Bamboo is a fast-growing ornamental grass with woody stems called "culms" on which long, delicate leaves form. Bamboo spreads through a rhizome or underground stem system. There are two kinds of bamboo--running and clumping. The running variety is the most familiar and will eventually grow into large groves of plants, if left to spread on its own. Running bamboo may grow to as much as 40 feet tall if left unattended. The clumping variety is not as aggressive, but it spreads like a ground cover.
Where to Plant
Running bamboo should be planted in a sunny spot, allowing room for spread. This bamboo will form eventually form a grove, if not contained. Select a large area, or an area with barriers that will prevent spreading. Clumping-type bamboo, bambusa, chusquea, fargesia and otatea, are unique in that they are happiest in light shade. Bamboo is hearty is temperatures of -10 degrees, but is most prevalent in temperate-tropical climates.
Bamboo thrives in acidic soil and loam-like soils. You may test your soil for pH and add sphagnum peat, elemental sulfur, aluminum sulfate, iron sulfate, acidifying nitrogen or organic mulch to increase acidity. As far as soil composition, spread a few inches of mulch, such as grass clippings, compost or chips from tree cutting, over the area that you will be planting. Once the bamboo is established, continue the mulch cover to protect and nurture the rhizomes beneath the ground. Bamboo leaves should be left beneath the plants and not removed, as they help keep the soil soft.
Bamboo needs little water after established, though when planting, you should water 2-3 times per week in temperate climates, and more often in a hot, humid climate. Water liberally, 2-3 minutes per plant, for a few weeks after planting, but be careful not to over water. If leaves begin to fall, it is a sign that you are watering too much. Once established, bamboo is nearly drought-tolerant and may be watered only during particularly dry times. There are many varieties of bamboo, so check what kind you have selected to plant and water accordingly.
Bamboo should not be fertilized at planting and manure should never be used with bamboo. High-nitrogen fertilizers will encourage growth and a slow-release 17-6-12 blend may be applied monthly during the growing season and every other month in the winter. If you choose to use a water soluble fertilizer, select one with a high nitrogen content and apply as per instructions on container (usually you must apply this type of fertilizer more often).
When to Plant
In temperate climates, you may plant bamboo any time of year, though summer is the growing season, so it is best to get it in the ground before. In colder climates, plant in fall or spring after last frost to allow plant to establish and survive the following winter. To help your bamboo survive the winter in colder climates, cover ground with excessive mulch to protect rhizomes and keep soil soft.
Bamboo can be invasive and can spread quickly. To prevent spread, you may want to plant bamboo near water, as it will not grow in water; dig a trench around the grove and clear the trench of rhizomes every fall; or sink a 30-inch barrier made of a tough material like concrete, around the grove.