Bamboo plants scare a lot of people and there is every reason to be cautious when choosing one for your garden! Some varieties of bamboo plants run or even sprint from the spot where you planted them! This is can lead to trouble both on your patch and the neighbour’s too!
So to keep things sweet in the street and to avoid an expensive mistake I’m going to outline the ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ of growing garden bamboos.
But before I do that, let’s have a look at why bamboo plants are such desirable additions to gardens of all sizes. If you choose the right variety, bamboos offer evergreen screening, soothing rustling sounds, deflected light and movement that no other plant can match! Bamboo has the ability to provide seclusion, filter street noise, provide all year round interest, reflect light and provide movement in the garden. Bamboo plants can also provide a focal point in the garden around which other good foliage plants can be grown for contrasting look and texture.
You don’t have to have a bamboo or Eastern themed garden to grow bamboo because they fit right in with other shrubs and perennials.
So how do we avoid that thing– spreading – that some bamboo plants are just so good at?
Well there’s three ways to approach this and they are –
- to grow them in pots
- to grow them inside strong root barriers
- to plant only those types that will only grow into neat clumps.
Growing bamboo plants in pots
So let’s look at growing them in pots to start with. All varieties of bamboo plants can be grown in pots provided that the pot is big enough to accommodate a hungry and questing root system. It helps that the pot is heavy to counter-balance what will often end up as a tall plant. This tends to rule out plastics- which incidentally their strong roots can sometimes puncture! So glazed, thick walled terracotta, stone/reconstituted stone, concrete and metal containers are best. And as I’ve already said, these are hungry plants that need plenty of feed from the potting compost. It must have an excellent structure! So use potting compost that has plenty of rougher material. It needs materials such as composted bark, tree fibre, coarse sand or grit. Remember that your bamboo is going to be tall enough to catch every breeze and that you need weight at the bottom to stop it blowing over. This might damage it or something else in the garden.
Using root barriers to contain bamboo plants
Buried root barriers are another way to be certain that your plant stays where you planted it! These are very thick plastic sheets that you insert into the soil vertically. They are so tough that even the sharply pointed shoots of new bamboo stems[‘culms’] are resisted and diverted back into the enclosure. If you are worried that your bamboo could escape into your neighbour’s garden then this is the answer.
Growing varieties of non-invasive bamboo plants
But the best approach, and one that is worth adopting for whatever way you are planning to grow these lovely evergreen grasses, is to choose varieties that are almost certain not to wander! Fortunately, these are the varieties that are most likely to be on sale and certainly the varieties that we offer at Cleeve Nursery.
There are a handful of types that you should be considering growing and I must apologise that these all have some rather tongue twisting technical names and remarkably few English names.
The first, and I must confess a strong favourite of mine, are Fargesia species and varieties. These bamboo plants from the Himalayas have masses of thin culms [bamboo stems] tightly packed together in a close-knit clump. They are perhaps not as tall as many others reaching on average 2-3 metres. But that can be a distinct advantage since they are big enough to provide a screen but not so tall that they dominate. Varieties of Fargesia murielae and nitida vary in height but all have those dainty culms and many small leaves.
Phyllostachys are perhaps more widely planted in Britain and have settled down well here after their introduction from eastern Asia. These are generally much taller growing [4-6 metres] but can still be grown in pots and containers. Many are being increasingly used instead of a conifer hedge. They provide instant privacy and need only a fraction of the after-care that a clipped hedge requires. But Phyllostachys bamboo plants are fabulous and tactile focal plants and can be used anywhere in the garden. The black stemmed Phyllostachys nigra is much sought after and, as the culms get bigger year on year, this variety is a beauty. By contrast the yellow stemmed cousins of Phyllostachys nigra come from several species. They look good all the year round but none more so than when caught by low winter sunshine! Then they radiate golden yellow from their thick golden culms.
Widely planted by the Victorians, Pseudosasa japonica will tolerate shade -as many bamboo plants do very well- and can even yield canes up which you will be able to grow your runner beans!
There are many other sorts of bamboo plants offered for sale and all are relatively easy to grow if you remember in particular that they like a lot of nitrogen and water in summer.
Where to find out more about and see bamboo plants
I’ve just scratched the surface and for more detailed information I strongly recommend Paul Whittaker’s book ‘Hardy Bamboos’ [Taming the Dragon]. I also recommend a visit to see collections of bamboo plants in our locality at –
RHS Rosemoor Gardens near Barnstaple, Devon.
Batsford Arboretum near Moreton-in-Marsh, Gloucestershire.
Sir Harold Hillier Gardens near Romsey, Hampshire.
If you plant bamboos in your garden, I can promise you that you will be adding an extra dimension of light, movement and beauty but sadly I can’t guarantee that it will bring giant pandas!