Clumping bamboo is quickly becoming a favorite landscape material, however, due to the introduction of numerous new species, some of the best and most useful landscape bamboo varieties are going unused and unknown.
As a bamboo grower, I am often asked to recommend species of bamboo to those who are not familiar with the specifics of each variety. Because bamboo is so new to American landscapes (with many varieties being introduced less than 20 years ago) many landscape architects just are not being introduced to the new clumping bamboo varieties that works so well within the tropical and subtropical landscapes. Because bamboo has not traditionally been popular in the United states as a landscape material, many landscape architects are left in the dark about the diversity and practical applications of these amazing clumping grasses.
The Truth About Bamboo
Bamboo are not trees, but are actually clumping grasses. There are over 1300 known varieties of bamboo found around the globe today, with the majority being large, running, grove forming varieties which take over large sections of the landscape and form huge stands of bamboo that quickly expand and consume an entire area. The only thing that stops running bamboos spread is hitting water or deep ditches. Running Bamboo has its place in developing countries as a raw material in which food is harvested (from the new shoots) or canes and construction materials are created from the harvested poles.
However, in America the running varieties of bamboo were the first ones used in the landscape, often with terrible consequences. People would see these beautiful plants and plant them next to their homes for a little screening or privacy, and the next thing they knew they had a bamboo grove taking over their neighborhood. This led to bamboo getting quite a bad reputation around landscape architect scenes. What landscape architect would want to recommend installation of a bamboo that will take over the entire property? Its a liability that most landscape architects did not want to touch with a 10 meter bamboo pole, so naturally, landscape architects stayed away from all bamboo in general. It was only when the customer would demand bamboo be used that they would begrudgingly make some inquiries into bamboo as a landscape material.
And then came the internet. Once we all started posting our travel and vacation pictures online the secret of bamboo's practical beauty was out. We saw around the world how specific varieties of these amazing grasses were being used in landscapes around the world, and it didn't take long until we began to seek these varieties for our own tropical and subtropical homes and landscapes. Progressive landscape architects have been working with available varieties of clumping bamboo as far back as the late 70s, often taking cues from one of the earliest bamboo pioneers, Walt Disney World in Orlando Fl. For over 40 years visitors to the park have been inspired by the beauty of these amazing clumping bamboo varieties.
There are many cultivated varieties of bamboo that are completely amazing and absolutely have a place in the landscape, but the following varieties are the ultimate starting point. Use these varieties to determine the desired size, form and function, then talk to your local bamboo expert about what works in your climate.(Feel free to contact us for expert advice) Your local bamboo nursery understands variables like, minimum temperature, soil conditions, salt tolerance and overall height, all must be factored into the final bamboo decision. Do not rely on your local nursery for information about bamboo.
Bamboo is a specialty product and nurseries are not bamboo specialists. Bamboo requires much different care and has much different watering needs than the other plants in the nursery. traditional plant nurseries do not specialize in named varieties of bamboo. weather your a homeowner working with an architect or an architect working with a homeowner, do not rely on the information at your local nursery regarding bamboo. Bamboo is a specialty plant and requires specialized knowledge from a local bamboo nurseryman. So without further delay lets count down the top clumping bamboo varieties for Landscape architects.
Premier Landscape Bamboo Species by Size
Smaller (15’-25’ Overall Height)
Blue Chungii Bamboo- This amazing landscape specimen is an absolute stunner. new culms emerge covered in a white powder bloom that gives the canes the overall appearance of looking light blue. Expect this fast growing clumping bamboo to grow to an overall height of around 20Feet tall, with a clump diameter of around 4 Feet. Due to its outstanding visual appeal this bamboo is commonly used as a standalone thriller, but plant these tropical beauties 6-8 feet apart and you have a beautiful and functional privacy screen that is sure to get attention. At Our nursery in SW Florida Bambusa Chungii is a favorite that we have a hard time keeping in stock! This is one of the most sought after bamboo varieties and finding available starter material can be challenging. We work hard to keep the 3 gallon sizes in stock and are a primary source across the southern united states for Chungii Blue bamboo.
Mid Sized (20’-25’ Overall Height)
Gracilis Graceful Bamboo- This is perhaps the most popular landscape bamboo used today. Gracilis bamboo is often referred to by its common name Graceful bamboo, due to its long graceful leaves. Gracilis grows into a tight clump that grows to an overall height of around 20’ tall and approximately 3-4 feet in overall clump diameter after 2-3 years. gracilis is easily groomed and maintained and is the ultimate replacement wherever the specs call for boring old Areca Palms. Over the past few years, landscape architects in the know have been using gracilis as a spectacular replacement for areca palms with huge benefits both visual and financial. Because gracilis can be planted 4-6 feet apart (instead of 18 inches apart for most other hedge plants) installation and material costs are reduced substantially. But the huge benefit of gracilis bamboo is the reduction in maintenance. Bamboo requires little to no maintenance. Perhaps you will want to remove some of the older and smaller canes as the clump matures, but that is all the maintenance that is required. compare this to the areca palms and the infamous annual cleaning out of old and dead growth (that makes a perfect home for rodents) and gracilis clearly becomes a superior choice over areca palms.
Medium-Large sized (30’-35’ Overall Height)
Seabreeze bamboo- Seabreeze is the ultimate screening bamboo and is the perfect combination of a bushy bamboo that still keeps an attractive overall form. Seabreeze works better than any other bamboo for privacy screens because it has more lateral branches and much more screening foliage than any other variety. Again seabreeze becomes an economical privacy screen due to its size.A single seabreeze bamboo starter will quickly fill in an area up to 6 feet wide. This can substantially reduce overall landscape costs on a job when compared to traditional screening materials that will need to be planted 18” apart. Seabreeze bamboo is very salt tolerant and is the go to screening bamboo for large residential and commercial applications.
Tall Sized (50’-55’ Overall Height)
Oldhamii Bamboo is an amazing landscape bamboo due to its size and very straight form. This is a true giant bamboo and makes a statement wherever it is planted. Expect a mature Oldhamii clump to grow straight up in the air, in excess of 50’ tall after several years, with an overall clump diameter of around 6’-8’. This is a tall, straight bamboo that behaves in the landscape. Used extensively throughout walt disney world, this bamboo works well with 2,3 and 4 story buildings when greenery is needed on all levels. Oldhamii can be used as a living wall when planted on 6’-8’ centers, but is often planted as an individual specimen. Oldhamii is a real showstopper.
These 4 varieties are just the start. There are hundreds of bamboo varieties but only around 20 clumping varieties that are very well suited for use in tropical and subtropical landscapes. These 4 are a good starting point. As professionals we are always seeing the newest trends and always learning. For Landscape Architects, taking the time to understand the specifics of clumping bamboo comes with very low risk and quite high rewards. As top providers of clumping bamboo for over a decade we are always glad to see the right selection for the right place. Please let us know if we can help. From the landscape architect to the ambitious homebuilder choosing the correct bamboo for your next project is a snap once you have to correct information. .Were always a phone call away and always glad to help.
Photo Credit: Hong Kong_2011 06 02_030 via photopin (license)