Gardening: Getting the right bamboo plants for your garden

Clumping yellow bamboo ... Fargesia robusta Pingwu.
Clumping yellow bamboo ... Fargesia robusta Pingwu.
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Bamboo is big at the moment – quite literally – don’t fall for the massive varieties that can be an invasive pest.

Plants fall into two categories – spreading/running (avoid at all costs) and clumping, which is much more manageable.

Clumping bamboo ... Fargesia robusta Pingwu.

Clumping bamboo ... Fargesia robusta Pingwu.

Most bamboo varieties that you see, especially in DIY centres, are runners – Phyllostachys aurea and P. nigra (golden/fishpole and black bamboo) being the two most common offenders. It’s easy to see why people want them – the golden and black culms (canes) are lovely.

Don’t be swayed by running bamboo and buy a plant just because there are no others in stock. Most varieties range from four to eight metres tall or more and don’t stay put – they spread by long, invasive rhizomes.

Even if you use expensive bamboo barrier fabrics, they have been known to pop up through patios and conservatories and will burst through pots.

Other running bamboos: Arundinaria, Bashania, Chimonobambusa, Clavinodum, Hibanobambusa, Indocalamus, Phyllostachys, Pleioblastus, Pseudosasa, Sasa, Sasaella, Sasamorpha, Semiarundinaria, Sinobambusa, and Yushania.

Clumping bamboo ... Fargesia robusta Jiuzhaigou 1.

Clumping bamboo ... Fargesia robusta Jiuzhaigou 1.

Still want bamboo? Luckily, clumping types are not so tall or invasive, although the classic cane effect isn’t so pronounced.

They still have rhizomes but they are short and stay close to the main plant.

I grow Fargesia varieties, which are graceful, delicate and move beautifully in the breeze. Fargesia Jiuzhaigou 1 (also called the red bamboo, Jiu, Red Panda) hasyoung green culms turn red/purple, then orange-brown, giving a multicoloured effect. Grows up to 3m high with a 2m spread, less in pots.

It will stand some shade but needs regular watering, so bear this in mind if you’re planting it in a pot. It can be pruned but this ruins the fountain-like shape. Avoid cold, drying winds, especially at the coast. Hardy to -25ºC.

Geranium Rozanne.

Geranium Rozanne.

Fargesia robusta Pingwu reaches 4-5m when fully grown (about five years) but due to its erect growth, only has a spread of 1.5-2m, both less when planted in a large container.

New shoots break early in spring and culms start off yellow and red, sheaths fade to almost white which creates a checkerboard look. Pingwu is best shielded from the afternoon sun. Unlike Jiuzhaigou, it doesn’t suffer badly from wind burn.

Other clump-forming bamboo: Bambusa, Chusquea, Dendrocalamus, Drepanostachyum, Himalayacalamus, Schizostachyum, Shibataea, and Thamnocalamus.


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