species are well adapted for wet and saturated soil. Small leaves make the thick, dark green culms stand out, and the white rings around the nodes give them even more character. Fresh shoots of this variety are reputed to be delicious in flavor. Mature shoots can get up to 40 feet tall, and it is cold hardy down to -15º F.

REMEMBER: If you’re planting running bamboo, like any Phyllostachys variety, always use a root barrier. Check out this Deep Root Barrier available from Amazon. Also check out this detailed article on bamboo containment practices.

Cold hardy clumpers Fargesia murielae: Commonly known as “umbrella bamboo”, many consider this to be among the most beautiful varieties for cultivation. New shoots have a light blue hue, turning dark green and yellow with age. Growing this bamboo in a shady area will help preserve the rich blue shade. Thin shoots will get about 12 feet tall, and it’s hardy down to -20º F. Fargesia nitida: “Blue fountain bamboo” earned its name from the dark purple, bluish culms and the thick, cascading canopy of foliage. One-inch poles can get to about 15 feet tall, and thrive in temperatures as low as -20º F. Fargesia dracocephala: “Dragon head bamboo” has think culms growing to about 10 feet, with a thick, weeping leaf canopy that can provide a good privacy hedge. Not recommended for hot, humid climates, but cold hardy down to -10º F. Fargesia rufa: A compact, thick and bushy variety, Rufa much prefers the cooler climates, and also does well in partial shade, protected from afternoon sun. This species is hardy down to -15º F. Thin culms grow to about 10 feet tall. Fargesia sp. ‘Jiuzhaigou’: This species includes many interesting and cold hardy cultivars, including “red dragon” and black cherry”. As the names suggest, these are some more colorful varietals. With thin culms growing to around 10 feet, this is a more compact species of bamboo, but cold hardy down to -20º F. Pack your bags for Canada! Growing Bamboo in the Cold

As you can see, there are plenty of bamboos to choose from if you’re looking to landscape an oriental style garden in the northern habitats of the US, Canada or even Europe. Most of these species are hardy into the negative Fahrenheit territory, so as long as you aren’t expecting to dip below minus 20º or something, you should be fine. And even if the leaves get a little fried in an abnormally severe cold snap, the roots should still endure.

Have fun gardening, and if you have any photos of snowmen in your bamboo grove, please send them our way!

Bamboo for Gardens is one of the best books about bambooBamboo literature for your library or coffee table

Here at Bambu Batu, we’re just crazy about bamboo. Perhaps you knew that by now. We grow it, we wear it, we eat it, and we read about it.

As one of the oldest cultivated plants in human history, you can believe there are quite a few books about bamboo. So your chances of reading every bamboo book are about as good as your chances of visiting every bamboo garden. That’s why we’ve put together this list, a sort of greatest hits compilation from the world of bamboo literature.

Yes, you might say we’re a little obsessed. But no, we’re not completely bamboo bonkers. That is, we haven’t read every book about bamboo ever written. We’ve read quite a few though, and sold several titles in the shop. We’ve also spent years researching bamboo and networking in the bamboo industry. There’s no doubt, in fact, that we are authorities on the subject.

NOTE: To make shopping easier, we’ve included some affiliate links in this article.

Bamboo Subject Matter

Bamboo is an enormous subject, so to get a better handle on it, let’s break the literature down into three distinct topics. And before you order what may be described as the “bible of bamboo”, be sure that it actually covers the topics of bamboo that you’re interested in.

For example, if you’re planning to build a bamboo house, and your “bible of bamboo” is actually a phenomenally comprehensive account of bamboo’s anthropological history, then you might be in for a disappointment. Just be sure you know what you’re looking for, and always check the product description or the summary on the back cover before you make a purchase.

To make shopping for the right book even easier, we’ve included direct links to Amazon.

Books on BAMBOO GARDENING & HORTICULTURE

If you’re planting or maintaining a bamboo garden, be sure your book is about growing bamboo. Plenty of bad book reviews on Amazon come from gardeners who bought books filled with “useless” information about the history of bamboo.

