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A small garden? you can still play bamboo

Forget luck. Having bamboo that grows well in a small plot of land requires planning, choosing  the right variety, and caring for your runners.

Bamboo is amazing. There are few other plants that require so little horizontal space to thrive while providing an elegant screen for unsightly views. Bamboo, with its many varieties, sizes, colors and growth habits, has a place in almost every garden.

However, bamboo has a bad reputation for small spaces. Many home gardeners feel insecure about their plants’ ability to grow at an incredible rate. But by learning the right techniques, understanding the plant’s growth patterns, and choosing a variety of plants to suit your site needs, you can safely integrate bamboo into your home garden, even small spaces. Bamboo is technically a woody grass. It rarely flowers and produces branched underground stems called rhizomes. The extent to which bamboo plants produce rhizomes and their distance from the main plant are the
main differences between the two types of bamboo: clumping bamboo and running bamboo.

With a little forethought, bamboo can become one of the lowest maintenances and hardest working plants. Here are some considerations and tips to keep in mind when planning to plant bamboo in your garden.

Clumping bamboo. Clumping bamboo is a non-invasive grower with dense, non-spreading clumps of stems. Their easy-care mature size most varieties reach 8 to 16 feet in temperate climates and compact growth habit make them well suited to small spaces. These plants tend to have thinner stems and look like bamboo hedges. Clumpy bamboo does not require containment and grows well in a variety of situations in small gardens.

Tip: Fargesia bamboo is one of the best bamboo species for small gardens and grows well in a variety of lighting conditions. My favorite variety is the low-maintenance Fargesia Robusta. This variety grows up to 14 feet tall in temperate climates. It is also the bamboo variety preferred by panda bears. But unfortunately, these bamboo varieties are not utilized where I live!


Running bamboo. Running bamboo tends to spread vigorously, so incorporating it into a small garden space requires more planning and supervision. But that doesn’t mean it should be left out of the equation entirely. Bamboo’s thicker, more widely spaced stems provide more flexibility in the landscape. Removing side branches often exposes the colorful stems and allows views through the bamboo banks to the surrounding garden. Removing tree branches has proven effective when planting bamboo on walls. When you plant bamboo against a wall, the shadows from the bare stems are dramatic and add year-round interest.

Tip: Of the many options available for growing bamboo, my favorites for small gardens are black bamboo and golden bamboo. Because of its slow growth rate and beautiful stem color. The golden bamboo blends well with the dark background, while the black bamboo provides a great contrast to the bright plants in the garden.

Growing bamboo in a container. Inhibiting root growth is a major concern when operating bamboo cultivation. Some running bamboos can thrive in containers. Because plants are above ground and often surrounded by hardscape, all growth is concentrated within a limited space. However, you must keep the container well-watered. Otherwise, bamboo leaves may turn brown.

Tip: Bamboo does not grow well during drought, so it is recommended to water it regularly using an automatic irrigation system.

Bamboo inside. Running bamboo can also be grown inside, but will need a root barrier to prevent it from growing into surrounding garden beds. A bamboo barrier sometimes called a rhizome barrier is a thick plastic sheet that is sunk at least 3 feet deep into the ground surrounding the bamboo plant and protrudes about 2 inches above the ground. Rhizomes are redirected to designated bamboo areas and surrounding gardens are protected from bamboo growth. River rocks placed around plant bases are an effective way to hide bamboo barriers and complement architectural columns.

Vertical space. Running bamboo is taller than clumping bamboo, so you need to consider the amount of vertical space available. The height of the plant can be controlled by cutting off stems that are too tall at the base of the plant and filling the space with shorter stems around them.

Tip: Do not “top” the bamboo. Unsightly, pom-pom-like clumps of leaves may form at the cut points and detract from the plant’s elegant, natural form.

Because bamboo is very flexible, tall specimens often tilt under the weight of the upper branches. This can cause problems in tight spaces. Curved bamboo can be managed with a ladder system made by attaching dried bamboo upright supports to horizontal rungs.

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