Growing bamboo can be an immensely enjoyable and satisfying hobby. It’s a hobby that requires you to learn a whole lot about the vast world of bamboo, and one that will involve a great deal of decision making. Two of the biggest decisions are always going to be: what bamboo should I buy next, and where should I plant it? There will always be restrictions based on your climate, the size and layout of your garden, and your own personal preferences. And inevitably, there are going to be shady corners of the garden where you’re just not sure what to plant. So you might ask, can I grow bamboo in the shade? And if so, which varieties will be best?

Yes, you can grow bamboo in the shade. And there are certainly some bamboo species which prefer more shade than others. But it will also depend on your climate. In very hot regions, most bamboos will benefit from at least a little bit of shade. In colder climates, you will need to be more selective about what goes in the shade. Generally, some of the most shade loving varieties of bamboo belong to the genera Fargesia and Borinda. Shorter, ground cover types of bamboo are also going to tolerate more shade, namely genera like Pleioblastus, Sasa and Sasaella.

In the following article, we’ll go into more depth about growing bamboo in the shade, and identify some specific varieties that are most likely to perform better under those conditions.

Botanical nameCommon nameBrief description
Borinda papyriferaClumping bamboo with powdery blue culms, 15-25 feet tall
Chimonobambusa tumidissinodaWalking StickRunning bamboo with interesting nodes, 10-30 feet tall
Fargesia papyrifera Blue DragonCold hardy, clumping bamboo with colorful culms
Himalayacalamus hookerianusHimalayan BlueGraceful, clumping bamboo, colorful culms 12-18 feet tall
Indocalamus tessellatusGiant LeafShort, compact, clumping bamboo with large leaves
Pleioblastus pygmaeusDwarf fern leafDwarf, running bamboo, green leaves, pencil-sized culms
Pseudosasa japonicaArrow bambooVigorous runner, 10-15 feet tall, cold hardy to 0º F
Sasa veitchiiKuma bamboo grassDwarf bamboo, running variety, deep green leaves
Sasaella masamuneana AlbostriataRunning ground cover bamboo with white stripes

Ins and outs of growing bamboo in the shade

There are a few reasons why you might want to plant bamboo in the shade. It could be a matter of necessity, based on limited sunlight in your garden. Or if you live in the desert, it might simply be advisable to give your bamboo a little shelter from the beating sun. Or you might just be attracted to a certain variety of bamboo that prefers less sunlight.

The fact is, bamboo is a grass, and like most most grasses, bamboo needs a lot of sunlight. Plants use chlorophyll and photosynthesis to turn sunlight into food, and as such, sunlight is essential. Plants don’t grow in the dark. Sunlight also has a way of deterring some of those shade loving insects that like to dwell on indoor plants and in the cooler corners of the garden.

Some plants have less chlorophyll than others, and that’s true of certain bamboos as well. Less chlorophyll means the vegetation will be less green, and it often means they will want less sunlight. Indirect sunlight will be enough to satisfy the appetite of their limited chlorophyll. Consequently, you’ll find that some of the more shade-tolerant bamboos have pale and blueish hues in the leaves, and others have white stripes. These are characteristics that can add an interest to otherwise deep green garden. But you can also find shade loving bamboos with most vibrant, green foliage.

And if you’re trying to grow bamboo in a desert, where sunshine is overly abundant and water is scarce, a little shade will help them to conserve their water supply and to avoid over heating.

Varying amounts of shade and sunlight can also affect other features of your bamboo plant. Extra shade will usually effect the color of the leaves, sometimes resulting in deeper greens. It can also bring out different colors in the culms, stunning shades of blue, red or purple, depending on the species. More or less shade can change or amplify the stripes on variegated bamboos as well.

Finally, culm internodes tend to grow longer when bamboo is in the shade. It is easiest to observe all these interesting differences when one part of a bamboo plant gets more shade than another part of the same plant. So keep on eye on all corners of your garden, and see what kind of surprises turn up.

Best types of bamboo for the shade

There’s a great variety of bamboos that can do well in the shade. And the ideal amount of shade, whether full or partial, will depend on other weather factors in your locality. But if you’re looking for some bamboo to plant in one of your shady garden corners, the following list will give you a great place to start.

Genus Borinda

This is an unusual genus of clumping bamboo with just eight species. Until recently, members of Borinda were classified as either Fargesia or Yushania. Native to the Himalayan regions of Bhutan, Nepal and southern China, these are generally a cold hardy, shade tolerant and very decorative assortment of bamboos.

Some of the most interesting and attractive species of Borinda include B. fungosa, also called “Chocolate Bamboo”, a weeping variety with deep brown culms, and B. papyrifera with its powdery blue culms. B. boliana is one of the largest bamboos in this genus, growing 20-30 feet tall, with gracefully arching culms.

