A Kinder, Gentler Bamboo


Does the idea of planting bamboo in your yard leave you panic-stricken?  Do you envision pointy shoots popping up everywhere, spreading beyond your property’s borders to take over your neighbor’s yard and the neighborhood beyond?  Well, honestly there are many types of bamboo varieties that can do just that. Those particular varieties are referred to as Spreading or Running bamboo, and they spread by producing fast-growing underground stems called rhizomes.

We bet most people don’t realize that there are many types of bamboo that grow where and how you want them to. A kinder, gentler bamboo without the invasive growth exhibited by spreading bamboo varieties. These non-spreading varieties are known as Clumping bamboo.  Instead of a horizontal spreading rhizome, theirs has a U-shape, making new culms next to the original plant and spreading only a few inches per year hence the name clumping bamboo. They range in height from 8 to 25 feet depending on the species. The canopy growth is also relatively slow, usually gaining only a few feet in height and width annually. Height can range between 10 and 20 feet for most species. Below are some hardy varieties which can be used in the Northeastern U.S.

Fargesia sp. ‘Scabrida’ (above)  has perhaps the most exciting colors of any hardy clumping       bamboo: the young culms have dark orange sheaths, opening gradually to reveal steel-blue and lavender culms, aging to olive green.  The leaves are dark green and slender, with a graceful, airy arrangement. USDA zone 6 through 9, not for climates with high heat and humidity (southeastern states).

Fargesia sp. ‘Rufa’ (above) a beautiful and very hardy Fargesia with new culms that have attractive rusty reddish sheaths and a clumping root system. ‘Rufa’ is proving to be one of the most hardy and versatile clumping bamboo in the landscape. It is a shorter Fargesia, only about 10 feet tall when mature, but a vigorous grower, sending up many new culms each season. The new culms leaf out early in the summer, making it an excellent choice where its rapid growth is desired. Like all Fargesias, it should be planted with protection from the hot afternoon sun, especially in warmer climates typical in the the southern U.S.  USDA zone 5 through 9, not for climates with high heat and humidity (southeastern states).

Fargesia robusta (above) is a  good choice for a clumping bamboo for a narrow screen. This species has dark green foliage and light green culms, new shoots are hairy and rusty red upon emergence from the ground in early spring. The culm sheaths persist and soon fade to a light color, almost white, giving the culms a very attractive checkerboard look in the spring through early summer. It is also more sun tolerant than most other Fargesia but ideally would prefer protection from the hot afternoon sun.  USDA Zone recommended 7 through 9, not for climates with high heat and humidity  (southeastern states).

Fargesia sp. ‘Jiuzhaigou’ II, pronounced “JU-ZIE-GO”

 Jiuzhaigou II (above) has an “open” clump habit (more space between each culm) and is brightly colored.  The branches radiate from the culm at a 45° angle and it is one of the most cold hardy bamboos available. Height reaches to 14′ with a culm diameter of 0.75 inches. USDA zone 5 through 9, not for climates with high heat and humidity (southeastern states).

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