What is bamboo?

Bamboo is a type of tall grass that grows quickly and has a hollow stem. It holds the Guinness World Record title for the plant that grows the fastest. Bamboo can be found in several countries all over the world with generally tropical and humid climate, particularly in Asia, Australia, sub-Saharan Africa, and South America.

More than 1,400 different bamboo species are noted from all around the world. They share the same characteristics in terms of flowering season regardless of their location. According to scientists, this is due to a universal clock that the species possess which enables them to flower at the same time no matter what kind of environment they grow in. 

The bamboo plant is utilized by people in many ways. It can be consumed as food and built into furniture and used for construction as well. Many animals benefit from it like pandas, whose main diet is bamboo fibers, lemurs, gorillas, chimpanzees, elephants, and caterpillars. 

Everything you should know about owning a bamboo plant

Don’t expect the first bamboo plant you buy to grow extremely tall immediately. It will spend most of its first year adapting to the environment and developing its root system first. The following year, you should see some more sprouting around 2-3 times longer than the older ones but this is not its maximum height yet. 

In 3-4 years, the sprouts will grow to their maximum height in just 1-3 months after they first appear. New ones will keep sprouting every spring. 

How fast does bamboo grow?

  • New bamboo canes/culms are produced every start of spring. These grow out of the ground and continue growing for a span of 60 days while producing limbs and leaves. 
  • After 60 days, the canes will stop growing in height and diameter altogether. A bamboo can typically survive for up to 10 years. There is no secondary growth but it puts on new foliage every year. 
  • Bamboo is classified under the grass family. Those species that belong to this class are colony plants, meaning they utilize the energy produced by a preexisting plant to enhance their own growth and reproduction. It is the same pattern every time. Young shoots grow into a cane with limbs and leaves in 60 days. 
  • The total establishment of a bamboo plant takes more or less three years to complete. The shoots that grow each spring will increase in size and number as years pass by and the colony matures. It may vary from 4 to 15 years depending on the species to achieve their maximum height. Other factors in play include soil condition, sunlight exposure, climate, and the water conditions. 

It seems like a really long time if you think about it. But it takes patience to really take care and cultivate a bamboo plant. This plant is unique and does not undergo the conventional growth pattern of other plants. The growth is quite unpredictable but the process is really quick. 

Factors that affect the time it takes for bamboo to grow

Controlling the growth of your bamboo plant is tricky. You need to be aware of the different factors that affect its growth so you can provide the appropriate environmental condition in which it can thrive. 

1. Climate and weather

Most species of bamboo grow best in tropical areas that have warm temperatures. However, there are still some that can thrive in colder areas which are called running types. They spread quickly and are invasive kinds of bamboo. The clumping types spread rather slowly. 

2. Soil conditions

The good thing about bamboo is that it is picky when it comes to soil conditions. Almost all soil types can allow the growth of bamboo because the roots of this plant are shallow. The largest is only up to 50 cm while the smallest is just 30 cm. 

3. Water conditions

These plants love water very much. They grow best when they are well-hydrated and the soil is also well-drained. For the running type of bamboo, they need a lot more water than usual. For the clumping types, they tend to spread widely so it’s best to limit their water supply if you want them to keep within one area only. 

4. Exposure to sunlight

Full sunlight exposure is recommended by the American Bamboo Society. Some varieties like the Thammocalamus and Fargesias, though, are best grown in the shade and must be protected from direct sunlight as much as possible.

5. Fertilization

High nitrogen content is great for bamboo plants. You can incorporate nitrogen-rich food in your fertilizer or plant food. The ideal fertilizer should have a 20-5-5 ratio of nitrogen, phosphoric acid (P2O5), and soluble potash (K2O), respectively. If chemical fertilizer is unavailable, lawn fertilizer can also be used. But nothing beats organic fertilizer. 

Slow-growing bamboo types

Clumping varieties are generally slow spreaders. But despite that, the length that it can grow to vertically is up to one foot a day. One particular variant, the golden bamboo, which is mainly ornamental, grows a lot slower than the rest of its siblings. It only grows 0.5 feet a day. Horizontally, it grows 3-5 feet in length every growing season. 

