How to grow bamboo

Discover the magnificence of bamboo and learn how to grow it at your place.

Whether your garden is oriental, tropical, modernist or simply in need of fascinating greenery, there is one group of plants that fits the bill perfectly – bamboos. These magnificent, fast-growing species have been around for centuries and serve many wonderful uses in the garden, such as privacy screens, hedges or feature plants. But they are also one of the most misunderstood plants in the world, with many novice gardeners shuddering at the thought of growing them. That’s because there are two distinct types of bamboo – clumping and running, and the running species can become quite invasive if they aren’t well contained. But if you choose the right type and species of bamboo, you will see there is a lot to love about these amazing plants.

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How do I grow them?

• Climate Bamboos grow best in tropical, subtropical and warm temperate climates, but they can also thrive in cool to cold climates. However, each species has a different level of cold tolerance, so it’s best to check plant labels or ask your nursery to see what species is suitable for your area.

• Aspect Most bamboos will flourish in full sun, but certain black-coloured varieties will benefit from protection from strong afternoon sun. Protect young plants from strong winds.

• Soil These plants thrive in moist, well-drained soil that has been enriched with organic matter prior to planting. However, they are adaptable to most soil types, from sandy to clay, provided they are well drained – they don’t like wet feet! If your soil quality is poor, consider growing in raised beds filled with good-quality garden soil. In pots, use a premium potting mix.

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• Planting Bamboos can be planted at any time of the year. A few weeks prior to planting, enrich the soil by adding compost or aged manure and fork in well. When you are ready to plant, prepare a hole twice the width and the same depth as the bamboo’s root ball, carefully remove the plant from its pot or bag and position in the hole. Backfill with soil and lightly compact. Scatter a controlled-release fertiliser around the base of the plant, then water deeply and mulch well. If planting near or along a fence, consider installing a bamboo root barrier – this will help contain growth to your yard.

• Water After planting, give your plants a deep watering. An addition of a seaweed based plant tonic, such as Seasol or Yates Uplift, every week for the first four weeks will also help strengthen the plant, encourage root development and minimise plant stress. Once established, bamboos are quite drought tolerant, but they will perform better if watered regularly throughout hot, dry periods. 

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• Fertiliser They are heavy feeders, so they will benefit from an application of a controlled-release, highnitrogen fertiliser at planting time and at the start of the growing season – try Osmocote Total All Purpose. In autumn, scatter wellcomposted chicken manure around plants and top with mulch – this will help condition the soil and nourish your plants.

• Mulching When young, a good layer of organic mulch like sugar cane or pea straw spread around the base of the plant is great to help retain moisture, suppress weeds and enrich the soil. Top it up regularly and take it right up to the stems – unlike trees and shrubs, the culms won’t rot. As bamboos age, they become self-mulching.

• Maintenance After a few years, the clump develops and older canes die off. These are usually those that look tired and discoloured. Use a pruning saw or secateurs to remove these at ground level; this will increase airflow in and around the clump and ensure it’s happy and healthy. If growing in pots, it’s best to re-pot every three to four years to avoid your plants becoming pot-bound. You can re-pot into a larger container or divide the plant into several clumps before replanting.

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