We tend to associate bamboo with tropical jungles and warmer climates. But there’s actually an enormous variety of bamboo species, more than 1,200 in all, and many of them are native to more temperate latitudes and higher elevations. So even if you’re trying to grow bamboo in Canada, USDA zones 5 and 6, you should be able to find an ample selection of species suitable for your conditions.
USDA zones 7 and 8 run across the Southern states and up through inland California and the Pacific Northwest. And growing bamboo in zones 7 and 8 is probably easier than you think. While these zones will freeze in the winter, they don’t ordinarily suffer from deep freezes below 0º F. So most varieties of running bamboo, e.g. Phyllostachys, will do fine in these climates. And there are even a handful of clumping bamboos, namely Fargesia and Chusquea, hardy enough for these regions.
In the following article we will go into more detail about the seasonal conditions you can expect in USDA zones 7 and 8. Then we’ll go over the kinds of bamboo that will do best in those conditions. To make it easier, we’ll split them into running bamboos and clumping bamboos, and explain the important differences between these two groups.
Where are USDA zones 7 and 8?
The U.S. Department of Agriculture divides the country into 26 climate zones, from 1a and 1b in northern Alaska, near the arctic circle, all the way to 13a and 13b down in subtropical Puerto Rico. Within the contiguous 48 states, we find a range from zones 3a and 3b in the northernmost extremities of the Midwest and New England, to zones 10a and 10b in Southern Florida and parts of Southern California.
Zones 7 and 8, shown in light green and yellow on the map above, run across the middle of the southern states, up through inland California, and along the western portions of Oregon and Washington.
Basically, the zones are classified according to cold hardiness, based on annual extreme minimum temperatures. Zone 10 rarely freezes, zone 9 barely freezes, and zones 7 and 8 surely freeze, but not too harshly.
|USDA Climate Zone||Extreme low temperatures|
|7a||0 – 5º F|
|7b||5 – 10º F|
|8a||10 -15º F|
|8b||15 – 20º F|
Of course, there are other factors that vary across these climate zones. The maximum high temperatures, for example, will differ from one part of zone 8a to another, like between central Texas and coastal Washington. But it’s the frost and freeze that pose the greatest threat to bamboo and other plants.
Running bamboo vs Clumping bamboo
When selecting a bamboo for your garden, one of the most important distinctions to be aware of is that between running bamboo and clumping bamboo. Bamboos grow and spread through their rhizome root systems, and bamboos basically have two types of rhizomes.
Running bamboo has leptomorph or monopodial rhizomes, which grow outward, parallel to the ground and away from the main plant. These running rhizomes can spread a good distance in all directions before that start sending up new shoots. So, depending on the species, some runners can really get out of control, building a massive underground network without you even knowing it.
Clumping bamboo, on the other hand, has shorter and thicker rhizomes (pachymorph, or sympodial) that cling close together, and generally bend upwards to make new shoots right away. These bamboos generally stay within a well-defined space and are unlikely to get out of control. While most clumpers have a footprint that maxes out at a certain size, there are also some open clumpers, which will continue to spread, slowly, year after year.
In most cases, running bamboos are far more cold hardy than clumping bamboos. Most of them are native to places like Central China, Japan, or the slopes of the Himalayas, where the winters typically freeze. Conversely, clumping bamboo is mainly indigenous to the tropics and subtropics of Southeast Asia and Latin America, in places where freezing just doesn’t happen. Therefore, if you’re looking for a cold hardy bamboo, you’ll have much better luck with running species. But don’t despair, there are a few cold tolerant clumpers, especially for zones 7 and 8.
Running bamboo for zones 7 and 8
Genus Phyllostachys is the most common and widespread group of cold hardy bamboos. It includes some tremendous timber bamboos as well as some dwarf varieties. Because of their vigorous growth habits, many species work well as privacy screens, but they can also become invasive. There are dozens of species to choose from, but here are just a few.
Phyllostachys vivax: This is one of the most popular timber varieties in North America. The giant, golden colored canes are impressive and attractive. This species is good down to about 5 or 10º F, so they should do fine in zone 8, and possibly in zone 7. They are runners, but in the colder climates they tend to spread more slowly, not like a Golden Bamboo or a Bisetti. In ideal conditions a Vivax bamboo can reach as much as 70 feet tall, but if they get to 50 feet you’re doing pretty well. The yellow culms can grow to 4 or 5 inches in diameter, but probably won’t get so large in zones 7 and 8.
