Bamboos are popular garden plants, particularly in contemporary design schemes. There’s a huge range to choose from, with culms (stems) ranging in colour from black to yellow. Some species grow into large clumps, making them suitable for using as screening, adding structure or using as a focal point.
However, some species can quickly outgrow their allotted space and they can look unattractive if not managed properly. If left to grow out of control they can be virtually impossible to remove.
In this feature we explain the different types of bamboo, how to grow and maintain them, and how to stop them growing out of control.
Types of bamboo
There are two types of bamboo: clumping and running. Clumping bamboos grow in clumps. Running bamboos bear long underground stems, or rhizomes, from which new growth appears, enabling them to colonise new ground. Both clumping and running bamboos spread, however running bamboos are considered invasive because, if not managed properly, they can quickly take over the garden. Some species are so vigorous that they will send shoots up through hard surfaces, such as patios. They can be almost impossible to eradicate.
Browse our guide to the various bamboo species, below.
Clump-forming Chusquea bamboos are native to the mountains of Latin America. Unlike most bamboos, their culms are solid, not hollow. Varieties include Chusquea gigantea, a huge species that grows to 4m in height and bears thick green culms. Suitable for use as a focal point or screen in large gardens only.
Clump-forming Fargesia make popular garden bamboos, usually developing into small clumps. Native to the mountains and alpine forests of East Asia, they’re some of the hardiest bamboos available. Fargesia murieliae ‘Luca’ grows to only 50cm in height and is perfect for growing in a pot.
Himalayacalamus is a genus of clumping bamboo, native to the Himalayas. It includes Himalayacalamus hookerianus (pictured). Its young culms are blue with a hint of red or purple, maturing to gold. Perfect for growing as a focal point to show of its colour.
Sibataea is a genus of short-growing bamboos, with dark green leaves. Perfect for growing as tall ground cover or a short hedge, it include ruscus-leaved bamboo, Shibataea kumasaca, a dwarf species with gold-tinged leaves.
Thamnocalamus bamboos are clump-forming and native to the Himalayas, Madagascar and South Africa. They include Thamnocalamus crassinodus, which has pale blue culms that become tinged with red as they mature, and tiny leaves.
Phyllostachys is a genus of Asian running bamboos, with most species native to China. Easily identifiable, the culms have a distinctive groove, called a sulcus, which runs along the length of each segment. Many species spread aggressively by underground rhizomes, and can cause problems in the garden. Some species grow to 30m in height. Many Phyllostachys have decorative culms and are perfect for growing as a focal point. Phyllostachys nigra (pictured) is a a popular choice for gardens, due to its black culms.
Known as broad-leaved bamboo, Sasa is a genus of running bamboos. It includes Sasa palmata f. nebulosa, a tropical Japanese bamboo with yellow culms, and Sasa kurilensis (pictured), which is the most northern bamboo in the world and is therefore extremely hardy. They’re ideal for growing in shady gardens.
The only species in this genus is Hibanobambusa tranquillans, a variegated running bamboo with big leaves and a bushy habit. Hibanobambusa tranquillans ‘Shiroshima’ retains its variegation better than the species, and is perfect for growing as a focal point.
How to grow bamboo
- Bamboos thrive in moist, well-drained soil. They can be grown in most soil types, but some do better in acid soil. Avoid wet, boggy or dry conditions
- Plant your bamboo in spring to encourage it to develop good roots and canes before becoming dormant in autumn
- Increase the fertility and retentiveness of your soil by incorporating well-rotted manure or compost or manure before planting
- Keep your bamboo looking its best by feeding with a balanced fertiliser throughout the growing season
- Allow some bamboo leaves to accumulate around the plants, as they return nutrients, particularly silica, to the roots, helping the plants stay strong and healthy
How to contain running bamboos
If your heart’s set on growing a running bamboo then don’t panic, there are ways to contain its growth and stop it growing out of hand. The key is to prepare well in the first place and be vigilant.
- Dig a trench 40-60cm deep, and line it with overlapping impermeable materials, such as paving slabs, sheets of corrugated iron or a strong root barrier fabric. Ensure the barrier sits above soil level.
- Plant the bamboo so the rootball sits below the top of the trench. Back fill with soil and well-rotted manure or compost, taking care not to damage the rhizomes. Water well and mulch to hide the barrier which is proud of the soil surface.