How to Grow Bamboo

Today I am publishing an article from freelance writer Rachel Matthews.  I love the opportunity to host an occasional guest author because I always learn something new.  Prior to this, I had no idea you could even grow bamboo in Wisconsin!  I also learned that you have to grow bamboo carefully since it can be invasive (ask me about my spreading mint plants if you want to hear about invasive), but done right it sounds great.  Now I want a clump of potted bamboo on my patio!    Inger



Bamboo Closeup (by Petr Kratochvil)

How to Grow Bamboo

by Rachel Matthews

Bamboo is one of the trendiest grasses out there. It is often used as a “green” wood, which is why so many people believe that it is a tree and not a grass. People use bamboo for flooring, counters, furniture and even as fences. Bamboo is popular planted around the periphery of properties to act as an ad hoc privacy fence to separate people from their neighbors.

One of the reasons that bamboo is such a popular garden plant is that it is hardy.  It is difficult to kill bamboo, it grows fast, and it can grow just about anywhere. Funnily enough—those same characteristics are why it is important that you know what you’re doing before you plant it. Bamboo spreads like dandelions do. If you aren’t careful, you could accidentally “plant” the stuff all over your neighborhood!

Here are the things that you need to know if you want to grow bamboo yourself.

Bamboo (by Petr Kratochvil)

Bamboo (by Petr Kratochvil)

1. Make Sure You Get the Right Kind of Bamboo

There are many different species of bamboo but most of the bamboo that you can grow in the US falls into two types: running and clumping. You want to select clumping bamboo. I’ll repeat that because it is important: you want CLUMPING bamboo. Why? Because it is easier to control. Running bamboos can send rhizomes out to far flung areas and are capable of colonizing large plots of land. You can control running bamboo to some extent, but this involves concrete or sheet metal barriers that are three to four feet deep and you need to keep an eye out for new shoots and cut them off before they get too far above ground level. Clumping bamboo, on the other hand, tends to stick close to home and its “clumps” increase slowly, making it much easier to control.

2. Get Started Cheaply

You can grow bamboo from seed but it is easier (and cheaper) to grow it from an existing bamboo plant. It’s easy to find bamboo plants for sale, buy one and then, as it grows, take cuttings to plant and increase your bamboo garden—if that is your goal.  If you’re interested in bamboo as mostly a decorative piece, you can simply maintain the bamboo plant you’ve purchased. 

3. Use Mulch

Bamboo loves mulch. This is why, as your bamboo sprouts and sheds leaves, it is best not to remove them but to simply let them decay onto the soil above the roots and rhizomes. Mulch helps keep the soil at a moisture level that is perfect for bamboo growth and infuses the garden with nutrients. You could treat the soil with these nutrients artificially, of course, but why spend all that money when mulch will do just fine?

4. How to Water Your Bamboo

When your bamboo plant is still young and growing, it needs a lot of water. In mild climates you’ll want to water at least twice a week. During warmer or drier weather, you’ll need to water more often. Once the plant is mature, you can cut back on the watering. Lack of proper irrigation is what kills most bamboo plants.

Bamboo is a tough and hardy plant. Make sure, though, before you plant your bamboo, that you’re committed. It can grow almost independently (save lots of watering) but controlling its spread takes constant vigilance.  

Rachel Matthews is a freelance writer with a background in business who’s been relying on her entrepreneurial skill set since she was in high school. 

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14 thoughts on “How to Grow Bamboo

    1. Inger

      Thanks for sharing your experience Pam. Always good to hear corroboration of an idea (or even a warning)!

  1. grace

    confession: for the longest time, the only thing that came to mind when i thought about bamboo was torture–you now, sticking bamboo under one’s fingernails. i don’t know where i heard of that, but i wasn’t able to forget! now i know its many other (less disturbing) applications. 🙂

    1. Inger

      Oh that’s not a good image–hopefully this helps to change that! I tend to think of things like bamboo towels. Equally bizarre but less gruesome 😉

  2. Kathy

    I would love to try bamboo in a container…like you I am also afraid of spreading! It is beautiful…never knew it would do well in cold climates.

    1. Inger

      I think all the fun little things you pick up is one of my favorite reasons for blogging Kathy (right after the people you “meet”)!

  3. Louise

    Hi Inger!

    I’ve been eyeing a couple of Bamboo plants down the block at an abandoned building. I’ve been meaning to look up how to propagate bamboo and grab my handy scissors and clip a way! This post could not have come at a more timely moment.

    I know bamboo can be invasive, even worse than mint, although, I’ve got a mint plant in the garden that just won’t stop! (next time I’m going to put it in the ground in a container to control it:)

    I’d love to try to grow it though. It makes a wonderful privacy screen and in the Summer it makes me feel all tiki, lol…

    Thank you so much for sharing this post, Inger…And thank you so much to Rachel for sharing her expertise.

    P.S. Inger, I think this would be a wonderful post to hook up with Pam’s Garden Tuesday. (it doesn’t have to be posted on Tuesday) See my post today for the link up. Pinned!!!

    1. Inger

      I just went over and linked up at Pam’s Garden Louise–thanks for the suggestion. All these garden pictures are really making me want spring… sigh…

      1. Louise

        Hi Inger!
        I just came back from Pam’s and saw your link. I’m so glad you linked up for Garden Tuesday. I’m beginning to think this may be the year with no Spring and we’ll just hop right into Summer. Personally, as long as it warms up enough for the plants to grow, I don’t care what we call the season, lol…still working on “stealing” some bamboo from down the block:) Enjoy your day, Inger…

        1. Inger

          I think you should go for that bamboo Louise. Spring (or summer like you say) will get here one of these days!

  4. Freeda Baker Nichols

    I think it’s beautiful. I’ve seen bamboo locally at one house, but I thought it had grown “wild” since we find it along river beds. Bamboo sounds something like the Mimosa trees here. They can become a nuisance although they are beautiful in bloom. They were brought to this area from someplace else years ago. The Mimosa’s life is not too long, but they sure do spread.

    1. Inger

      I don’t think I’ve ever seen this in Wisconsin. But I think it would look great behind my herbs on the patio. I am afraid of the spread–and a lazy gardener, so I think I’ll stick with a container plant.

    1. Inger

      Thanks! I expected that some of my non-U.S. readers would have more experience with bamboo.