P. bambusoides: Giant Japanese timber bamboo, also called Madake, is one of the most impressive bamboo species of all. Smooth, beautiful culms can get 50-70 feet tall, depending on conditions, with a diameter of up to 5″. These are runners, but not especially aggressive. Slower growing than other members of the genus, but among the greatest in size. Cold hardy down to 0º F, but they grow larger in warmer climates. They seem to do best in zones 7 and 8.
P. bissetii: A very common variety for privacy screens because it grows so quickly, but be careful, it can also become invasive. Like other Phyllostachys, it is a cold hardy runner. This variety can get up to 40′ tall with culms about 2″ in diameter. It can withstand freezing temperatures down to -10º F, so it will be perfectly fine in zones 7 and 8.
P. aurea: This is another of the most common and fast spreading varieties of any bamboo, usually known as Golden bamboo or Fish pole bamboo. It’s an aggressive grower that will thrive almost anywhere from zone 6 to 10. If you’re want a more compact specimen, look for the cultivar ‘Waminita’, which also makes a great bonsai.
It’s not practical to provide a comprehensive list of every cold hardy running bamboo, but the genus Chimonobambusa includes some particularly interesting species.
Chimonobambusa quadrangularis: Better known as square bamboo, due to the 4-sided shape of its culms, this exotic variety has a striking appearance that can add a lot to your garden. The plant can grow 10-20 feet high with culms about 1.5 inches thick. They are cold hardy to 10 or 15º, so they do well in zone 8. Keep the lower 3-4 feet well pruned in order to show off the interesting shape and the knobby nodes. They also need regular water to prevent leaves from dropping.
Chimonobambusa tumidissinoda: Commonly known as Walking Stick Bamboo, the unusually pronounced nodes make this an excellent choice for crafts, especially walking sticks. In addition to the shapely culms, this species also has very delicate and lacy leaves, for a uniquely elegant appearance. It’s a runner, but not a very aggressive one. Walking Stick bamboo can grow 10 to 20 feet tall and is cold hardy down to 5º or 10º F. It also prefers to grow in the shade.
Also worth mentioning, if you’re not afraid to plant an unusually aggressive runner, is Bahania fargesii. Windbreak bamboo, as it’s called has very resilient, upright culms. They grow up to 25 feet tall and about 2 inches thick, and can withstand wind and snow. The species is cold hardy down to 0º F. The tenacious rhizomes also make it an ideal candidate for erosion control and on sloping terrain.
Clumping bamboo for zones 7 and 8
Genus Fargesia contains the hardiest of clumping bamboos, cold tolerant down to -10 or -20º F, making them perfectly suitable for zones 7 and 8, and even colder.
F. 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. A popular cultivar of this species is ‘Rufa’, not to be confused which F. rufa, a separate species listed below.
F. 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.
F. nitida: “Blue fountain bamboo” earned its name from the dark purple, bluish culms and the thick, cascading canopy of foliage. Very similar in appearance to F. muriela, except for the coloration of the culms. One-inch poles can get to about 15 feet tall, and thrive in temperatures as low as -20º F.
Genus Chusquea, native to the higher elevations of Latin America, also includes some distinctively attractive species. Not as hardy as the Fargesias, they should still do well in most of zones 7 and 8. Also very interesting is the fact that they have solid culms, rather than hollow, like the vast majority of bamboos. This makes their poles extra strong, resistant to cracking and great for building.
Chusquea gigantea: The largest member of the genus, as the name implies, this species can get up to 20 or 25 feet tall with 1-2 inch culms. As an “open clumper”, this variety will spread a bit more than most clumping bamboos. New shoots come up pinkish and grow quickly. Cold hardy to about 5º F.
Chusquea culeou ‘Caña Prieta’: A particularly striking cultivar, this Chilean bamboo grows 8-10 feet tall with thin, upright poles less than an inch thick. The species underwent a massive flowering event in 2019, so many of the plants died off, but there should be plenty of seeds and young starts available. Cold hardy down to 0º F, so it’s a perfect bamboo for zones 7 and 8.
If you enjoyed this article about growing bamboo in zones 7 and 8, please consider sharing it with your friends and subscribing to our blog. You might also be interested in some of these popular posts:
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FEATURED IMAGE: Map of USDA Climate Zones from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture