For centuries, bamboo has been considered one of the most useful plants on the planet.
Without bamboo, life would be radically different for people who rely on it as a food source, medicine, fuel, and building material; over half of Earth’s human population!
The Versatility of Bamboo
Throughout Asia, bamboo has long been prized for its versatility and abundance. As a building material, bamboo is stronger than steel, with a tensile strength of 28,000 per square inch (compared to a tensile strength of 23,000 for steel). More than a billion people worldwide reside in bamboo houses. Bamboo buildings have proven to be remarkably earthquake-proof.
Bamboo is as soft as it is strong. Fabric woven from bamboo fibers is incredibly comfortable. Bed linens and yoga attire made from bamboo are luxurious, durable, and fashionable. Once you try bamboo socks, you will never want socks made from any other fiber.
Throughout history, bamboo has also played a prominent role in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine. Bamboo contains germanium, which is useful in reversing the aging process in cells.
Delicate and tender bamboo shoots add crunch, fiber, and flavor to Asian cuisine. Bambusa oldhamii is a low-growing variety that can serve as a dense privacy hedge. Harvest the tender, fresh shoots. They are sweet and delicious in salads and stir-fry dishes. The leaves and branches of all varieties of bamboo are utilized as animal fodder. There is no part of the bamboo plant that does not have a use or purpose.
Benefits of Bamboo on Your Homestead
Around the homestead, bamboo can play an integral role in wildlife and domestic livestock management, nutrient management, erosion control, and waste management. Fact: In the southeastern United States, bamboo is recognized as the highest yield native pasture plant. This insect-resistant plant is an exceptional source of crude protein, calcium, and phosphorus.
Bamboo provides highly nutritious, low-maintenance grazing for cattle as well as food and shelter for wildlife. Bamboo withstands drought, flooding, and fire, adding to its stellar reputation as a stable source of forage for herbivores like wild pigs, rabbits, bears, and deer.
One of the most potent natural weapons in the war against global warming, bamboo produces more oxygen than any other plant, consumes as much as 30 percent more carbon dioxide than other plants, and aids in cleansing the ecosystem by removing toxins and heavy metals from water and soil.
Bamboo is prolific, reaching mature size in one season. It differs from other grasses in that it produces stout, hollow-jointed stems with a diameter of 3 to 5 inches. Ranging from 2 to 25 feet in height at maturity, bamboo is by far the largest and tallest grass native to North America.
A “green” plant, bamboo is sustainably harvested and renewable annually. A mature stand of bamboo produces new shoots and canes every year. The new growth can then be harvested individually without damaging the parent plant, making it one of the most sustainable crops worldwide. Bamboo can be harvested with no need to replant. New growth will manifest from the root mass; the root system is left intact when bamboo is harvested.
A great many varieties of bamboo are cold hardy to well below zero degrees Fahrenheit. Prolonged cold spells and harsh winter winds may do some damage to foliage. However, the root mass will survive the severe cold, even if the more tender culms die back to the soil line. The many types of groundcover bamboo flourish in United States plant hardiness zones 2 through 9.
Umbrella bamboo (Fargesia murielae) is a beautiful clumping variety, hardy down to minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit. New shoots have a lovely light blue color, which turns a deep green and golden yellow with age. Presenting thin canes that grow to be about 12 feet tall, this variety does best in the deep shade, which helps preserve its rich blue hue.
Bamboo especially loves damp, boggy areas and can be useful in preventing soil erosion in regions prone to heavy rains and overcast, gray days.
Landscaping With Ornamental Bamboo
When it comes to fencing and privacy, no plant does a better job than bamboo. Did you know that some varieties of bamboo grow as much as 3 to 4 feet a day? These varieties also send out vigorous, spreading roots with new shoots popping up daily. If you are attempting to control erosion on a steep hillside or build an impenetrable privacy barrier around your property, aggressive spreading is a positive characteristic of the plant.
Quick-growing, running bamboo, when properly sited and controlled, is an effective deer-resistant fence or border screen, or an eye-catching formal accent in the garden. Unfortunately, many people plant bamboo without understanding its nature. Bamboo doesn’t respect property boundaries or fences. If your bamboo planting spreads to your neighbor’s property, you may have to pay for removal.
Did you know that ornamental bamboo is the fastest-growing plant in the world? It’s also one of the most diverse plants with over 1500 species. Bamboo, a member of the grass family, has a hollow stem and evidences rapid growth. The fast-growing shoots of some tropical species grow up to 4 feet every day in their shooting season. Bamboo proliferates, reaching mature size in just one season.
Blue Fountain Bamboo
Presenting dark purple and blue-gray culms, blue fountain bamboo, an easy-to-grow variety in the Phyllostachys genus, is extremely cold, hardy, clumping, disease, and drought resistant and offers a beautiful appearance, which makes it one of the most utilized landscape varieties of bamboo.
Red Margin Bamboo
Producing beautiful deep green canes with enlarged nodes, red margin bamboo (Phyllostachys rubromarginata) is another popular ornamental bamboo with landscape contractors, flourishing in United States plant hardiness zones 4 through 9. This bamboo is cold hardy, fast-growing, produces a dense grove, grows to about 18 to 20 feet at maturity, and generates striking red margins along the edge of the narrow leaves.
Tsutsumiana, part of the Pseudosasa japonica genus, is a shorter bamboo, excellent for pot or container planting. It requires plenty of moisture and good drainage. Known as green onion bamboo because the culms become swollen on mature plants, it is a leafy Japanese type of bamboo that thrives in USDA plant hardiness zones 5 through 10.
Valued for its striking contrast of color, Sasa veitchii is a low-growing groundcover bamboo that presents deep green leaves that develop white and silver margins as the plant matures and weather temps cool. Shear it to the ground in early spring to reveal a carpet of fresh new growth. This attractive variety does best in USDA plant hardiness zones 5 through 10.
Taiwan giant (Dendrocalamus latiflorus), java black (Gigantochloa atroviolacea), and balcooa (Bambusa balcooa) — a vigorous variety from India — are all excellent choices when it comes to choosing timber bamboo. Young timber bamboo makes strong and flexible fishing poles, while more mature canes are used to build strong and durable fences and corrals. At full maturity, giant canes are harvested for construction.
Some Things to Keep in Mind
Fast-growing varieties in the Phyllostachys, Shibataea, Pseudosasa, Sasa, or Pleioblastus groups are types of running bamboo that can become a nuisance unless you can give them plenty of room to grow. Golden bamboo, is one of the most beautiful and fastest-growing types of bamboo, but it is not appropriate for many applications. If space is limited, consider clumping plants, which are much easier to manage.
Talk to your landscape contractor for recommendations if you are considering planting a bamboo grove in your home landscape. There are two basic types of bamboo: aggressive running and slower-growing clumping. Running bamboo can become very invasive. This is a positive feature in some gardening applications such as controlling erosion on a steep bank, but can present a problem in others.
You may wish to incorporate several different species of bamboo in your yard. There are so many different species with variations in shading, leaf width, cane width, and height at maturity. Go online. Do the research, and you will find the varieties of bamboo that are ideal for your gardening requirements.
While there are endless reasons to plant bamboo, there are also some pretty good reasons not to. Without doing the research to determine the variety of bamboo most suitable for their property, or considering bamboo’s hardy nature or rapid growth, some property owners have created a landscaping nightmare rather than a creative, sustainable, attractive solution to a homestead management issue. It can be a problematic plant in some landscape applications. Advice: Consult a professional.
- Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health: http://www.invasive.org/browse/subinfo.cfm?sub=3063
- Southeast Exotic Pest Plant Council:
- USDA Forest Service:
- The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station