Most Borinda species prefer cooler climates, and about a half day of sun. They are generally cold hardy down to around 10º F. Not recommended for hot, southern climates.

Chimonobambusa tumidissinoda

The unusually pronounced nodes of C. tumidissinoda have made it a special choice for crafts, especially walking sticks, and hence its common name, Walking Stick Bamboo. In addition to the shapely culms, this species also has very delicate and lacy leaves, producing a very elegant and unique appearance.

Chimonobambusa tumidinoda

This is a running variety, but not a terribly aggressive one. It’s not easy to come by, but it makes a fine addition to any bamboo garden. Walking Stick bamboo can grow 10 to 20 feet tall and is cold hardy down to 5º or 10º F. This makes it a good option for many areas, and it definitely prefers to grow in the shade.

Genus Fargesia

This Chinese genus includes several dozen species of bamboo. They are most notable for being clumping bamboos which are also cold hardy. Most cold hardy bamboos tend to be runners, so this is a rather unusual combination. In addition to being adaptable to cold climates, many varieties of Fargesia also do very well in the shade. Many species grow indigenously in higher altitudes on the eastern slopes of the Himalayas. Some of the more popular species include F. murielae, F. nitida, F. papyrifera and F. rufa.

Himalayacalamus hookerianus

The richly colored, powdery blue culms give this bamboo an especially attractive appearance. Indigenous to the mountains of China, it also does well in warmer and subtropical regions. No surprise then that it’s commonly known as Himalayan Blue.

Native to southern latitudes and high altitudes, H. hookerianus does especially well in the shade, particularly when grown in hotter regions. More shade will also cause the plant to produce bluer culms, which most gardeners consider desirable. This is a clumping variety which can get 20-30 feet tall.

For further enjoyment, the fresh shoots of Himalayan Blue are edible and are said to be quite tasty.

Indocalamus tessellatus

This most exceptional species of bamboo makes a fabulous addition to any enthusiast’s collection. Often referred to as Giant Leaf Bamboo, it has the largest leaves of any bamboo variety. While the plant itself only gets about 6-8 feet tall, the leaves have been known to grow as much as 2 feet long and 4 inches wide.

The gigantic leaves makes for a bushy appearance, also useful as an effective and eye-catching privacy hedge. An especially good choice when a low hedge is all you need. The plant is a runner, but not very aggressive. As a runner, it’s also quite cold hardy, down to about -10º F. And it loves to grow in the shade.

Genus Pleioblastus

A popular genus of bamboo that includes a few dwarves, semi dwarves and striped species, these are vigorous runners and also fairly cold hardy. For the smaller, more shade-tolerant species, look to P. pygmaeus, P. variegatus, and P. fortunei. These modestly sized bamboos can serve as great companion plants under a shady canopy, among larger shade producing bamboos, Mugo pines and Japanese maples. But be careful to plant a root barrier, or else be prepared to see them spread.

Pseudosasa japonica

A very popular variety, Pseudosasa japonica earned the nick name Arrow Bamboo from its long, strong, straight poles, which Samurai warriors once used to make arrows. Today it’s a great choice for planting in shady corners of the garden. Also, though technically classified as a runner, it tends not to spread quite as aggressively as some running bamboos. The broad green leaves also make this a very vibrant and attractive specimen.

Arrow bamboo can tolerate shady areas, especially in a hot, dry habitat. It also likes to be well watered. So try to keep it in a shady area that gets a lot of water run off. More shade tends to make the leaves turn a deeper shade of green, which looks very pretty.

This is an excellent candidate for privacy screens as it grows thick and dense. Its height, usually about 12 to 16 feet, makes it more manageable as well. An especially good choice for privacy hedges with height restrictions.

Genus Sasa

A genus of compact bamboo of Japanese origin, including several cold hardy, running varieties. Typical of dwarf bamboos, which usually grow under some forest canopy, most species of Sasa will do very well in the shade. Keep an eye out for S. veitchii with its luscious deep green foliage, or S. Tsuboiana, a particularly robust ground cover that can get 5 or 6 feet tall.

Genus Sasaella

This genus of dwarfish, running bamboo is native to Japan and includes a number of small, attractive shade loving species. Sasaella masamuneana ‘Albostriata’ is one of the most interesting members of the genus. Albostriata means white stripe, and that’s exactly what you find in the leaves of this dainty but vigorous bamboo. It can also grow a bit hairy on the culms and around the base of the leaves. It’s cold hardy to about 0º F and thrives under limited sunlight.

Further reading

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PHOTO CREDIT: Bamboo in splintered sunlight (Retha Ferguson)

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