Choosing Your Bamboo

There are various factors involved in selecting the bamboo plants that will best suit your needs and your location. A little planning ahead of time can ensure that you plant the right bamboo for your needs!

Purpose:  The uses for bamboo, in all of its varied forms, are endless: hedges and screens, open groves, striking, stand-alone specimen plants, low variegated borders or ground covers, accent plants in pots on a deck or patio, a tunnel or interesting entryway, an Asian look for Japanese gardens, etc.

By far the most popular use of bamboo, however, is for fast-growing privacy screens and evergreen hedges. Since bamboo is one of the fastest growing plants on the planet, bamboo screens and hedges can be created more quickly and inexpensively than other plants or trees. Almost any species can be used for effective screening, given that it will grow to the height you desire in the space that you can allow for it, and given that it is properly matched to your climate and growing conditions. Learn more about using bamboo as a living privacy screen here.

Desired Look: Selection is all a matter of taste and purpose. Read the Bamboo by Genus A-Z page for more information about the different families and for photos and info on the specific species we carry.  Or better yet, come visit us and notice what catches your eye. We have many mature groves and clumps on our beautiful 7.5 acre property.

There is an amazing variety of bamboos from which to choose. There are canes with colors, stripes, large/small diameters, exposed canes or canes hidden by foliage. Leaves may be striped and variegated, yellow or white with green, long and thin, large and wide, or very small and delicate. Growth habit may be vertical and narrow, bushy and wide, weeping, arching at the top, dense or airy, etc.

Keep in mind that the young plants you purchase may not immediately show colors and variegation or other special traits; these features will become more prominent after the first year or two. In addition, some features appear only in certain conditions; for example, red and purplish culms of certain species are only brought out by direct sun consistently hitting the canes themselves.

Temperature: Cold-hardiness, the lowest temperature tolerated by the root system of each species for 2-3 nights at a time, is listed on our Price List for each plant. The cold-hardiness rating generally represents the threshold for root death. Temperatures close to this rating may kill the tops or even the whole canes, causing them to turn beige. The dead canes will not produce new leaves, but if the roots survive, the bamboo will produce new shoots (young culms) when the shooting season begins.

It’s best to select bamboos that will tolerate temperatures well below the lowest temperatures you’ve experienced in the last 10 years in order to ensure healthy plants long-term. Somewhat less cold temperatures may cause only leaf burn and the loss of some leaves. If the canes are not damaged, new leaves will bud out again when the weather warms up. Cold-hardiness can be expanded considerably by putting a very deep mulch over the bamboos in the fall.

Some bamboos suffer from summer heat rather than cold, and do not tolerate hot summer nights (over 70 F.) or daytime temperatures that regularly reach 100 degrees F and above. For example, most of the Fargesias, and some Chusqueas do not do well in these conditions. They are mostly considered mountain bamboos, which are evolved for cold, not heat.

Sun/Shade: Ideal sun exposure and shade tolerance parameters are listed as a range on our Price List and on each individual plant page. Compare with the number of hours of direct sun which your plants will receive, and what part of the day they will be in sun.  Morning (AM) sun is cooler; afternoon (PM) sun may be hotter, and is especially harsh in hot, dry climates.

Running or Clumping Rhizome Type: The rhizome (root) type of each bamboo is listed on the Price List and plant pages. Consider all of the advantages and disadvantages of clumpers and runners for you. For example, clumpers spread wide more slowly, but generally grow tall faster, and don’t require root barrier for containment. Runners spread wide quickly to form screens, are less expensive, but generally require containment such as root barrier or planter boxes. For a more thorough discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of each type and how to choose the best type for your situation, see the section titled Clumping vs Running Bamboos.

Height & Diameter:  Maximum height and diameter reached by each species in the climate of origin and in Sebastopol, California are indicated on the Price List and plant pages. They are offered as “known reference points”, however, height and diameter are affected by all aspects of your growing situation and climate: high and low temperatures, sun/shade exposure, humidity/aridity, water supplied, length of growing season, size of growing area, etc.

If your climate is similar to ours in Sebastopol, (or the climate of origin for that plant), and if the plant is located in an appropriate amount of sun or shade, has adequate space and will have year-round water, you can generally expect the maximum height listed.

Know that there is a correlation between height and diameter.  You will not have a 3 or 4 inch diameter culm with a plant that is 15 feet tall; those diameters are reached by species which grow 30 to 50 feet tall!  Generally, the shorter the bamboo, the thinner the culms.

Note: Relevant information on each species is easily and quickly referenced on our Price List, on each individual plant page under the “Additional Info” taband on our Bamboo by Genus A-Z list. Sun/Shade, Temperature, Height/Diameter, and Runner/Clumper type, and links to one-paragraph descriptions and photos can all be accessed from these places.

To search for recommended plants by your criteria, click here. 

Special circumstances: Some bamboo species do better in unique circumstances you may find in your planting zone. Click the links below to find species for these circumstances: