Bamboo is the fastest growing plant on land, and when given proper water and nutrition an individual shoot can grow over 18 inches in a single day. This amazing growth rate increases as the strength and size of the clumps root mass expands.
There are 2 basic types of bamboo, clumping and running. As the names describe clumping bamboo grows tightly with the new shoot closely joined to its mother, neighbor shoot. This type of bamboo has been coined “bamboo that behaves” and is generally safe for landscapes and as long as the correct species are selected for the space and climate. Clumpers will offer no unpleasant surprises and are the gem of landscape bamboo. No physical rhizome barrier is needed to plant clumping bamboo and the direction of the clump can be controlled and shaped simply by cutting off an area of unwanted shoots while they are young and soft.
Running bamboo on the other hand is quite different than its clump forming cousin. Running bamboo sends underground shoots that run parallel to the ground, sticking shoots up everywhere along the way. This can cause problems keeping it contained and requires a sturdy physical barrier known as a rhizome barrier. Running bamboo is usually much more cold hardy than clumping bamboo and is sometimes the only bamboo choice for a particular climate. Although there are excellent applications for running bamboo, it can be particularly troublesome for the unknowing. Clumping bamboo is often aptly called “grove forming bamboo” because of its ability to convert an entire area into a bamboo “grove”. Concrete, swimming pools and home foundations are no match for the strength of running bamboo, be very careful when planting it in the ground. We do sell a few running bamboo varieties for our friends up north and for growing in pots, but we usually do our best to recommend only clump forming varieties.
The bamboo clump is an expanding group of individual canes joined together at its root base. Each cane has its own life cycle of anywhere from 5-7 years, before it is replaced, and more importantly each cane (called a culm while it is still alive and growing) only gets around 60 days during the spring- fall shooting season to achieve its full height. For example a 3 gallon size Seabreeze bamboo starter only has enough root energy to push a shoot up 8-10 feet. As the root mass and clump grow larger the diameter and overall height of the canes (called culms when still alive) increase as well. While a 3 gallon Seabreeze bamboo starter can only push up a 10 foot culm in its nursery pot, after 1 year in the ground and expanding its root mass to nearly triple its original size, the new shoots it pushes out will be closer to 20 feet. As the size of the root mass increases so will the size and diameter of the culms, until after a few years with proper care, the culms will begin to reach their full mature height and diameter.
Bamboo shoots part of the year and expands its root mass the other part. The shooting season for bamboo in Florida is between March-November. It is a bit shorted in other areas but generally bamboo shoots throughout the spring and summer. During this time the bamboo will do all its above ground growth. Expect to see rapid growth and multiple shoots each year. As the size of the root mass expands expect a similar expansion in the height and diameter of the culms as well.
Because bamboo grows so fast, you can really plant it any time of the year. Although most people do well planting bamboo in the spring and summer, we also love planting in late fall and into winter here in Florida. The idea behind planting all winter is it gives the roots time to acclimate and expand before the stress of the spring and summer shooting seasons. It’s perfectly fine to plant bamboo in the winter, as there is no stress associated with producing shoots, so the clump can put all its strength into expanding its root mass.
Bamboo Sleeps, Then it creeps, Then it leaps
Year One of Growth- Sleep
The first year after installation, the bamboo clump is putting most of its energy into developing its root mass. You might think it was asleep if you didn’t know better. During its first shooting season the clump will muster up all its energy to push out several canes as far as it can, usually about 8 foot tall. Keep the clump well watered and fed and get ready to be pleasantly surprised next spring.
Year two of growth- Creeps
In this second year of growth you will see your bamboo slowly begin to expand into the clump you are expecting. The culms now are twice as tall and thick as the ones from the previous year and there are many more of them. Expect 6-12 nice size culms after the second year of growth. At this time you may wish to cut off the first years smaller growth and use the larger more mature culms as your focal point.
Year three of growth- Leaps
By the third year your bamboo should be developing into a large clump and begin to show signs of reaching full maturity. You will see full size culms and again may wish to remove some of the adolescent growth of the previous 2 years. At this point you can start to shape the clump by removing any new shoots that are emerging in an undesirable area. Some shoots are edible and delicious to harvest.
These are generalizations of bamboo growth rates, each species has its own growth rate and mature size, if you have questions about what to expect from a specific type of bamboo please call the bamboo line at 888-784-7336 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for fast answers.
For more resources, check out: How to Grow Bamboo Plants
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