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Bamboo—Growing Bamboo Inside

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Bamboo—Growing Bamboo Inside

Hawaiian gold bamboo offers unparalleled beauty, but is challenging to keep contained in a pot.

Photo © Postbear/Flickr
First, I must get this out of the way: lucky bamboo is not actually bamboo, so if you're looking for information on growing lucky bamboo, you're in the wrong article. Second, there's this: there are broadly speaking two kinds of bamboo. There is the temperate kind that is an aggressive, occasional pest plant that infests temperate forests and riverbanks. And then there is the tropical clumping bamboo. This bamboo, the tropical clumping kind, includes the most beautiful, most exotic of bamboo varieties, and it's one of the most useful plants in the world. This is the bamboo used to make furniture and flooring, as well as homes and even buildings throughout the tropical world. Tropical bamboo typically comes from the species Bambusa, and there are more than 100 species. Many of these are forest giants, and in truth, tropical bamboo is only suited to grow inside in very large pots or atrium type situations. Because of the unique nature of its growth, it is a very difficult plant to contain in standard pots, and a bamboo plant won't hesitate to break even very sturdy containers. Nevertheless, it is possible to grow a small clumping bamboo and enjoy its incredible beauty for at least a few years, until it outgrows its room and/or container.

Growing Conditions:

Light: All Bambusa species do best in bright light to full sunlight.
Water: Bamboo is actually a grass and appreciates being watered like grass: regular, even amounts, with good drainage.
Soil: It's not actually that picky with regard to soil, but will often do best in a slightly sandy soil mix.
Fertilizer: Feed with a weak liquid fertilizer throughout the growing season. Cut fertilizer back to once a month or so in the winter.

Propagation:

Propagating tropical bamboo is best left to the pros, sadly enough. It is very difficult to propagate, which is one of the reasons that many species of tropical bamboo have only recently been introduced into the United States.

Repotting:

The first year you plant a tropical bamboo cane, the plant will not grow much, if at all. In subsequent years, it will start sending up new canes every year. As the bamboo ages, the canes will get progressively larger until they reach their mature size. One of the peculiarities of bamboo is that the canes essentially emerge from the soil at their mature size, so a cane that emerges at 1" thickness will stay that thick for its whole life. Tropical bamboo does not "run," but it does form clumps and the underground culms are very strong. To keep your bamboo healthy and growing, repot the plant every year until it reaches its maximum size. To keep a bamboo plant contained, simply break emerging canes when they first poke above the soil.

Varieties:

There are dozens of bamboo species available in the United States. The most popular of the tropical bamboos is probably the Hawaiian gold, or Bambusa vulgaris vittata. This plant will grow to 60' in the wild, so must be contained. One possible bamboo for home growth is the Buddha belly bamboo, or Bambusa ventricosa.

Grower's Tips:

Bamboo is an excellent plant when it's established. It's virtually pest free, lovely, and needs only regular water and fertilizer to thrive. Keep your bamboo neat and clean by snapping off immature canes as they emerge. Also be aware that some types of bamboo are "dirty," in that they drop leaves. If your bamboo drops a lot of leaves, there's not much you can do except to pick them up and keep the clump open and uncluttered. Lastly, bamboo is surprisingly cold tolerant, and many species will survive even a short freeze.
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