1. Bamboo for Gardens, by Ted Jordan Meredith

Probably of my number one go-to for bamboo eye candy, this beautiful volume explains the many great reasons for planting bamboo, and then goes about describing how to do so in your own garden to get the very best results. An excellent addition to the coffee table, the book is also rich with encyclopedic, botanical information on selecting, planting and maintaining the best species for your setting.

2. Ornamental Bamboos, by David Crompton

Another very nice looking and extremely informative anthology of bamboos, this beautifully illustrated book covers a couple hundred varieties of the most attractive tropical and subtropical bamboos. Not only fun to look at, but also filled with useful, specific advice for planting and growing.

3. Farming Bamboo, by Daphne Lewis and Carol Miles

If you’re thinking about growing bamboo on a larger, maybe even an industrial scale, then this is the book for you. Lewis and Miles are positively the North America authorities on large scale bamboo cultivation. An invaluable resource for any bamboo farmer, the book is loaded with practical information on the growing, harvesting and marketing of bamboo for myriad purposes.

Books on BAMBOO HISTORY

For the real bamboo enthusiast or scholar, there is an abundance of literature out there on the 7,000-year (give or take) history of bamboo. These sorts of books will typically address the many uses of bamboo over the centuries, from eating to building to paper making. Some are likely to focus on one area more than another. You’ll also find a wealth of mythology and folklore that usually appears alongside bamboo history. More specialized books can also cover those erudite topics.

4. The Book of Bamboo, by David Farrelly

This comprehensive compendium just overflows with fascinating facts, stories and illustrations. Written with exuberant passion, the book covers the history of bamboo and its co-evolution with Asian civilization, exploring the plant’s countless uses in both the past and the present.

5. Bamboo, by Susanne Lucas

Here’s yet another handsome volume to prove that bamboo is magnificently photogenic, on top of all its other remarkable traits. One of America’s foremost authorities on bamboo, the author Susanne Lucas is executive director of the World Bamboo Organization and a horticulturalist, designer, and landscape gardener based in Massachusetts. Her book provides a very thorough history of bamboo and its uses by humans over several millennia, while also cataloging the impressive range of innovations and applications in modern times.

Books on BAMBOO CONSTRUCTION

A subject that’s undergone something of a renaissance in recent years, bamboo construction is fascinating even for the layman, and can get very technical for those actually wanting to build a structure they can comfortably live in. Depending which sub-category you belong to, be sure that the bamboo construction book you buy contains the types of pictures and the level of detail that will be most useful and interesting to you.

6. Grow Your Own House, by Simón Vélez

Considered something like the Master Guru of bamboo construction, no one has done more to demonstrate the incredible building potential of bamboo than Colombian architect Simón Vélez. In Grow Your Own House, Vélez presents a stunning selection of bamboo structures that will change the way you think about bamboo shelter. Contrary to the title, the book only includes a handful of houses, but it’s filled with examples of ingenious construction features that could be used across a variety of applications.

7. Building With Bamboo, by Gernot Minke

This stimulating volume is loaded with useful, practical images and information about bamboo’s uses as a construction material. Featuring a great selection of bamboo structures, the book will inspire you with its broad scope and educate you with its up-close details.

8. Bamboo Architecture & Design, by Chris van Uffelen

This beautifully laid out book showcases an array of bamboo structures in Asia and South America, demonstrating the plant’s ability to measure up favorably against both timber and steel.

Appendix and Endnotes

There are literally hundreds of books about bamboo out there, and these are just a handful of our favorites. If you’re looking for something more specific —whether it’s Building a Bamboo Fly Rod, the secret to Cooking With Your Bamboo Steamer, the exotic elegance of decorating with Bamboo Style, or whatever have in mind — it’s all available.

And just when thought you knew all there was to know about bamboo, perhaps you’ll discover a brand new obsession with Japanese Bamboo Basketry. Wherever your bamboo passion takes you, go there with gusto, and maybe some day you’ll be writing a bamboo book of your own.

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