Can 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 on what variety of bamboo you are growing.
There are more than a thousand species of grass in the bamboo family, and many of the most popular bamboos for gardening come from the tropics or subtropics, so they much prefer the warmer climates. But with so 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 dozens of varieties of cold hardy bamboo to consider. Most of them belong to either the Phyllostachys or the Fargesia genus of bamboo. They can withstand temperatures as low as -10º to -20º F.
Phyllostachys is one of the most widespread 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. But you’ll want to keep a close eye on these running bamboos to be sure they don’t become invasive, as runners sometimes do.
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 extreme cold hardiness have made many varieties of Fargesia very popular among gardeners. The fact is, most clumping bamboos come from tropical and subtropical climates, so cold-hardy clumpers are especially rare and desirable.
|Botanical name||Common name||Description|
|Phyllostachys aureosulcata||Yellow groove bamboo||Running bamboo with distinctive yellow stripe|
|Phyllostachys heteroclada f. solida||Water bamboo||Running bamboo with solid (rather than hollow) canes|
|Phyllostachys bissetii||Bissetii||Running bamboo with dense dark green foliage|
|Phyllostachys nuda||Nuda||Running bamboo with an attractive appearance|
|Phyllostachys atrovaginata||Incense bamboo||Running bamboo with waxy, aromatic coating|
|Phyllostachys parvifolia||Running bamboo with thick canes and small leaves|
|Phyllostachys vivax||Vivax||Running timber bamboo|
|Fargesia murielae||Umbrella bamboo||Clumping bamboo with colorful bluish culms|
|Fargesia nitida||Blue fountain bamboo||Clumping with colorful culms and cascading leaves|
|Fargesia dracocephala||Dragon head bamboo||Clumping with thick canes and weeping foliage|
|Fargesia rufa||Rufa||Clumping bamboo for cool, shady areas|
|Fargesia sp. ‘Jiuzhaigou’||Red dragon, Black cherry||Clumping bamboo, compact but colorful|
|Indocalamus tessellatus||Giant leaf bamboo||Short, shrubby runner with giant leaves|
|Bashania fargesii||Windbreak bamboo||Very aggressive runner, with sturdy upright culms|
|Sasa palmata||Dwarf variety with vigorous, running rhizomes|
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 where 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 grow up to about 20 feet in height. Cold hardy to at least -10º F, even down to -25º with proper mulching.
- 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 this 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.
- Bashania fargesii: The thick, sturdy culms with dense foliage make this an especially popular choice for wind breaks and privacy screens. It’s also one of the most vigorous growers, so watch out! Native to the mountains of southern China, this species is cold hardy down to around 0º F. Culms reach about 2 inches in diameter and 20 to 30 feet in height, with unusually long internodes.
You might also look for some Arundinaria, the only genus of bamboo indigenous to the United States. Despite being native, it’s not easy to find in nurseries. Arundinaria gigantea ‘Macon’ is an exceptionally hardy cultivar that also does well in wet soil.
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 our list of bamboo gardening supplies and 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 thick 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!
For more cold-tolerant clumping bamboos, you might also look into Borinda, Chusquea, and Himalayacalamus.
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.
To give your bamboo some even greater protection against the cold, you may want to provide them with some extra heavy mulch. Normally, bamboo mulches itself as it loses leaves, but in a harsh winter climate, you’ll need to add at least a few inches of bark, wood chips or even pine needles. This will help the roots to retain moisture and keep warm, ensuring a healthy surge of new shoots when spring comes around.
Have fun gardening, and if you have any photos of snowmen in your bamboo grove, please send them our way!
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