Friday, February 15, 2008

Growing bamboo in containers.....

Paul from Boston sent me an e-mail regarding growing bamboo in pots. Yes, this can be done and if you live in a suburban garden like mine, its a good way to enjoy running varieties without having them in the ground. For those living on a small lot with neighbors nearby, I never recommend running bamboo unless (1) you have a rhizome barrier installed or (2) they are container grown. Unlike clumping bamboos, most running bamboos can be very aggresive and can be a source of neighbor-to-neighbor strife.

I have had success growing bamboo in a containers in a couple of different ways. My black bamboo (phylostachys nigra), pictured above, is growing with some gusto in a metal horse trough that I got for free from my neighbor. Depending upon the style of your garden, they can be attractive.
Using a drill bit made for metal work, I drilled several holes in the bottom, created an airgap by placing the trough on bricks. This is dome to prevent rhizomes from escaping the container and into the ground below.
I have also planted four runners in glazed ceramic pots (pictured is phylostachys bambusoides "All Gold"). If have read some literature recommending unglazed to let the soil breathe, but on the flip side unglazed during the summer tends to dry out the soil in the pot. Especially here in Sacramento, where we get several days of temps over 100f in the summer. That can mean a dead bamboo plant - real quick. All that said, I have had nothing but success using the glazed pot.

Like the trough, I have the glazed pots sitting on granite pavers I had left over from our front yard landscaping project last spring.

The other question from Paul is the size and height of container grown bamboo plants. My observation is that they do not get as big or robust as a running bamboo planted in the ground. That fact is true for most plant's size as the pot physically controls the development of the root growth.
Container grown bamboo put in a decorative container adds style and interest to any garden.
Try it out sometime....



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Katie said...

Sean - I wish you guys were our neighbors. Maybe then I could enjoy your banboo without constantly cutting it down on my side of the fence.

Is bamboo a perennial? Or does it die back after it's done?


Mad Man Bamboo Nursery said...

Hi Katie,

I wouldn't plant running bamboo if I was your neighbor. It wouldn't be very neighborly in my book. Clumping bamboo only.

Great questions. Bamboo is a perennial and typically the culms will age over a few years and die off. At that point they need to be removed for the long term health of the plant. Unfortunately though, the rhizomes running underground stem off each other. Hey, if they need someone to remove it, I'm the guy to call.


kate said...

I've been busy these past days and haven't given much thought to bamboo ... but I'm thinking this might be the way for me to go. Or, I can do both. The websites you referred me to are really interesting.

I have a hunch that I could plant a running bamboo and it wouldn't have the energy to do much besides appearing every year.

Mad Man Bamboo Nursery said...

Hi Kate,

If you are on some acreage, I'd try it out in an area where you don't mind it running about. If you are in a suburban setting, you may want to try it in a pot.

You'll have to keep me posted on what variety you end up getting and how it performs. Thanks again for visiting.


Anonymous said...

Hi Sean - I live near the ocean in Vancouver British Columbia and wanted to plant some black bamboo in pots to obscure my neighbours new deck. I'm thinking of three pots of black bamboo, and need the bamboo to achieve a height of about 12 feet. I'm not sure what size (height and width) of pots to buy? And once the plants achieve 12 feet how to maintain them in the pots? And how fast they grow?

Mad Man Bamboo Nursery said...

Hi Kalli,

I'd buy pots that are the equivalent to a 25 gallon container to start. Growth depends on a variety of factors, how well you keep it watered (moderately moist, never let it sit in water, never let it dry out), frequent fertilization (I recommend using blood meal for nitrogen and bat guano for the rest of the needed nutrients) and light conditions, black bamboo is a full sun variety.

If these conditons are ideal, you should get a fair amount of growth the next spring after you plant it. Good luck and feel free to ask questions in you have any more. Cheers!


Anonymous said...

Growing in pots causes less than optimal growth? Do you think I can get my privacy screen high enough? I am planning to use half wine barrels with a hole for draining. I need the bamboo to grow up 10 feet to create a privacy screen. Good wind block from solid wall up to 6 feet. Temperature normal 70-90 with winter low infrequently 28 and summer max 105. I use drip irrigation now in barrels and it works great. Murrieta, CA (southwest riveside county) - sorry for anonymous but I have none of the account ID listed.

Mad Man Bamboo Nursery said...

Hi Anonymous,

Bamboo growth is highly dependent upon rhizome and root development. The greater the mass and its ability to seek more space, hence more opportunity for water and nutrient uptake, the taller and fuller top growth you will get. Since a pot restricts growth of the root and rhizome mass, the typical result is that you would never reach the ideal max height which is largely the function of in-ground growth with the ideal conditions. Hope that this helps. For bamboo it all about what happens underground more so than anything.


