Bamboo is an amazingly versatile plant, and with thousands of species and cultivars to choose from, you can find a variety for virtually any situation. From the oppressive heat to the extreme cold, from towering giants to dwarf ground covers, there’s a bamboo to meet your needs.
Can bamboo grow in water?
But what about growing bamboo in ponds, swamps and wetlands? Can I grow bamboo in the water?
Perhaps you imagine a Japanese garden with a koi pond, and bamboo growing out of the water alongside lotus flowers and papyrus. But unfortunately, bamboo does NOT like to grow this way.
Bamboo does NOT grow well in water or saturated soil.
Or maybe you’re thinking of “lucky bamboo“, those short, segmented cuttings you see growing in a vase of water. Well, don’t be misled. Lucky bamboo grows fine in the water, but is not a true bamboo. It is actually a type of Dracaena, an indoor decorative, sometimes referred to as “corn plant.”
Bamboo will NOT survive in a pond setting or in standing water.
Keep in mind, even if you’re growing what’s called “water bamboo”, it cannot grow in standing water without drainage. If it doesn’t drain within about five days, the bamboo will probably not survive.
But if you’re looking for bamboo that can grow in very wet soil, near the edge of a river where the water levels can rise and fall, there may a few options.
The best strategy is to plant the bamboo somewhere near the wet area and let it spread naturally. If the main root ball is on higher ground, in a well drained area, the bamboo will survive, even if some culms and rhizomes wander too far afield and drown.
Best bamboo species for wet soils
The following varieties of bamboo have rhizomes with air canals that make them more adaptable to wet soil. Just remember, if the ground is completely waterlogged, the bamboo probably won’t make it.
The three types of bamboo listed here all belong to the genus Phyllostachys. As such, there are all running types of bamboo with fast-spreading rhizome root systems. Check out our article on Running Bamboo.
Phyllostachys are generally native to China and thrive in temperate climates. Unlike some of the tropical and subtropical bamboos, many members of this genus can survive in very cold and sub-freezing conditions. Take a look at our article on Cold Hardy Bamboo.
This species is popularly referred to as “solid stem bamboo” and sometimes as “water bamboo”. As the name suggests, the culms grow solid or nearly solid, unlike most varieties of bamboo which are characteristically hollow. (See our more detailed article on solid and hollow bamboo.)
Although the stems are almost solid, the roots and culms do have small air canals which help them survive in very wet soil. It is also a very cold tolerant species, hardy down to -5 or 10º F.
Its vigorous growth habit makes P. heteroclada an ideal candidate for privacy screens, especially in very cold or wet areas. The canes grow up to 15 or 20 feet tall, normally not more than 1 inch in diameter. Some nurseries list it as Phyllostachys purpurata.
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.
If you’re looking for a giant bamboo in a cold or wet region, this may be your best choice. Mature shoots can get up to 40 feet tall, and nearly 4 inches in diameter. It is cold hardy down to -15º F.
P. parvifolia is difficult to propagate, however, and not widely available in nurseries or outside of China.
A popular species for a wide range of growing conditions, P. atrovaginata is commonly known as incense bamboo for its pleasant aroma. The culms have a waxy coating that smells something like sandalwood.
This variety spreads quickly and works great for all sorts of landscaping purposes. Mature canes normally reach up to 30 or 40 feet in height and 2 or 3 inches in diameter. It’s cold hardy down to about -10º F and does relatively well in poorly drained soil and wet regions like the Pacific Northwest.
Incense bamboo also has some of the best tasting shoots of any species, according to the connoisseurs.
If you’re trying to landscape around a swamp or a river bank, or looking for something to grow in your pond, bamboo is probably not the best choice. There are just a handful of bamboo species that are adapted for very wet soil. But even these varieties will not survive prolonged periods (more than about five days) under water.
Better choices in a pond are water plants like lilies, hyacinth and duck moss. Horsetail and papyrus somewhat resemble bamboo in appearance and might help produce the desired effect. Mermaid plant and creeping Jenny are also great options that have the added benefit of oxygenating the pond water.
If you’re determined to grow bamboo around a body of water, it’s better to plant the bamboo on higher ground near the water. These varieties all spread quickly, and you can let them spread naturally within their comfort zone. If the soil is too waterlogged, the roots simply won’t go there.
PHOTO CREDIT: Bamboo with lotus (Unsplash)