Growing Bamboos in Cold Climates

Close-up of Fargesia, a type of a clumping bamboo
David Beaulieu

Many readers send in emails about growing bamboo plants in cold climates. In these emails, readers (typically living in the northern states of the U.S.) are seeking examples of cold-hardy types. Knowing that this information will be valued by many browsing for growing information, let's look at a variety of such examples below.

Growing Bamboo in the North

To grow bamboo plants in northern climates, you need to find one of the cold-hardy bamboo plants. Some kinds will survive winter as far north as USDA cold-hardiness zone 5. The figures used below come courtesy of the Bamboo Garden website.

Note that the inclusion of a plant on this list does not mean that the plant's above-ground growth will necessarily survive the sub-zero temperatures of winter. But the roots will, in fact, survive. In other words, these tropical plants that are evergreens in their native lands will act as herbaceous perennials in a cold climate. Plants that hail from warmer climates often can survive in colder climates, but the trade-off is that they behave differently than they do back home. Another example is crepe myrtle, which is a tree when grown in a Southern climate, but which Northerners have to settle for growing as an herbaceous plant (as a result, the plant will achieve the dimensions of a shrub, rather than those of a tree).

Fargesia Genus

The Fargesias are among the most cold-hardy. The following are some examples. The numbers in parentheses indicate the lowest temperature (Fahrenheit) that they can survive; use this number to rank the plants for cold-hardiness:

  1. Fargesia dracocephala: (-10F). Grows to 8-12 feet in height.
  2. Fargesia nitida: (-20F). Grows to 12 feet in height.
  3. Fargesia robusta: (0 degrees F). Grows to 15 feet in height.
  4. Fargesia rufa Green Panda, which is the plant shown in the picture: (-15F). Grows to 8 feet in height.
  5. Fargesia murielae: (-20F). 10-14 tall.
  6. Fargesia denudata (-10F). Grows to 15 feet tall.

My pick for the top Fargesia is F. rufa Green Panda because it is relatively compact.

Phyllostachys Genus

The Phyllostachys group of bamboo plants is also quite hardy. Here are some cold-hardy examples from that genus:

  1. Phyllostachys nuda: (-10F). Usually reaches 25-30 feet tall.
  2. Phyllostachys bissetii: (-10F). Typically attains a height of 20-25 feet tall.
  3. Phyllostachys aureosulcata 'Yellow Groove': (-10F). Grows to be approximately 30 feet in height.
  4. Phyllostachys manii 'Decora': (-10F). 30-35 feet is a typical height for it.

The best choice in the Phyllostachys genus is P. manii 'Decora,' which is also known as "Beautiful Bamboo." Its young shoots have such colorful sheaths on its stalks that they put you in mind of a rainbow, rather like the foliage on Tropicanna canna.

One of these cold-hardy bamboo plants, Fargesia rufa, has become very popular in the North; it is often planted to form a bamboo privacy screen.