Anonymous said...

can't you put metal barriers in the ground, say 5ft deep, to act as containment for bamboo?

Ari said...

Hi Sean,

I'm looking to plant bamboo in a container. I'd like it to grow 20 feet and be thick enough to be a privacy screen. The container size can be 12 inches wide, up to 20 feet long and 2-3 feet deep. For length, I may also do 3 containers that are each about 7 feet long. The containers will be secured with posts.

Is it possible to get this kind of growth in a container this size?

Is there a variety of bamboo you recommend?


Mad Man Bamboo Nursery said...


Shoot me your e-mail at and I can offer some recommendations. Thanks.


Dirt Girl said...

Hi Sean, I'd like to know your response to Ari re growing a bamboo screen in basically a trough. How deep do walls need to be to keep roots from escaping? I have a long narrow space between me and the neighbor (36") that I would like to put in a thin screen of bamboo. The house had a stand of theoretically clumping bamboo when I moved in although it may have been kept clumping by being raised behind a wall of brick, some at least surely escaped. I was going to put a row in pieces of pottery pipe pieces (6") diameter sunk in the ground but the blog indicates the bamboo would not thrive in this situation. Any thoughts? Sorry I don't know variety of the bamboo I have. Dorothy

Mad Man Bamboo Nursery said...

Hi Dorothy (and Patti),

The key is diameter (width), wider allows for easier growth horizontally; for depth - 30 inches in depth is fine, to contain a running bamboo, you need a rhizome barrier that is 30 inches deep. Bottomline is that bamboo tends to grow shallow.

With bamboo, throw out the notion that it grows like a tree, it is not deep growing and it can grow in some rather limited space conditions successfully.

On the comment regarding growing in a half pipe, it will do OK, but it will tend to dry quickly (not good for bamboo) and it limits the growth. Or are you saying you want to use it as a barrier?

As far as growing in troughs, yes they can, but they need to be at least 30 inches deep and need to drain well.

But, a warning, you can't simply put a barrier in place with a running bamboo and walk away, I'd recommend checking for escaping rhizomes every other month. A sharp spade along the barrier line will do the trick. This is true for even a professionally installed rhizome barrier.

That is the beauty of clumping bamboo, no barrier is needed. Not as fast growing, but its all about tradeoffs with bamboo.

Lovin' the questions, great to see the interest in bamboo. Keep sending them. Thanks.


Jennifer said...

I live on the Jersey Shore and we will be working on our sad back yard soon. I am a complete beginner, so I'm having trouble navigating all the options. I'm considering potting the bamboo or using clumping (or both). I really just want a barrier to my neighbors that goes over our fence (about 6') a few more feet. I'd be happy with 10'. The fence line is around 80', how do I figure out how much I need? I don't mind if you can see through the bottom areas, the fence is there, I am more concerned with fullness at the top. We are removing a few smaller trees in an attempt to get more sun. Recommendations? Thanks!

Mad Man Bamboo Nursery said...

Hi Jennifer,

I would probably stay away from clumpers in your area as they have no tolerance for temps below 25 degrees, generally speaking. I would stick with a runner, specifically, Phylostachys bisetti or most Phylostachys for that matter are good choices as they take cold temps and high winds. There are some clumpers that take low temps, like the Himalaycalamus varieties, but they don't do well in hot summer heat and are generally for ornamental uses, not good as a potted bamboo destined as a privacy screen. Hope that helps and good luck.


QueenIsis511 said...

Hi, I was hoping you could help me. I want to grow my own bamboo to make a bamboo privacy fence. I checked online for pre-built ones and found this is far more economical. I have never done this before so I've researched this to the hilt online. I was kind of confused until I found you. I'll be growing Phyllostachys moso and nigra. Could you give me some advice on growing these two in containers and then turning them into my fence.


QueenIsis511 said...

I would also like your suggestions on clumping bamboo for my yard. I would like to find some that has a dark shoot, kind of like the phylloctachys nigra, That does'nt get very large and is low maintenance.

Thanks, Steph

Mad Man Bamboo Nursery said...

Hi Stephanie and Steph,

Best way to get suggestions is to e-mail me at I'd be happy happy to give you a list of bamboo suggestions with photos. Thanks.


Sparks said...

Hello there. I just brought a circular bowl that is 2 feet wide and 7 inches deep at center. It looks very attractive the way its done in japanese temples etc. Which bamboo will be suitable here? Will golden bamboo survive? Bengal bamboo?

Mad Man Bamboo Nursery said...

Hi Sparks,

What is are the light conditions and what is the lowest winter temperature where you are at? Give me that and I can offer some suggestions. Thanks. Sean

mars said...

Greetings and Thanks!

What a wealth of great info.

