By  Tom Copeland


Bamboos are giant members of the grass family. They are evergreen, and are divided into either runners or clumpers. In the Pacific NW there are only a few clumpers that will do well. Clumpers generally stay where you put them, but they are limited in size and do not easily provide the privacy or screening potential that the running types do. If you have a small or formal garden, consider using clumpers, or put your bamboo in a large container. However, if you need screening, or want a large hedge, runners are definitely the way to go. They thrive throughout the Pacific NW, range in height from 12 to over 50 feet, fill in to make a hedge in two to three years, and are easily controlled with annual maintenance.

There are over 200 varieties of hardy northern running bamboos. No matter where you want to plant bamboo -- from shady swamp to desert mountaintop -- there is a bamboo that will grow there. See plants for specific choices.

When designing a screen or hedge consider first the finished height. Most northern bamboos are large. If you want to stay under 20 ft, you must select an appropriate variety. For rapid growth do not purchase bamboos in smaller than 5 gallon containers. Plant these at 5 ft intervals and expect to see the hedge fill in three to four years. Mature height will be reached in 5 to 9 years.

Bamboo sends up new shoots for about six weeks each spring. These culms grow very rapidly, reaching their full height during this six week period. From that point on an individual culm does not get any taller, it just gets more and more leaves, doubling its leaf mass every year. Each year's culms are considerably bigger than the year before until mature size is reached.

Very little soil preparation is required. Bamboo is a surface plant. Plant even with the surface you see in the pot. It is very important to keep native grasses from competing with the newly planted bamboo. Fertilize with any sort of high nitrogen mix. Lawn fertilizer is perfect. Relax, the first year, nothing much will happen -- the second spring will be interesting -- the third spring, stand well away from the plant.

Control is not a problem if you consider bamboo to be the equivalent of a large tree. It wants to be a grove--a grove thirty or forty feet wide. Thinned and maintained this may surround a hot tub or gazebo. It will dominate a small yard -- much like a large tree.

If, on the other hand, you want to maintain a more narrow shape to your hedge, there are several methods available to achieve this. See our Installation page for more information about planting and control techniques.

Old canes should be removed from the grove or hedge each winter. Seldom do I allow any cane to stay in the grove longer than three years. This opens up the grove to light, and stimulates the plant to send up new shoots. Bamboo sheds its old leaves in July. Occasionally leaves first turn yellow and then drop forming a beautiful mulch in the grove. By August the plant has grown two new leaves for each one shed and is greener and fuller than ever.

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