The one significant difficulty in caring for a bamboo garden or plant is keeping the bamboo root systems under control, as certain kinds of bamboo root systems have a tendency to spread uncontrollably if kept unchecked.
Types of Root Systems
Bamboo plants have two different kinds of root systems, or rhizomes: runner rhizomes and clumper rhizomes. Runner root systems flourish in temperate climates and spread rapidly if not controlled properly. Clumper root systems grow best in tropical climates. They have the tendency to spread as well, but are not nearly as difficult to control as the runner root systems.
Neutral soil is the best soil in which to plant bamboos. In mild climates, bamboo can be planted at any time of the year. In cold climates, early spring is the best time, so that the bamboo plant has enough time to grow and harden enough to survive through their first winter.
Adding mulch to the topsoil is a good way to help the bamboo roots retain moisture. Mulch can serve as good insulation from the cold, and it gives the root systems room to spread. Keeping the roots moist is especially important during cold winters, as if the rhizomes freeze while dry they stand little chance of surviving. If they freeze while moist, their chances of getting through the winter alive are much better. About four inches of mulch is sufficient for most bamboo species.
Controlling the spreading of bamboo plants with running rhizomes is the biggest concern for most bamboo growers and people looking to include bamboo plants in their home gardens. There are several ways to limit bamboo roots systems from over-spreading.
Natural barriers: Planting bamboo plants at the base of a hill or cliff or near a body of water will naturally control the spread of rhizomes without the constant need for pruning, as bamboo does not spread uphill or into water.
Purchased root barriers: Artificial root barriers are available at nurseries and come in plastic rolls. Plant owners use the barriers to line trenches dug around the bamboo, approximately 20 inches from the main root system. When the roots meet the barrier, they will start to surface, at which point they can be easily pruned. It’s recommended that the barrier stick up from the ground about two inches, as bamboo roots may spread over the barrier if it is left at ground level. Pruning is done in the fall, as this is when roots are at their softest.
Organic root control: Organic root control involved digging a trench around the bamboo plants 10 inches wide and 12 inches deep. The trench is then filled with organic mulch or peat moss. Like the other methods, pruning will be necessary from time to time.
Watering and Fertilizing
Bamboo plants should be watered frequently. A few minutes each day usually suffices. Young bamboos especially need daily watering. Once they’ve grown to their full height and girth, they are able to survive on less water.
Bamboo is a type of grass and can thus be fertilized using regular lawn fertilizer. Bamboo plants should be fertilized two or three times a year.
After a bamboo plants first winter, the leaves will yellow and fall in the spring. Even as this happens, however, new leaves will be sprouting. A healthy bamboo plant should have a mixture of yellow, green and unfurling leaves. If kept under decent growing conditions, one bamboo plant can produce in five years about 30 to 40 shoots and can reach up to 20 feet in height.