Some Uses of Bamboos

Please click on the next items for details:

Hedges and screens
Specimen plants and plant associations
Ponds and streams
Growing in containers
Planting and care
Canes and bamboo shoots

Bamboos are extremely versatile and can be used in many different ways. The huge range of hardy bamboos now available represents a whole new palette of colours and plant forms that can be incorporated into garden design.

Only a few of the commonest uses are shown here and there is plenty of scope for experimentation, particularly as some forms are quite recent introductions to the UK.

Bamboos produce a luxuriant and exotic effect and contribute in terms of stem colour, evergreen foliage, plant form and the movement and sound of their foliage when affected by winds.

In some species, such as Fargesia murielae, the foliage is so plentiful that the culms are barely visible so if the stems also need to be a feature, it is important to select on that basis.

Please use the "Bamboo Stock List" to access full descriptions and photographs. Species available in extra large sizes are highlighted in red.


Hedges and screens

Bamboos have considerable potential for screening. To an extent, their height or shape can be controlled by trimming, provided this is done after new canes have begun to form branches. If young shoots are trimmed or accidentally damaged before this stage they are liable to die back to ground level. 

Unlike conifer hedges, regular annual trimming is not necessary but if a dense hedge is not required, canes may be thinned out.







Fargesia nitida

The time needed to produce an effective screen may be reduced by fastening the canes to a trellis or other form of support to ensure that they are upright and evenly spaced. This approach also allows the use of species with a naturally arching habit which might otherwise be unsuitable in shape.

A considerable number of varieties are suitable for providing an informal screen and the greater the width that can be allocated to the planting strip, the more effective screening will be. There is much to be said  for using a mixture of types, both for additional interest and as long- term insurance against the possibility of flowering.

The choice of species will depend upon such things as the height needed at maturity, whether foliage or canes are to be the main feature, whether the site is in sun or shade, and the degree of vigour required.

Running bamboos will naturally give the quickest screening effect and are a good choice in situations where their spreading habit is not a problem. If the planting site is surrounded by lawn, any unwanted shoots will be controlled by mowing. Brick walls etc. will also form an effective barrier to the spread of underground rhizomes. Species which are only moderately spreading can readily be controlled by means of a spade so long as a little extra space is left around the plants for this purpose.

Phyllostachys aureosulcata & its varieties are probably the single most effective choice due to their vigour, hardiness, and highly decorative canes. They are fairly upright, only moderately spreading, and will reach a height of about 12 to 15ft. (5m) 

Phyllostachys vivax 'Aureocaulis' is of similar appearance and hardiness. It will form an excellent tall screen with brightly coloured canes of large diameter. The fresh green foliage is also highly attractive. Height 16ft or more(6m). (See picture right)

Phyllostachys bissetii  has green canes and is very hardy and prolific, but account needs to be taken of its spreading nature. Height  14ft. or more (5m).

Pseudosasa japonica

For a more formal hedge,  which can be trimmed if necessary, Pseudosasa japonica is the most obvious choice, being hardy, and upright with dense, fully evergreen foliage and medium height. 

Its rate of spread is normally quite slow so that width is easily controlled. Suitable for sun or light shade. Height approximately 8 to 12ft. (4m).

Semiarundinaria fastuosa is ideal where a tall, narrow hedge is required but is not always so readily available. Its spread is easily controlled.                                                                                              

Fargesia murielae and most other Fargesia species are totally non-running and are sometimes preferred on that account but they may need to be more closely spaced. 

When selecting varieties for hedging, allowance needs to be made for the fact that the cold tolerance of bamboos is reduced when planted in a position exposed to strong winds. 

Phyllostachys aurea 'Holochrysa' 

Phyllostachys nigra 'Boryana'


Bashania fargesia

SPACING of about one plant per metre should be adequate for hedging, but plants can be 
spaced as closely as you wish in order to  give a more rapid result. 

A wider spacing can be used for informal screens, especially if there is more than just a single row. 

If planting takes place during spring, it is worth remembering that new canes  develop only from ground level and will normally reach a greater height than the existing canes from the previous season. 

The older canes will not increase in height or thickness as a tree would do, so it will make very little difference if they are shortened to facilitate delivery.

Regular feeding and watering will naturally improve the speed at which a dense and effective screen can be established and the heights indicated may not be readily achieved on dry or impoverished sites..

