5 Outdoor Bamboo Plants – Animals A to Z

Bamboo plants can create stunning landscape effects, from stately columns and elegant dividers to large, serene shade groves. They grow in a wide variety of colors, heights, and stalk thicknesses and behave in ways that make each type suitable for different applications. Although some types of bamboo can be grown indoors, the majority are best suited for growing outdoors. They are wonderful, versatile plants that have a wide variety of uses, not only in the landscape but also in the garden, in the kitchen, and in the workshop.

Whether you have fallen in love with bamboo for its comfortable existence and visual appeal or its practicality as a source of renewable materials for construction and crafts, there is sure to be a bamboo variety to suit your needs. In this guide, we’ll discuss a bit about the physical properties of bamboo and then provide a short list of varieties you might want to try at home.

Bamboo plants
Bamboo plants can create stunning landscape effects, from stately columns and elegant dividers to large, serene shade groves.

© iStock.com / p-orbital

What is bamboo?

Bamboos are a large group of woody, root-forming grasses that belong to the family Bambusoideae. There are about 100 genera of bamboo, and within those genera more than 1,400 distinct species are classified. Most members of this plant family thrive in moist, warm tropical and subtropical environments, but many are native to mountain regions and can withstand cold winter temperatures.

Plants themselves grow from underground nutrient storage structures called rhizomes. A rhizome is simply a fleshy horizontal stem that grows at or below ground level. Bamboo plants use this specialized stem structure to produce their roots and grow above ground as well as increase their overall footprint.

There are two main growth habits that bamboo roots exhibit with regard to their rate of spread: running-type growth, and clumping-type growth. Most people are accustomed to running types of bamboo, which are the ones that tend to spread quickly and vigorously, shooting up new canes right and left. Although this can be an annoying characteristic, these types of bamboo can be contained fairly easily with little effort. This species makes great decorative privacy screens and partition walls, as well as shade groves.

The second of these species, lumpy bamboo, is significantly less prone to escape. These types of bamboo grow more slowly and methodically, forming dense clumps that can take many years to reach a significant diameter. Because of their slower growth and more compact growth habits, clumping bamboo species are easy to maintain. They can also make great privacy screens but are also great for creating focal points in a landscape. Some varieties can even be grown in containers.

It is easy to maintain the bamboo stalk like the bamboo buddha belly
Clumping types of bamboo grow slowly and methodically which makes them easier to maintain and great for creating focal points in landscapes.

© iStock.com / Sanjeev Shukla

Types of bamboo to grow outdoors

While there are some bamboo cultivars that can be grown as houseplants, many species grow quite large. The good news is that there are a large number of tropical, subtropical, and temperate bamboo species that are practically grown outdoors. With so much variety to choose from, there is sure to be a cultivar perfectly suited to your landscaping needs and aesthetics. Below, you’ll find a list of five particularly interesting and diverse bamboo cultivars, as well as some information about their care requirements, to get you started on your search.

black bamboo (Phyllostachys nigra)

This variety of bamboo is highly regarded for the stunning visual contrast it produces. While green when young, the stalks begin to turn dark brown with age and finally settle to a deep purple or jet black when mature. Since this ripening process takes place over a period of two years, there is always a mixture of green and black stalks.

black bamboo Phyllostachys The genus grows best in full sun or partial shade and, like other bamboo species, prefers soil that is organically rich, moist and well-drained. Like most running bamboos, this species is commonly planted to create privacy screens and noise barriers. In the right circumstances, he can fulfill this role very quickly. While it is as adept or better than some of its relatives at establishing dense growth colonies, black bamboo stands out as an incredible accent specimen.

Since members of this genus run different species and spread vigorously, you may want to devise a containment plan. Options for preventing unwanted root spread include installing a solid rhizome barrier, digging trenches around the planting area, and continual monitoring and removal of unwanted shoots.

Black bamboo (Phyllostachys nigra)
Black Bamboo appears green when young, turning dark brown with age and finally settling to deep purple or jet black when mature.

