A lot of gardeners are reluctant to plant bamboo for fear that its aggressive rhizomes will wreak havoc on their otherwise immaculate garden. This fear is not entirely unfounded. It’s true that many varieties of running bamboo, with their monopodial rhizomes, can spread everywhere and become almost impossible to remove.
But with a little caution and forethought you can pretty easily avoid this predicament. We’ve written about different ways to keep the grass from growing out of control in our article about bamboo containment and removal.
Planting bamboo in pots
One of the most popular and straightforward methods of taming your bamboo and protecting your garden is to keep in in a pot. There are many advantages to growing bamboo this way. But there are also some drawbacks that every gardener should be aware of.
PROS of Potted Bamboo
- Bamboo in a pot will generally stay very well contained, without the rhizome roots getting into your vegetable patch or wrapping around underground things like irrigation pipes and utility lines. I say generally, because if you’re not careful, the bamboo can get from the pot into the earth. (See below.)
- If you want to create a privacy screen along a specific area of your garden, a row of pots or containers can make for a very well-defined hedge space.
- Should you decide to relocate your bamboo plant to a different place in your garden, or remove it altogether, this will be immensely easier when the bamboo is in a pot rather than rooted in the ground.
- Being able to move your bamboo with the seasons can also be useful. In the summer, for example, it might be happier in a shady corner of the garden. In a freak storm or blizzard, on the other hand, it might be best to bring it inside for a day or two.
- Bamboo is already a very attractive plant, and using pots allows you to introduce another decorative element to your garden scene. Rustic wood barrels look interesting, or perhaps you can find some elegant asian pottery to compliment your zen aesthetics. Just be careful not to use pots that get narrow at the top; that will make transplanting very difficult.
- Watering and fertilizing might be easier when the plant has a very clearly defined place.
CONS of Potted Bamboo and general precautions
- Keeping your bamboo in a pot might help you sleep easier at night. But it could also give you a false sense of security. It’s especially important to place something solid under your pot, otherwise the roots will eventually crawl through the drain hole and get into the soil. It could be months or years before your realize this. Best to set your bamboo pots on a solid deck, a concrete driveway, or some sort of stepping stone.
- Any plant that remains in a pot year after year is liable to get root bound. This is especially true for bamboo, with its vigorous rhizome root system. It will be essential to pull the bamboo out of its container at least once a year and trim the roots. Better still, you can split the root ball into two or three sections. (Yes, that means you’ll need to get more pots. But a potted bamboo plant can also make a great house warming gift and a friendly gesture for a neighbor.)
- If you don’t trim the roots on a regular basis, two things are likely to happen. The root bound plant will feel restricted, grow uncomfortable, and languish like a prisoner in a tight cell. But over time, the robust bamboo roots will probably burst through the container. Whether the pot is plastic, wood or ceramic, it will eventually give way to the effects of time and pressure.
- Even if you do prune your roots on a regular basis, most bamboos will never achieve their maximum size in a pot. If you want to grow timber bamboo, don’t expect to see 5-inch thick culms and 80-foot poles from a potted bamboo. Better to stick with more compact species or dwarf varieties.
- In most cases, watering bamboo in a container will require more care and attention. The soil in a pot will generally dry out more quickly than the soil in the open ground. Also, as the roots get crowded inside the pot, the water sometimes goes straight through without getting absorbed. In other cases, there could be insufficient drainage, and you could run into issues like root rot.
As you can see, there are a host of advantages to keeping your bamboo in a pot or container. And there are a few disadvantages, but most of them can be easily overcome. The bottom line is that you will have more flexibility when your bamboo is in a pot, and you won’t have the problem of bamboo rhizomes running amok in your garden.
The main thing is that you’ll have to repot, and/or inspect the roots of your bamboo on a regular basis. But even with bamboo growing directly in the earth, it’s always a good idea to poke around the roots every few months.
What are the best varieties of bamboo to plant in pots?
Some species are going to be more comfortable in a pot than others. One of the most popular varieties of potted bamboo is Pseudosasa japonica, also known as arrow bamboo. It’s a runner, but with a fairly compact growth habit. It generally grows about 15 feet tall with 1 inch canes.
Otatea acuminata (Mexican Weeping Bamboo) is another popular option. This clumping bamboo grows bushy, with delicate, graceful leaves that rustle in the breeze.
You can also look for various types of dwarf bamboo. Dwarf white stripe is a variety that I like to grow. And all the cultivars of Buddha belly (including the dwarf) are strikingly attractive, with their unusually shaped culms. Take a look at this article on Buddha belly bamboo.
To learn more about gardening, check out some of our other in-depth articles.
- A complete guide to growing bamboo
- Bonsai with bamboo
- How fast does bamboo grow?
- 10 Best bamboo varieties for your garden
PHOTO CREDIT: David Clode (Unsplash)