Fast-growing bamboo types

Oldhamii Bamboo is the fastest out of all fast-growing bamboo variants. It has the capacity to grow up to 3 feet in a single day. Surprisingly, this is a clumping type as well so it focuses more on vertical growth and less on the horizontal spreading. 

Growing your bamboo plant

Planting bamboo involves the use of a plant instead of seedlings. It is not practical to plant bamboo using seeds because the seeding only takes place on 75-year cycles and the usability is not reliable. 

The very first portion of the plant initially grows underground. The culms/canes connected to the roots will develop below ground to serve as support. These parts usually do not grow immediately. The calm grows horizontally every spring and the vertical growth takes a few months. Expect the completion and full maturity of the cane to be complete in just a few months. 

Bamboo growth cycle

Initial planting

  • The first plant does not grow vertically nor horizontally. 

Early first spring

New, young shoots begin to pop out from the ground and can grow up to 4 feet a day. 

Late first spring

  • A 60-day growth cycle begins.

First summer

  • The cane matures after 60 days and no further growth occurs. 

Second summer

  • The grove utilizes energy from preexisting canes for further reproduction every spring.

Third summer

  • Bigger canes are produced by the grove until the entire plant reaches full maturity, which usually takes 7 to 10 years. 

The characteristics and condition of the initial plant play a huge role in the growth of the new shoots. Size, species, age, and environmental conditions have a significant impact on the new shoots that will be reproduced. 

It is important that the initial plant is a healthy portion of a mature grove. 

You have to realize that the single plant you use will grow to be an entire colony of bamboo plants and not just a single cane. Almost half the total mass of the colony resides below the grounds. The canes (culms) above are the ones that provide nutrients to the underground rhizomes. 

The rhizomes look similar to the culms (canes). Both have nodes and internodes. The internode is the small swollen area between two nodes. New rhizomes or roots emerge from a node. The more rhizomes there are, the greater the ability of the plant to be a reservoir for nutrients to supply to the underground system and be able to reproduce more to form the entire colony until it reaches maturity. 

Young shoots and leaves won’t bear the same characteristics as the parent plant just yet. But they will develop these over time as they grow and mature. It will take some time for the young ones to grow into the full sizes of their leaves. You should also consider the quality and health of the starting plant. It is important that you get it from a trustworthy source. 

Clumping vs running bamboo rhizome system

New growth

The growth of new culms takes place every springtime. They arise from nodes on the rhizome and grow quickly in a span of 40 to 60 days. These young shoots are quite fragile and can easily break off so they must be well taken care of.

4 feet every 24 hours is the estimated growth rate of bamboo in the spring. When the new canes achieve their full height, branches will start to unravel themselves and leaves will form. The cane will remain at that height for the rest of its lifespan but new branches and leaves will continue to grow nonetheless. 

The period of new growth

You can expect the emergence of new shoots starting early March until May. This is common for the Phyllostachys bamboo that is native in the Northern hemisphere. The time around new growth depends on the species and the environmental conditions in the area. 

Reason why bamboo grows fast

Grasses really have a rapid growth rate. And since bamboo is a member of the grass family, it only makes sense that it shares the growth speed of this species. During the budding stage, the plant produces the essential cellular components needed for growth. As they absorb water, they begin to expand. 

According to a recently published research study, the possible reason as to why bamboo grows as fast as it does is because of the unique cellular coordination during division and growth as well as the complexity of the biosynthesis of the cell wall which are designed for fast development. 

Grow your bamboo faster

You know by now that bamboo grows really faster than conventional plants. But you can further hasten its growth with these tips.

Use a mature plant as a starter

If you start off with an already mature plant, the rhizome system underground will not take too much time to develop and reproduce. Since bamboo is a colony plant, the size and number of the rhizome systems mean better growth for the grove. 

Though the time it takes for development is beyond control, starting off with an established plant helps speed up the process. We strongly advise not going for freshly dug plants because a portion like that is still adapting from being abruptly cut off from its energy source and it’s not a good starting material. 

