For years I have heard folks tell me how bad bamboo is for the home gardener: too invasive, too fast growing, and just to big for most people. The truth is that some bamboos can be great plants for your yard or landscape and provide a great screening and focal point for the yard. Bamboozled! You will want this plant. Growing bamboo in Florida is great and easy to do; spend some time learning the right plants and you will definitely be able to find the right place for your newest favorite plant.
An important distinction to make is the difference between running bamboos and clumping bamboos. Clumping bamboos grow and spread slowly, similar to an ornamental grass that gets slightly larger each year. Creeping or “running” bamboos are quite different; they send new growth out away from the parent plant and can quickly take over a large area. The running bamboos have established a bad reputation for this plant and each spring my neighbor asks me about our plants just to verify this rumor. No, we did not plant a bamboo that will take over your yard. Clearly, clumping is the way to go!
While the best way to know is to purchase only clumping varieties, if you come across an unknown plant how can you determine its growth habit? One method is to run you finger around the stem, known as the cane, and feel for a groove or notch in the surface. Clumping bamboos are perfectly smooth while a running bamboo will have a groove in one part that you will feel with your fingernail. The photo at right shows how that groove will look in a running bamboo.
Bamboo in your yard offers an exotic-looking plant that can serve as a focal point or do double duty as a screen. For screening it offers a clean, upright growth habit with the added benefit that leaves blowing in the wind create a hushing sound, silencing any nearby noise. These plants are self-mulching, so when they drop some of their leaves in mid summer it keeps the area below weed-free and moist. At our house we use Graceful Bamboo, Bambusa textilis gracilis, to serve as the backdrop for our yard and also to hide the imposing two story home behind us. Varieties range in height from 15′ to 50′ with varying colors and thicknesses.
- The feature image on the top of this post shows our Dwarf Buddha Belly Bamboo, Bambusa vulgaris ‘Wamin’. This is one of the smaller bamboos in height, about 12 feet tall, but still has 4″ thick culms. It is one of the more cold sensitive varieties but for me it is worth it because of the swollen features between the nodes.
- Our Asian Lemon Bamboo, Bambusa eutuldoises ‘Viridi-Vitata‘, is much taller, probably at least 30 feet tall. It’s yellow canes are streaked with green stripes and are 1-2″ thick. I trim off the small side branches in the front to show off the colors but leave them on the back side for additional screening.
- The Dwarf Blue Bamboo, Bambusa chungii ‘Barballata’, is not the dwarf that we thought it was going to be! It is probably 5-10′ taller than the Asian Lemon Bamboo so it is closer to 40 feet tall. The new canes are covered in a light blue powder-like coating that gives it the really distinctive light coloring. You can see here that it really stands out.
Establishing clumping bamboo in your garden will require patience. The old saying for this plant is that “it sleeps, creeps, and leaps,” meaning that the first year it is planted most of the growth is happening in the root system below ground, the second year shows more shoots and new growth, and the third year will reward you with a plant that fills in solidly. If you are looking for an instant effect you can do so by purchasing larger plants, but it will cost you a pretty penny.
You may have noticed that bamboo has become popular in a variety of uses for the past few years. Everything from bamboo utensils, to towels, to flooring can be found for sale. Bamboo is considered a a very sustainable material because of its quick growth and ability to regrow quickly when harvested. A 30′ tall bamboo cane can replace itself in one year while it would take many years for a pine tree to do the same.
Is there a place for bamboo in your yard? Consider looking into the increasingly popular and easy landscape plant for yourself. The variety of sizes, colors and shapes will surprise and delight you. Just look around our yard!