I have successfully transplanted some phylostachys nigra from Seattle to Austin, and now I want to set it up in a galvanized trough. I noticed you recommend 30" deep containers and to drill holes in bottom and put on bricks. If I can only get a 24' deep trough, could I opt to not drill holes in bottom (I'm fearful of escape) and fill bottom 8" with gravel and larger pebbles/stones for drainage and then dirt/guano, etc. in which to put the culms? I plan on using unglazed ollas so the water should stay an even moistness. Do you think the ollas would survive the pressure of the growing rhizome (for a year or two)? I won't plant thickly, so the container will be rather sparse. I intend to create a more permanent bed for the bamboo in a couple of years. Thanks!

Mad Man Bamboo Nursery said...

Hi Mars,

A 24 inch container would actually work fine with the soil you described. I'm not sure if you were using ollas as containers or for some other purpose. If as containers, they tend to not keep the soil moist and would use glazed instead. If left unchecked, the bamboo rhizomes would burst the container after about 4 to 5 years. Not the case with a metal horse trough. Hope this helps. Thanks. Sean

Anonymous said...

I have a bunch of big fabric pots, are they good to use in Florida with buddha belly bamboo?

Anonymous said...

Hi, hi, hi!!

Thanks so much for all this information on Bamboo!! I'm going to try to grow Bamboo for the first time this year. I'm in WI. I was thinking of using Smart Pots...and I am curious what you think about my idea of using fabric containers?

Thanks again. Monica Walsh

Mad Man Bamboo Nursery said...

Hi Monica,

Sorry for the delay. I haven't had any experience with fabric pots. Never heard of those. I'd be concerned about the soil drying out faster than a glazed pot or a steel trough. But admittedly, I am not familiar with this type of pot. Be curious to see it. Cheers!


rustypup49 said...

Hi Sean,

Thanks for your blog! I really appreciate your knowledge and support.

Here’s my cautionary tale: I live in the Pacific NW and naively let a potted runner sit unattended for a few years in my small front yard. The 1st clue to its nature was that Neighbor #1 (the donor) thot it was a Black Stripe. It began running a couple of yrs ago and really went crazy this year. (12-15 shoots = crazy to me.) This with a diet of water only, and 20-deg winters.

I’m finally getting out the pickaxe & shovel to regain control, and to continue goodwill with Neighbor #2 on the other side of me. She's patient & understanding as long as I make containment my responsibility (sigh).

Thanks for the reminder about bricks under the pot. Or maybe a 6-inch slab of concrete...with rebar...!? And clumping only from here on.


Anonymous said...

I am interested in creating a bamboo privacy fence on my apartment patio. I have successfully cared for basil, cilantro, cayenne peppers, tomato plants, leeks, rosemary, and thai pepper plants but would like to provide myself with a privacy screen. I like the look of the black and blue bamboo but am not sure which or if either fits my needs. I was thinking I would use 2 or 3 12inch pots to grow them in, weather here is mostly agreeable, summer will get up to 100 and winters will see a few days of high 20's in short bursts. I am looking for about 6-8feet in total height to block the view into my apartment. I would love to hear your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Hi where can i buy pots for bamboo to grow in that the pots wont break from bamboo growing through?

Anonymous said...

Hi Sean - How tall did your bamboo grow that is in the trough? Thanks Kate

Unknown said...

Hey Sean, so I'm in SoCal (zone 10) and looking to maintain the height of some black bamboo I have just received as a "gift" to about 5ft. Now it is very common in this area (near Venice) to see bamboo maintained as a hedgerow with no visible foliage. How is this achieved?

Anonymous said...

Hello, I want to know if my bamboo plants will survive the New England winter outdoors. I grew them (some black bamboo, moso bamboo and thorny bamboo) from seeds earlier this spring so they are not very big yet and are still in 12" containers. I plan on using a wooden planter box (12H x 12D x 40W inches) as their new home (currently I have 4 containers). I'm just worried that the NE winter temperatures will freeze them out and kill the plants especially because they are young. Should I keep them indoor this winter and wait until next winter to leave them outdoor? My other option might be to leave them in my unheated garage. There is always indirect sunlight in there too.

Fx said...


I'm trying to establish in UK.
finding a bigger pot soon.

at moment it's ok but hardly drown and has brown tips


Galvanized Trough said...

As far as growing in troughs, yes they can, but they need to be at least 30 ...

duck said...

How tall does black bamboo grow in a galvanized trough?

grobie said...

Hello Sean!
I am so excited to try planting two 5 gallon black bamboo in a trough! We live in Chico Ca and I was worried about getting just the right combo of dirt and amendments. Could you give me a recipe for planting in a trough the size of the one in your picture? What combo of local sit and what mix should I use? Due to our hot summers how often do you water in the summer? So grateful for any information!

Sincerely Leslie