How does bamboo grow?

bamboo multiplication chartHow fast does bamboo grow?

  • Bamboo produces new canes (culms) in the Spring. These shoots emerge out of the ground and grow in height and diameter for around 60 days. During this 60 day period it will produce limbs and leaves.
  • After the 60 day period of growth, the bamboo cane never grows in height or diameter again. Bamboo doesn’t experience secondary growth like trees or most flora. It will put on new foliage every year, and a cane typically lives for 10 years.
  • Bamboo is a member of the grass family. It is a colony plant, so it uses energy from this existing plant to produce more plants and expand the root structure. The new plants will grow in the same manner. New shoots emerge to turn into a cane with limbs and leaves within a 60 day period.
  • Bamboo takes about three years to get established. Once established the new shoots that emerge in the Spring (they will still only grow for 60 days) will continue to get bigger and more numerous from year to year as the colony grows towards maturity. It takes a varying number of years (4-15) for different species to reach their maximum size. This is dependent on species selection, soil, sunlight, climate and watering conditions.

ask an expert

This may seem lengthy, but it is important and interesting to understand your new bamboo. Every year we have customers contact us because their bamboo is just sitting there and not taking off. Bamboo grows differently than most other plants. It is difficult to grasp what is happening.  It did not get the title of  “fastest growing woody plant on earth!” for nothing!

There are over 200 species that can be grown well in North America, this will be determined by your climate zone. Bamboo can add greenery to your garden during the winter, it can stabilize the soil of embankments and control the worst of erosion problems. This plant can provide privacy or wind screens and can  be trimmed to the height you desire.  Bamboo is not picky about soil conditions, but generally prefers a pH=7 or neutral soil. Most of the large bamboo, we  grow, prefer several hours of direct sunlight. Many of the smaller bamboo, 20 feet or less, prefer partly shady growing conditions. The bamboo you start off with, should not be thought of as an individual plant but one that will become a colony. This colony or grove is mostly underground (80% of its mass). The culms or canes provide nourishment for the underground colony of rhizomes. These rhizomes are roots and are similar to the culms in appearance. They have nodes and internodes. The area between the nodes (swollen area) is the internodes. From the node area, new roots and rhizomes will grow. The increase of rhizome growth allows the bamboo to store nutrients and therefore, produce larger plants until a mature culm size is obtained through out the grove. The starter plant and smaller plants will begin to die off as the grove matures. An average cane will last about 10 years in a grove. Several years down the road you will have a grove or screen of mature size canes emerging each Spring and Summer.

A baby girl and boy may have some similar characteristics to its parents, but it will not look just like them at an early age. As the baby matures it will look more like the parents. The same goes for your new bamboo division. The canes or shoots and leaves will most likely not have all the characteristics of the mature size bamboo such as stripes or leaf size. Just keep in mind all the bamboo characteristics, just like a newborn, will not look just like its parent form. It may take years of taking care of a plant to realize that somebody had sold you the wrong species. Because of this you need to purchase bamboo from a reputable source.

During the spring time, new culms (canes) will emerge upward from the rhizome nodes. These new shoots are very tender and can be broken by the slightest bump. The culms emerge from the ground with the diameter that it will always have and will grow at an amazing rate for forty to sixty days (New plantings of bamboo usually take about three full growing years before they produce multiple shoots and take on the appearance of a small grove).

Bamboo has an amazing growth rate. It is much like a telescope in its growth habit as it emerges. Its growth has been measured at almost four feet in a twenty four hour period during the Spring shooting period. When the new shoot reaches its height, it will unfold its branches and new leaves. Even though the culm will never increase in diameter or height, it may live up to 15 years depending on the species, but to generalize, seven to ten years is more common.

As a bamboo grove develops, the new culm (canes) become larger in diameter and the height increases in each NEW cane until the grove reaches maturity. The oldest culms are usually the smallest in size. The new culms, produced during the Spring of each successive year, will emerge larger than the previous year’s growth, as a general rule. This is due to the increase in the underground system of rhizome or roots.

