Bamboo 101 – Landscape Design

Bamboo Landscape Designs Basics

Bamboo is a popular plant well used across Asia, the Pacific and often by landscape designers on Oahu. It’s one of the fastest growing plants in the world and is the largest member of the grass family. That makes bamboo a sustainable choice for building, as a food source, and more. There are more than 1,450 species of bamboo, each one with unique characteristics.

Before you plant a bamboo, there are a lot of things to consider. Where will you put your plant? How much room do you have? How much light is there? What are the needs of the plant you chose? (Full sun/heavy water/high maintenance.) Do you have automatic water?

Clumping Vs. Running Bamboo. There are a few different designations of bamboo. Clumping bamboo is an ideal focal plant or dense screen. It gets bigger slowly in a clump and usually gets anywhere from a 3 to 10 ft. diameter. Running bamboo spreads quickly. They send out running rhizomes underground which can spring up 10 or more feet away from the parent plant. Bamboo runners can get out of control quickly but root systems grow predictably sideways at a depth of about 2-18 inches.

Consider planting your bamboo in a decorative pot. Containers are a great choice for bamboo if you don’t have a lot of room, or if you like to switch up your landscape often. Some bamboos actually do better in containers. Bamboos like Wamin or Buddha Belly that have misshapen, fat stalks that look like little bellies actually seem to have more pronounced features when their root systems are restricted.

Running bamboo is not the enemy – if it’s put in the right location. If you have erosion issues on a large property, running bamboo might be an economical, quick solution. As leading landscape designer on Oahu, we know that erosion is a serious issue here in Hawaii. If there is nothing growing to hold the soil rain will take nutrient rich topsoil into the waterways and out to the ocean. This has a direct impact upon marine life and your yard. Erosion can destroy natural habitats and seriously hurt certain species.

How to plant your bamboo: Most plants prefer amended soils, consider using compost, fertilizer and/or manure. Prepare the planting hole 2 times the size of the root ball and plant at the depth of the plant in the pot, making sure to cover roots and corms. Trim any damaged roots off neatly and thin out canes and foliage to prevent the wind from rocking the plant. Make sure the bamboo is watered regularly at least for the first 3 months after planting.

How to care for your bamboo: Every few weeks remove older canes within 2” of ground level. Use a sharp hand saw or a salz-all with a wood cutting blade. Be careful not to damage new shoots. Have an assistant support the canes, so they don’t pinch the saw. Remember to use the proper pruning techniques to maintain a natural look, these plants aren’t attractive when sheared. Consider getting on a schedule when fertilizing. It’s important to read the instructions on the fertilizer you chose. We usually fertilize our plants every few months.

Pest problems rarely happen, but it’s good to be prepared. Occasionally, scale can be a problem. Most general purpose insecticides will control it. Sooty mold can also be an issue. If you’d like to go all natural, try neem oil or a little bit of soap in some water. Avoid these problems by keeping your plant clean and healthy and remembering to divide or upsize your plant every year or two. Bamboos tend to get root bound in their pots and will actually strangle themselves to death if you’re not careful.

Disclaimer: Planting a bamboo in your yard is a commitment. Even if you plant a clumping bamboo, in 10 years it will take a backhoe and half your neighborhood to remove it. Know what you’re getting into by making sure you know the exact species of bamboo you’re planting and doing your research.


The American Bamboo Society