What Are the Best Growing Conditions for Bamboo?

Different Types Have Different Requirements

Forest of blue bamboo plants.
Chiara Salvadori/Getty Images

Due to its growing popularity in North America for use as a "living privacy screen," more and more gardeners wonder what the best growing conditions for bamboo are. Unfortunately, because there are many different kinds of bamboos (and they do not share exactly the same growing requirements), the question does not admit of a single answer that covers all of the bases. So after presenting the best general answer available, we will look at the conditions required by some of the best bamboos, including some of the fastest-growing types.

The American Bamboo Society (ABS) writes, "There are more than 70 genera divided into about 1,450 species. Bamboo are found in diverse climates, from cold mountains to hot tropical regions." They observe that, while bamboo, generally speaking, is a fast-growing plant, growth rate will depend on growing conditions.

General Growing Conditions for Bamboo

Knowing what to plant where is important for success in the garden regardless of what you plant. Before buying a bamboo to grow, make sure you are informed regarding the following growing conditions for it:

  • Amount of sunlight needed (or degree to which the plant requires protection from bright sun)
  • Best soil for the plants to grow in
  • Recommended nutrients for the plants
  • Watering needs
  • How cold-hardy your type of bamboo is (although if you will be growing it as a houseplant, this does not matter)

On the subject of one particular growing condition for bamboo, sunlight requirements, the ABS states that "most large bamboos grow quicker and do their best in full sun." However, they are also quick to point out that "Fargesias and most Thamnocalamus are happier with some shade during the hottest part of the day."

Bamboos prefer a soil pH that is slightly acidic (with a pH reading of about 6). In terms of soil texture, bamboo plants prefer a soil that is loamy.

To stimulate growth in the plants, apply a fertilizer high in nitrogen. The amount of nitrogen in a fertilizer is indicated by the first number in the NPK sequence (which is a string of three letters that should appear somewhere on the fertilizer bag).

Bamboo likes a lot of water, but it also needs a well-drained soil. While it is necessary to saturate the entire planting area when growing running bamboo plants, you can restrict watering for clumping types to the area around the base (or "clump") of the plant. Be aware, though, that running-type bamboos can be very invasive.

Growing Conditions for Select Bamboos

Silverstripe bamboo (Bambusa dolichomerithalla Silverstripe) is a clumping type of bamboo rather than a running kind, so it is easier to control. Becoming a maximum of 25 feet tall at maturity, its namesake feature is the silvery-white stripes that run down its slender leaves. But it is cold-hardy only to USDA planting zone 8. It prefers to grow in full sun to partial shade. Silverstripe bamboo is one of the fastest-growing kinds.

For those who live in cold climates, it is critical to find a bamboo to grow that is suitable for your climate. For, as with another tropical favorite, the palm tree, there are both tender and cold-hardy bamboos. Golden bamboo (Phyllostachys aurea) is one of the cold-hardy types, being suited to zones 6 to 10. Also called "fish pole bamboo," it reaches a maximum height of 30 feet. This running type of bamboo can be grown in full sun or in partial sun. If you want it to live up to its common name of "golden bamboo," grow it in full sun: It is the direct sunlight that turns it a golden color. Otherwise, the culms will be green.

Arrow bamboo (Pseudosasa japonica) is a running type grown in zones 6 to 9. The narrow leaves are long (5 to 13 inches), adding to the plant's beauty. It grows to a maximum of 18 feet tall, which is just about right for a living privacy hedge along a property border; its dense growth gives it the ability to screen out prying eyes very well. Most people in temperate climates grow it in full sun to partial shade, but it tolerates full shade better than many kinds of bamboo.

Another bamboo that can stand the cold is yellow groove bamboo (Phyllostachys aureosulcata), which grows in zones 4 to 9. Attaining a maximum height of 18 feet, it wants to be grown in full sun. Although it displays more drought-resistance at maturity than some types of bamboo, it performs better in a consistently moist soil enriched with compost. Yellow groove bamboo is a running type of bamboo. Its green culms bear yellow grooves, a trait that stands out most on young shoots.