© iStock.com / Jannick Tessier

bamboo umbrella (Fargesia murielae)

Unlike most other clumping bamboo species, umbrella bamboo is very cold-hardy. While the majority of its tropical relatives cannot handle cold temperatures, this species is able to withstand winter freezes down to -20 degrees Fahrenheit. If you live in a northern growing area and are having trouble finding bamboo that can be grown outdoors in your climate, this is an excellent choice.

Not only can a bamboo canopy handle cold weather with ease, but it is also very low maintenance. Because it is a clumping bamboo, it produces its growth in a narrow vertical fashion and should require very little attention to monitor. Staying relatively short at about 15 feet high, it also makes a practical addition to the landscape. It produces excellent shade for garden benches or shade-loving plants due to its heavy, arching growth habit.

The bamboo umbrella is lumpy bamboo
Umbrella bamboo is a clumping bamboo, and produces its growth in a narrow columnar fashion, reaching heights of about 15 feet.

© Manfred Roxzio / Shutterstock

Japanese giant timber (Phyllostachys bambusoides)

Japanese hardwood bamboo is a fine specimen that stands out among other types of hardwood bamboo. With its towering 70-foot canes that can reach 6 inches in diameter, it’s no wonder this species is still used in the building trade today. Its thick walls and pronounced knots make for stable scaffolding and building frames. While stalks are useful as building materials, they also make great privacy screens.

This type of bamboo belongs to the genus PhyllostachysIt’s running bamboo. If you want to grow this giant grass indoors, it’s probably worth considering a containment plan. It is easy to grow but requires full sun, ample space, and rich, well-drained soil in order to reach the stalk’s maximum height of 70 feet. In shady areas or when contained, they may only grow to about half that size.

Phyllostachys bambusoides, Japanese bamboo
Japanese wood bamboo can reach 70 feet in height with canes that can be up to 6 inches in diameter.

© Legmiche, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons – License

cane river (Arundinaria gigantea)

If you live in the eastern part of the United States and are concerned about growing non-native species of bamboo, you may want to consider river cane. River cane is one of three described species of native bamboo, and has been used for centuries for weaving and basket-making, as well as in home construction. While its population has declined dramatically since the 16th century due to mass removal by humans, river reeds still provide important cover for wildlife and serve as a food source in areas where they are still allowed to grow.

In its native range, river reed mostly grows beside lakes and streams and in the floodplains of low-speed rivers. Because of its tough, hard roots and vigorous growth habit, it can spread rapidly to form dense, dense clumps. Its narrow reeds can reach a maximum height of about 25 feet, but more commonly it stays in the 8-20 feet range. For these reasons, it can make an excellent privacy screen if allowed to create.

If you are considering adding plants alongside a water feature in your landscaping, such as a stream or pond, these species may be a good choice for you. Although it grows in areas prone to flooding, it should be noted that river reed is not able to survive in areas where it remains submerged for long periods of time.

River reeds, Arundinaria gigantea
River reeds grow mostly alongside lakes and streams, spreading rapidly to form dense, dense clumps.

© Photo by David J. Stang, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons – License

belly buddha (ventricle ventricle;)

If you live in an area limited in terms of space but are still interested in growing bamboo, this species is worth considering. Buddha’s belly bamboo is a popular species for use in container gardens. It is generally very versatile with regard to its lighting requirements and can adapt to a range of soil conditions. However, it is a tropical species and will not tolerate freezing temperatures.

When grown outdoors in conditions that mimic its tropical native environment, this species is capable of reaching heights of over 50 feet. However, when grown in a container, these plants can only reach maximum heights of 5 to 8 feet.

However, the container’s relatively small size isn’t its main attraction. When its rhizome is limited by resources, i.e. growing space and water, the plant produces canes made up of heavy, oddly shaped inner cylinders from which it takes its name. This amazing and unusual growth looks almost exotic and makes quite a conversation piece.

Buddha belly bamboo (Bambusa ventricusa)
bamboo belly buddha (ventricle ventricle;) gets its name from its bulbous reeds.

© iStock.com / Sanjeev Shukla

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