Optimal soil condition

We have already mentioned before that bamboo grows in almost all types of soil, which is why it is abundant in many areas around the world. A sandy loam with an almost neutral pH and high organic content is best for their growth. The soil should also be loose enough for water to drain well. Other than that, bamboo can still thrive in clay and other types of soil. 

The roots of a bamboo plant do not go that deep underground. They usually keep within the first 12 inches below the soil surface. And as mentioned above, the soil needs to allow water drainage since the underground rhizome systems will break down in stagnant water for a long period of time. The only exception to this is the  “Lucky Bamboo” – which is technically not a bamboo, but a type of lily, which thrives on water. 

SOIL LAYERS

Sunlight conditions

Sunlight is needed for photosynthesis, which is a plant’s primary process for energy production. At least 4 hours of exposure to sunlight is important for the optimal function of bamboo plants. However, there is a particular group of bamboo species with small canes and large leaves that grow well in the shade. 

Using more than one starter plant

Bamboo grows in groups or colonies. One grove is composed of several individual canes that emerged from a single plant. One tip that can help increase the quantity of the growth of new shoots is to have plenty of bamboo divisions as a starter. 

This is good for those who want to establish a grove quickly. Planting on 5′ foot centers or closer should give you a full grove in 3 years or 5 at the most. The more you start with, the faster and more abundant the reproduction will be. But know the line between starting big and overplanting. 

Make use of fertilizers

Organic fertilizers help encourage healthy and rapid growth. It can even accelerate the normal growth rate by up to a year or more. Fertilizers provide more energy and nutrients that are sufficiently supplied by the soil. Because of the differences in soil types, the nutrients provided to the plant also vary. 

The image above is a time release fertilizer that prevents leaching and nourishes the plant in such a time that is in line with the bamboo plant’s absorption. Allow us to give you a rough estimate of the difference that time release fertilizers can make in the growth of your bamboo plant. 

From just one bamboo planting for a starter, 20-40 canes with diameters of ¾ inches or more and heights that reach more than 20 feet can be produced in just three years. That is already an impressive difference. As long as the rest of the environmental conditions are optimal, this is definitely achievable. But it still varies on the species, of course, as there are variants that can grow more than 3 inches in diameter and more than 40 feet high but it would take 7 years or so. 

Adequate water

Bamboo consumes a lot of water. Especially during the first stages of adapting to a new environment, the young shoots will need plenty of supply of water. Once they are established as a mature cane, they won’t need as much anymore. Watering can be done every two to three days for mature plants. 

Always remember to water them more often during hot seasons and windy weather. Saturate the soil around the base of the cane until the soil ceases to absorb the water. 

Regular mulching

Mulching means supplying the soil with natural organic matter like wood barks, wood chips, animal manure, dried leaves, sawdust, and compost, to name a few. It is intended to nourish the soil and keep it from getting dehydrated. The most ideal mulching method is to place thick layers around the base of the plant

A height of 15 centimeters of mulch is ideal and can guarantee you great results in terms of the horizontal growth of the bamboo plant. Mulches degrade slowly so the provision of protection and nourishment to the soil and the plant lasts long. 

Prune when necessary

In the unfortunate event that a branch dies, you should prune it immediately so it does not infect the rest of the plant and impair the normal processes. Removing dead parts will encourage further development and make room for new healthy ones. The nutrients will be distributed evenly as well. 

Controlling bamboo growth 

Bamboo plants that run on temperate conditions seed on 75-year cycles with only low seed sets. Propagation of bamboo plants by seeds is impractical due to the long time it takes and the difficulty. Bamboo primarily propagates via root and rhizome expansion and the appearance of young, new canes. 

If you gain control of the rhizomes, you can have control of the rest of the plant. Root pruning can be done two times in a year or you can also make use of Bamboo Shield which is a simple and hassle-free way of growth containment. You can specify or limit the area that you want the plant to grow in by forming privacy screens or patterns on the soil.

bamboo shield sizing chart

It’s not that difficult to install Bamboo Shield into the soil. Dig a trench around the area within which you would want to contain the plant in. This can prevent the spread of the rhizomes underground. The good thing about bamboo is that it does not have a very deep reach below the ground. It usually limits itself within the first 14 inches in the topsoil. 

