Worldwide, there are over 1500 species of bamboos. Bamboos are
among the most useful of all plants. In addition to being
ornamental, their dense root systems make them good for erosion
control. The larger species make excellent privacy screens,
windbreaks, or noise barriers. The smaller species are good as
ground covers. Bamboos are also good as pot or tub plants, indoors
or outdoors. The stems, or "culms", are used for everything from
garden stakes to building construction, water pipe, concrete
reinforcement, fishing poles, and furniture. Many species of
bamboo produce edible shoots. A complete list of the uses for
bamboo would fill a book. The style of growth of bamboos is
remarkable. New shoots normally arise and grow to their full
height and thickness in a matter or 4 to 8 weeks. Under favorable
conditions, the new shoots which arise each year in a bamboo
planting will be taller and thicker than those of the previous
year, until the species reaches its full potential size. Thus, it
is normal for the youngest culms (canes) in a planting to be the
largest, and vice-versa. Under favorable conditions, a species
which can grow 30' tall can be expected to take about 10-12 years
to begin sending up full size culms, if it is started as a small
plant. Larger species will generally take more time than this to
reach full development, and smaller species less.
Most of the species listed in this catalog spread by rhizomes (underground stems) to form a patch or grove. Many species spread quite aggressively and can make a nuisance of themselves in situations where space is limited. A situation which should especially be avoided is allowing bamboo shoots from your planting to arise in a neighbor's yard. For the species with edible shoots, harvesting out-of bounds shoots for food will control spreading. For other species, shoots appearing where they are not wanted can be removed as they appear. Among the landscape features which will generally restrain the spreading tendencies of bamboos are building foundations, paved areas, mowed lawns, bodies of water or water-saturated soil, and dense shade cast by plants taller than the bamboo. Also, bamboos tend to spread relatively slowly up steep slopes. It has been our observation that the same bamboo species which will spread rapidly when grown in bright locations where there is little root competition will spread slowly if at all when grown where there is some shade and root competition from trees. If the shade and competition are too intense the bamboo may not survive at all. It is possible to strike a balance, however, where the bamboo will remain healthy and make some growth, but at a much slower rate than it would if grown without competition. If it is necessary to contain the bamboo in a small area and other means of checking its spread are lacking, barriers of sheet metal, hardware cloth, concrete, or fiberglass glazing can be used. Special rhizome barrier materials are available from some suppliers. The barrier may need to be at least 3' deep for the larger species and at least 18" deep for the smaller types. For a small bamboo species a sturdy container made of a decay-resistant material (such as plastic) could be buried in the ground to serve as a barrier. At least part of the bottom of the container should be removed, to allow for the movement of moisture. Leaving the outer couple of inches of the container bottom should help to prevent the rhizomes from escaping. A clean, 55-gallon plastic barrel, prepared as mentioned above and buried so its top is just above ground level, should make a fairly good planter even for many of the larger bamboos.
Bamboos are vigorous, rugged plants. In general, the larger species prefer to grow in full sun, and the smaller species tolerate or prefer some shade. The bamboos listed in this catalog are mostly from temperate regions. Most should grow satisfactorily in warm climates, but some species may reach their maximum development only in areas with fairly cold winters. It is best to plant bamboos which are to be grown outdoors in cold climates reasonably early in the growing season, so that they have a chance to become well established before cold weather arrives. Bamboo plants acquired late in the season can usually be held satisfactorily in containers, and wintered in a house (in a cool, bright location) or greenhouse. They can be planted outdoors the following spring as soon as the danger of hard frost has passed. In the descriptions, the size of the bamboos is given in terms of their maximum height and maximum culm (cane) diameter. Many species of bamboo have not been cultivated enough yet in North America to really establish their hardiness under our conditions. Also, it appears that the amount of cold which a bamboo can tolerate depends greatly on the conditions under which it is growing. Consequently, we have not assigned zone ratings to the bamboos in this catalog. Rather, we have listed temperatures which experience has shown to be the lowest that plants growing under favorable conditions can be expected to tolerate with only minor leaf damage. Bamboos can be grown even in areas where the culms freeze to the ground every winter. They will then behave like semi-evergreen herbaceous perennials, with green foliage during the summer and fall, and into winter - until damaging temperatures occur. Even if the tops winterkill, they generally remain upright and with the leaves attached, so they remain effective as a visual screen. With the exception of the smallest species, however, bamboos will not develop their full potential size or strength if they regularly suffer serious winter injury. Generally, bamboos which are rated as being leaf-hardy to +5°F or colder should prove reliably root hardy in zone 5, as long as they are mulched for winter. With thorough mulching, they should be root-hardy into somewhat colder zones.
Bamboos generally insist on well-drained soil. They prefer moist, rich, soil, but are fairly tolerant of varying soil conditions. They are considered moderately drought-resistant, once established. Many bamboo species can be grown either in the ground or as container plants. It is usually easier to keep bamboos healthy and prospering by growing them in the ground. We have included "container" in the key words for some bamboo species which we believe to be well suited to growing in containers. For some bamboos which are considered especially good container plants, see Pseudosasa and Bambusa. As a potting mix for bamboos, we strongly recommend a mix of ½ coarse sand ("concrete sand", not "mason's sand") and ½ compost. Commercially available potting mixes have not, in our experience, given consistently satisfactory results. Do not over water bamboos, or allow the pots to stand in water. Keep container plants out of hot, mid-day sun. Use fertilizer cautiously. For both water and fertilizer, too little is much better than too much.
Bamboo sizes: The bamboo plants offered here are container grown, or occasionally field dug and burlapped. The smaller bamboos (generally, those selling for less than $14.95) will usually be shipped as 4" or quart pot size plants. The larger species (generally, those selling for $14.95 or more) will usually be shipped as 6" pot size plants. In some cases, the bamboos will be transferred to smaller containers for shipping.