Tall, crowded bamboo stems provide an effective privacy screen that suits Asian-style and contemporary gardens. Bamboo plants are perennial evergreens that belong to the grass family (Poaceae), and varieties are divided into running bamboos and clumping bamboos. Running bamboos are invasive, but clumping bamboos spread slowly. Deep barriers placed in soil prevent running bamboos from spreading, but running bamboos' requirement for those deep barriers means that clumping bamboos are better, less labor-intensive selections for growing as privacy screens.
Clumping bamboos that grow well as privacy screens include fountain bamboo (Fargesia nitida), which is hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 through 9, and noble bamboo (Himalayacalamus falconeri ‘Damarapa’), which is hardy in USDA zones 10 through 11.
Selecting Growing Areas
Bamboo produces dense, healthily growing stems when it is located in partially shaded or sunny spots and somewhat acidic, loamy soil. Fountain bamboo requires a partially shady location, particularly one shaded from hot afternoon sunlight. Noble bamboo needs partial shade or four to eight hours of direct sunlight per day. Moist, freely draining soil provides the best results for both varieties.
Improve drainage of heavy soils by spreading garden compost or other organic matter in a layer 2 inches deep around the bamboo plants, avoiding getting it on the stems. Earthworms and other soil creatures mix the mulch into the soil over time.
Spacing the Bamboos
Clumping bamboos spread slowly. So space them close together for a fast screening effect. Fountain bamboo grows 10 to 15 feet tall and wide, and noble bamboo grows 15 to 30 feet tall and 6 to 10 feet wide. Both plants may take several years to reach their final growing widths. Space clumping bamboo plants so that 6 to 12 inches of space is between the edge of one plant and the edge of the next plant.
Mow or trim along the edge of the privacy screen to contain clumping bamboo.
Watering the Bamboos
Newly planted bamboos need plenty of water, but established plants tolerate some drought. Bamboo plants that were growing in 5-gallon containers before being planted in the ground need 1 gallon of water twice each week during dry, warm weather. If the weather is hot and windy, they may need more frequent watering, up to once per day.
Water established bamboos when their soil is dry to a depth of 2 inches. Apply enough water to moisten the soil to the depth of the plants' root balls.
Overwatering bamboos causes leaf drop.
Bamboos grow best with regular fertilizer applications. Ready-to-use, slow-release, 12-4-8 fertilizer granules supply their nutrient needs throughout the growing season. Sprinkle the granules at a rate of 4 tablespoons per 4 square feet over the root zones, avoiding getting the fertilizer on bamboo stems. Water the fertilized soil. Fertilize bamboos' soil every three months while the plants grow actively.