Bamboo is a type of grass — a versatile plant used as food, decoration, and a building material around the world. Most people can identify bamboo from the hollow segments and prominent nodes and joints. Its height can be pretty impressive, too. While its size ranges greatly, in the right conditions, bamboo can grow to over 100 feet tall. It's is easy to grow and care for, making it an attractive choice for home gardeners and indoor plant lovers alike.
Bamboo is a hardy plant that prefers light, airy, nutrient-rich soil that drains well but still retains some moisture. If the soil in your yard is too heavy, improve it by adding sand to encourage drainage. If it's too light, add compost or other organic materials. Bamboo has shallow roots, so you can also grow it in a raised bed, as long as you replenish the nutrients every year with fertilizer or compost. Bamboo also grows eagerly indoors in the right conditions.
Generally, bamboo grows as big as it possibly can in the space you give it to grow. At its full height, it can reach a circumference of 30 feet, but it conforms to its environment. Bamboo gains height in the spring and girth in the fall and summer. New shoots reach their full height within two or three months, usually between April and June.
Sunlight requirements vary depending on the variety. Some bamboo species prefer partial shade, while others need five or more hours a day of direct sunlight. Smaller bamboo varieties generally need less light than larger ones. Most varieties do well in USDA zones 4 through 9; zone 4 can have colder temperatures as low as -30 degrees F and zone 9 can drop to 30 degrees F. This wide range shows what a hardy and versatile plant bamboo is.
Water newly planted bamboo at least twice a week, more if the weather is particularly hot and dry. After the first year, cut back to once a week if there has been inadequate rainfall. How much and how often you water depends on the soil.
Bamboo prefers airy soil loaded with organic material, which drains well while also holding onto moisture. Generally, water to about an inch deep every time. Overwatering bamboo can lead to root rot, however, which will threaten the survival of your plant.
Bamboo mites and mealybugs are two pests that can harm bamboo. Bamboo mites latch on to the leaves and suck out juices, similar to spider mites, but they do not create webbing all over the leaf — only within the yellow parts of the leaf veins. Removal often requires widespread treatment of the whole plant.
Mealybugs are a common pest that attacks plants. They create a cottony shell to protect themselves, so they're difficult to kill and may also require systemic treatment with a pesticide.
Only a few diseases affect bamboo plants. Older plants sometimes develop fungal spots. They look like rust and are more common in humid environments. Since this disease affects older plants, you may opt to skip treatment and remove the plants, making way for healthier younger ones.
Mosiac virus is transmitting through infected pruning tools. A mosaic-like discoloration appears on the leaves, and the plant will begin to die from the top down. The mosaic virus has no cure.
Insect infestations can lead to sooty mold, a fungus that infests the sticky substance the bigs leave behind. You can't get rid of sooty mold until you eliminate the insect infestation.
Bamboo doesn't have many special care requirements, but some varieties will eventually grow so large that you will need to cut them back. You can cut the hollow culms by one or two-thirds to control the growth. Cut just above a node, cover the root mass with topsoil, and the rhizomes will move to the surface and regrow more bamboo the next year.
Culms will not grow back, so you have a lot of control over the shape and spread of the plant. If the plant gets too big, you will have to remove part of the roots.
One way to propagate bamboo is to cut the pole above and below the lowest node, place the cutting to a pot, and water regularly. It should begin rooting in about three months.
You can also divide culms to propagate. Find a good culm, follow it to the ground, and uncover the rhizome. Cut the rhizome about an inch from the culm, place the cutting in a pot, water, and wait. This method also takes about three months to root.
Bamboo has a lot of benefits because it's such a versatile plant. The shoots are edible and packed with fiber, amino acids, and vitamin B1. It's also a great food for livestock. The long, hard stems are commonly used as construction material, and because it grows so quickly, it's more environmentally friendly than other options.
Running bamboo is commonly considered invasive, but if you tend to them carefully, you can control them. The rhizomes only grow to between two and 18 inches deep, so you can contain them by burying edging around the area where you plant.
Clumping bamboo tends to stay in one place, growing from the center instead of spreading. Clumping bamboo varieties are generally easy to care for and make great plants for a home garden.