The Best Garden Bamboo Varieties
Phyllostachys, Pseudosasa & Fargesia Species
Bamboos are famous for their incredible growth rate. They are also easy to please and to control with a few simple measures. They can be used as a wild hedge, tall screening, or kept in clumps for striking vertical ornamental value, and it's always handy to have a homegrown supply of bamboo canes, with or without a panda to feed. They tolerate poor soils well as long as they are not also dry, and are most at home in sunny sites beside water. In the British climate, their growth rate (and therefore the diameter and final height of each cane) varies quite a bit from North to South, and from sheltered sites to exposed locations, but apart from that our selection is a hardy bunch suitable for any region.
It is always essential to water new plants as they establish, and this goes double for bamboo, with their shallow roots and love of really moist, but not waterlogged, soil. Their shallow roots make them ideal for planting beside trees. If you want to grow bamboo on a dry soil, digging in a lot of organic matter down to about 50cms and installing an irrigation system will make your life much easier. Most bamboo thrives in a well maintained container, where their height will be restricted.
In the most general terms, bamboos spread via underground stems (rhizomes, or creeping root stalks) that grow in two main ways: clumping and running.
- Clumping varieties have strong rhizomes (Pachymorph, meaning thick) that quickly turn upwards, so the clump expands slowly and is not invasive.
- Running varieties aggressively send out weaker rhizomes (Leptomorph, meaning thin) that grow horizontally for some distance to colonize the surrounding area, so a plastic membrane is usually buried around the walls of the planting hole to contain them. 60-80mm thick high-density polyethylene (HDPE), buried 1.2 metres deep with a 5-10cm lip above soil level, should be plenty of protection anywhere in the UK (the colder your site is, the less aggressive the bamboo).
- Several varieties that run in warm climates are in practice clumping in most areas of Britain, but often begin running once they are settled into ideal conditions in the South West of England and Wales.
- Running varieties make the best screening, because you can prepare a sealed trench for them, plant one every few metres, and leave them to quickly fill the gaps for you, which clumping types would take forever and a day to do. Running types also tend to have more upright growth.