The larger the plant you begin with, the larger the rhizome system and the faster it will begin to produce larger and numerous shoots (new Spring growth). You can not take a short cut in the amount of time that it takes a species to establish it’s rhizome system. It is very important to realize that the bamboo division you begin with is only going to grow underground. The culms (cane) attached to the rhizomes or roots has finished growing and will only support the rhizome system. So do not expect the culm to take off and get larger or taller. Each Spring the culm emerges the diameter it will be and grows to the height it is going to be in a couple of months. You can begin with several bamboo divisions and this will increase the amount of bamboo you have each year. You can however establish a grove of bamboo with just one good division.  It takes bamboo about three full years, in the ground, before the mother plants really take off and start producing multiple shoots. The mother plant ( no matter what size that you begin with) is Finished growing in diameter and height, but the rhizome will grow outward underground.  Bamboo is a (grass) colony plant and most of the bamboo grove will be underground. Each Spring, the new culms will begin to emerge larger in height and diameter than the previous Spring’s growth, until the mature size of that species is reached after several years.

Since you are wanting a screen or grove rapidly (like most people do), we suggest planting on at least 5′ foot centers. This will hopefully provide a screen in 3-5 years. The larger your initial size, the taller your screen will be during the time frame.

You can plant on closer spacing to really accelerate a dense screen or grove faster. Here are the typical results under normal growing conditions:  From a 3 gallon size Phyllostachys species you should have a couple of new shoots the first spring.  Then next spring you should have about four new shoots and then on the third year, there should be about eight new shoots from each mother plant, forming a screening effect. It gets quite impressive after about three full years because the new culms (canes) that emerge each Spring will be larger and taller than the last year’s growth.

This may not sound like a lot of growth for three years, but at a five year level, you should have 20 to 40 culms (canes) 3/4 + inches in diameter and 20+ feet high, under good growing conditions, from a single bamboo planting. This of course varies with the species selected and some species can be over 3 inch diameter and 40 feet high in just 7 years.

Unless you quit mowing your lawn, you should not have any trouble controlling the bamboo. Bamboo is a grass and you can see on our Privacy Page how many plantings have been controlled to specific areas of long privacy screening type groves. If controlling your bamboo to a specific area cannot be done by mowing, then use one of the other control methods. We show several methods at the bottom of this page on controlling the spread.

It will not take over the world, it would have already do so thousands of years ago if that myth were true. Thousand and thousands of gardeners have enjoyed and used bamboo for thousands of years. Bamboo are evergreen and put on new leaves each year. This new leaf growth happens during the Spring time. This process is gradual and is highlighted by the appearance of a new carpet of golden brownish leaves within the grove. It is important not to remove this carpet of leaves from the groves for it provides mulch and nutrients for the colony. New plant growth or shoots will initiate around March and extend through May for Phyllostachys bamboo. This period will vary a little with different species and local ecological conditions. If receive your new starter bamboo during the Spring you will see the old leaves turning yellow or golden. These will die and fall away, but generally not before new leaves have formed right below the old formation.

The culms of the Phyllostachys species will have a groove or sulcus above each branch attachment. Some species have a colored groove or sulcus. The internodes may be green with a yellow stripe in the sulcus. On the other hand, some have yellow canes with green stripes in the sulcus. Others are green with black coloring, solid black, spotted with burgundy or purplish colors. The list goes on and on. That is not even getting into the different color of leaves and their variegations.

The cold hardiness of our temperate bamboo are taken from the American Bamboo Society’s Source List and are as accurate as possible. Any variations listed are from our own personal or business experience and we will constantly study and observe bamboo in order to provide you with the most up to date and accurate data possible.

Many of the bamboo will live even after being exposed to temperatures lower than those listed. While it may be distressing to see your beautiful foliage or culms die due to extreme cold or wind chill, it is comforting in most situations to see bamboo bounce back, the following Spring, with new culms and often new foliage on what appeared to be dead culms. Again, this only happens when the bamboo has been exposed to temperatures below those suggested for that species or extreme wind chills.

ask an expert

Get started with your own bamboo…
We ship premium bamboo right to your door! Free shipping for orders over $50.