Fargesia murielae hedge











Phyllostachys aureosulcata 'Aureocaulis'

Semiarundinaria 'Kimmei' 


Specimen plants and plant association


Bamboos will provide a vertical component to gravel gardens and grassed or paved areas. In the same way they will soften the appearance of a yard or bare wall. An exciting grove of vertical stems can also be achieved by planting in a group or by thinning the canes of one of the more spreading sorts.

For a restful appearance, the area around the base of taller bamboos can be planted with mossy foliage such as Helixine or with ferns, ivies or Cotoneaster dammeri used as groundcover.

For contrast, Ophiopogon ("Black Grass") can be used and the large leaves of Hosta or Bergenia are effective. Mound shaped evergreens such as Box, Evergreen Azaleas, Sarcococca,  Skimmia and Camellia will also be in keeping.

There is no reason why climbers cannot be grown in association with established bamboos. This may be used to enhance the density or tropical appearance of foliage cover or to provide an attractive combination with the flowers of Clematis, Tropaeolum, etc.




Ponds and streams

Bamboos display very well against water but positioning should take account of the possibility of  damage to pond liners by the pointed underground rhizomes of the taller species. 

Though moisture loving, few bamboos will tolerate soil which is permanently waterlogged.
( Please see
Phyllostachys heteroclada however)




Growing in containers

Many forms can be highly decorative and effective in containers as long as normal attention is given to regular watering and feeding. As with any evergreen, bamboos are vulnerable to winter damage by desiccation if the roots become frozen while the foliage is exposed to wind, so precautions need to be taken during very frosty weather. This may mean plunging or wrapping the container, or moving it to a more sheltered place.

On a patio, there is a great advantage in taking up a single paver to create a planting site unless the use of a container is actually preferred for decorative purposes.

Half-barrels are ideal containers for bamboos, especially as, in future years, the plant can easily be removed for thinning or planting in the garden. The large plastic containers used on nurseries can also be useful and their appearance can be very effectively disguised by a roll of thin cane fencing.



 The tough, vigorously spreading nature of Indocalamus, Sasa and Sasaella species can be used to good effect for stabilising steep banks or to provide a decorative carpet in woodland or other shady areas. In addition,once established, they will normally suppress weed growth very effectively. Their appearance can be maintained by occasional hard trimming.

 The same sorts are also capable of filling a container with dense, luxuriant foliage within a single season.


Planting and care

Before planting, it is very desirable to incorporate organic matter such as peat, leaf mould or well rotted compost into the soil. Similar material can be used as a surface mulch. After removing the pot, position the plant with about one inch of soil covering the original root-ball and firm the soil around it.

A light topdressing of general fertiliser can be applied thinly over the soil surface in spring and again during summer, avoiding contact with the foliage. Water after planting and also regularly during spring and summer while the plants are taking root. The foliage cannot wilt, but if the leaves are seen to be curling inwards, this is a sign that watering is urgently needed. 

Until the plants are fully established, they are vulnerable to damage by keen frosts, strong wind or high temperatures and temporary protection by means of fleece or other permeable material may be desirable if these conditions occur.

The appearance of well established plants may benefit from thinning a proportion of the canes so that the best stems can be more effectively displayed - this is especially the case when a grove is required rather than clumps. Removal of some lower branches will further enhance visibility of the stems and may also result in thicker canes being produced in future years. Some of the more vigorous species can be a useful source of garden canes.


Canes and bamboo shoots

 If you are fortunate enough to have more culms than needed within a clump or grove, the older or thinner ones can be harvested for use as garden canes, preferably in early summer after new culms have finished expanding. This will ensure that most of the food reserves stored in the old culms are passed to the younger portion of the plant. 

In the event of  substantial quantities of canes being available, there are a multitude of craft uses for them, many of which are described by Carol Strangler in "The Art and Craft of Bamboo"   (published in 2001 by Lark Books).

The emerging shoots of most bamboos are edible after boiling but the texture and flavour varies very much between species. Bamboo shoots quickly become bitter as they mature and are best harvested within about a week after emergence. The tougher outer portions of the shoot can be discarded after cooking.



Whitelea Nursery, Tansley, Matlock, Derbyshire.                Telephone:    01629 55010 

 Page Revised  10/3/2013