Trimming newly-emerged shoots can also be a way to limit the spreading. The new shoots are fragile and easily broken at their early stage so it’s easy to remove them using a string trimmer or a mower. Bamboo is a very widely-used plant all over the world in gardening and in the maintenance of the ecosystem. It is even easier to manage using Bamboo Shield and you can truly appreciate the growth of the bamboo. 

Bamboo plant anatomy

The hollow stems, scattered vascular bundles, and the parallel veins on the leaves make bamboo a monocotyledon. The culms/canes are the woody ringed stems that grow vertically. The Phyllostachys genus is the most abundant of the temperate bamboo species. Just a little above every branch you will see a groove or sulcus with two alternating limbs in every node. This is the common image of bamboo that is known by everyone. 

Some internodes can be colored green with a yellow sulcus stripe. Others have yellow canes with green stripes. You can also find green canes with black, burgundy, or purple spots. There are also some species with 3 or more limbs attached at a single node. There are many more species that differ in the color and this does not even include yet the ones that differ in leaf appearance and structure and other varying characteristics of each individual species. 

Bamboo is a kind of an evergreen plant. New leaves appear each year particularly in the spring. This is manifested by the presence of young, new bundles of golden brownish leaves in the grove. You should not remove this cluster of leaves as this provides an abundance of nutrients for the colony. The evergreen quality of bamboo leaves is efficient in providing shade and screen all throughout the year. 

Cold weather – not ideal for bamboo

The information we provide here regarding the tolerance of temperate bamboo in cold temperatures is based on the data from American Bamboo Society. Some variations we made are derived from personal experience and we will keep the information as updated and accurate as possible. 

Majority of the bamboo species can still survive even after being exposed to low temperatures. You should expect that the foliage and culms will deteriorate during these conditions but they will always revive themselves in the spring with new culms and foliage above the dead ones. This is only possible when bamboo is exposed to extremely low temperatures beyond what is recommended for their specific species or during wind chills. 

You should consider the climate of your area before choosing the bamboo species that you want to plant. Planters and containers are not as efficient in providing insulation to the plant compared to the soil. 

Bamboo lifespan

Bamboo groves can live as long as a hundred years or more. A single cane can survive 15 years at most depending on the species. But the common average lifespan of one culm is 7 to 10 years. Expect that the plant you started with and the young ones will be gone as time passes by and the grove matures due to lack of sunlight exposure. Not to worry though because as the young ones die, the grove grows and the colony develops every spring and  summer.

Applications of bamboo

In North America alone, there are more than 200 different bamboo species. The evergreen characteristic of bamboo gives any area a splash of green even during cold seasons when the leaves of most trees wither. It also contributes a lot to the ecosystem in the prevention of soil erosion by stabilizing the topsoil with the strong rhizome systems underground. Bamboo colonies can also provide protection and privacy and serve as windscreens. You can trim them depending on how high you want them to be. Here are the different bamboo applications that we sell:

  • Privacy Screens
  • Ornamental
  • Accent plantings
  • Indoor plants
  • Zoos and Botanical Gardens
  • Bamboo products
  • Biomass applications

More fast-growing plants

There are more plants that grow fast just like bamboo. Below are a few of the common fast-growing plants that you can grow in your yard. 

  • Poppies – Even though they are under the weed family, poppies are great for ornamental and decorative purposes. 
  • Morning Glory – A kind of flower.
  • Sweet Peas – Attractive to bees.
  • Castor Beans – Can grow up to 10 feet in a year
  • Nasturtium – A natural pest and insect repellant. You can plant these near your fruit or vegetable patch for additional pest protection. 
  • Evergreen Cherry Laurel – Grows 23 inches in a year.
  • Cucumbers – Great for making salads.
  • Sunflowers – Will bring a vibrant splash of color to your garden especially during the warm seasons.
  • Photinia – Another evergreen plant that will give color to your yard even during the cold season. 

Last update on 2022-01-17 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API