Planting Advise 2017-04-14T13:52:25+00:00


Bamboos grow successfully in most soil types and nearly all are content in either sun or shade – although a few have slight preferences. Those with particularly fine foliage, such as some of the Fargesia and Drepanostachyum species, generally prefer a shady location, while some of the dwarf bamboos, which live on the forest floor in their natural habitats, thrive in deep shade. Many of the Phyllostachys bamboos, on the other hand, favour an open, sunny position.

Although some nurseries suggest using bamboos as windbreaks, we hate to see the beautiful foliage and canes exposed to damaging gusts. Instead, we recommend putting in a shield of wind-resistant shrubs or trees, and then planting a graceful screen of bamboo in its shelter.


The ideal soil for bamboos is well-drained, rich, moist and loamy. However, with careful preparation, almost any kind of ground will provide an accommodating home. We cannot stress enough the importance of preparing the site properly: the bamboo will establish much more quickly if the ground is well-dug and fertile. (In fact, in some ways, we think that bamboos are like people. Give them a really good start in life and most of them will eventually look after themselves.)


Dig a hole about 50 centimetres deep and wide. Make it wider if you are planting a large specimen. If the soil is poor, you might like to discard it in favour of good topsoil. Put a layer of well-rotted manure in the bottom and mix it with an equal layer of soil. Take the bamboo out of the pot (having watered it well first) and place it in the hole so that the soil comes to the same level on the canes as it did in the pot – except in very light soil where you can plant it a couple of centimetres deeper. Fill in around it with good soil mixed with more well-rotted manure, garden compost or other soil conditioner and a sprinkling of general purpose fertiliser. Firm in the plant by treading gently around it (take care not to stand on any new shoots) and give it a good drink of water.

Bamboos love moisture and humid conditions, but good drainage is essential: the rhizomes and root system should not sit in water. For that reason, where bamboos are planted by streams or lakes (a situation where we think they look strikingly handsome) they must be sited on a bank at least 20 centimetres above water level. Where the soil is slow to drain, the conditions can be improved by digging a pit about a metre deep – or more if you have the energy – breaking up the bottom and putting in drainage pipes, a layer of rubble or other free-draining material before planting as above.


The words “running rhizomes” put some gardeners off growing many bamboos. This is a double pity as some of the “runners” are amongst the most sculptural and elegant plants that we know – and controlling their growth is relatively easy, requiring only a few moments of vigilance a year. There are a number of ways to limit the spread of these bamboos, especially as the rhizomes usually stay close to the soil surface.

Simply planting them by a solid path or drive usually keeps them from wandering, and positioning them alongside grass allows any errant shoots to be mown down. Cutting around clumps twice yearly with a sharp spade and removing any rhizomes outside the perimeter is also effective. Some gardeners surround running bamboos with a trench about 30 centimetres deep, inspecting it from time to time to eliminate any rhizomes attempting to jump across it.

Finally, the method used in some botanic gardens is to insert a barrier of high-density polyethylene (60 – 70 centimetres wide and 2 millimetres thick) at the time of planting. The barrier must protrude about 10 centimetres above ground. We recommend using a rhizome barrier when planting next to a patio or alongside garden ponds lined with plastic or butyl.


Bamboos are remarkably greedy feeders. We found this advice for feeding groves of Phyllostachys bambusoidesin Ernest’s Satow’s The Cultivation of Bamboos in Japan, published in 1899: “The dead bodies of dogs, sheep, cats, rats and other animals, the skins, bones and hoofs of cattle and horses, are the best for this purpose. Decayed rice and wheat plants, rice and barley bran, and other vegetable matter, ashes, the contents of the dust-bin, rotten compost, stable litter, the dung and urine of men and horses, and lime where the soil is not sandy, may all be used.”

However, thank goodness, we have discovered that a simple mulch of well-rotted manure in the autumn and a top-dressing of general fertiliser in spring (just before the growing season starts) keeps our bamboos in good health. We also recommend leaving the fallen leaves on the ground under the clump: these rot down to provide important nutrients including silica, the substance that gives bamboo canes their exceptional resilience.


What most affects the speed at which bamboos grow – and their eventual height – is the amount of water that they receive, particularly during the period from late spring until late summer when the new shoots appear and the culms are growing. We water our bamboos regularly during this time to keep the soil around them moist but not waterlogged. Some bamboos are resistant to spells of drought (especially if they are in a well-prepared site) and reduce water-loss by rolling up their leaves, but almost all grow faster, plumper and taller if the soil is kept slightly damp. Mulching helps conserve moisture.


Pruning bamboos is virtually unnecessary. Some dwarf species can be cut down in late winter annually or every couple of years if you wish to enjoy the fresh growth uncluttered by last year’s leaves. This also makes the growth denser. Other varieties grown as a hedge can also be trimmed or shaped when the new shoots have finished growing. In some varieties grown as clumps we remove the older, more tired culms to create an open framework of fresh, healthy canes.


Bamboos are almost completely unbothered by pests. The only time when they are vulnerable is when the new shoots – which look like miniature rockets – are pushing through the soil. At this time they need protection from browsing animals such as rabbits, squirrels and deer. Children love to play amongst bamboos, and while we encourage this most of the time, during the sprouting season our clumps are a no-go area lest the shoots are trampled by little feet.