Growing Native Bamboo

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Bamboo forests formerly occupied millions of acres in the Southeast and are still found in Hawaii.

Bamboo is a grass with three species -- giant cane, hill cane and switch cane --native to the eastern United States, especially the Southeast. Because this grass is fast-growing, it is used in a variety of products due to its ability to control erosion and absorb the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. Growing native bamboo is feasible under the proper conditions.

  1. Location

    • Giant cane and switch cane enjoy moisture and naturally grow along rivers and in swampy areas. This species also succeed in woodland settings, as does hill cane. Switch cane and hill cane, which only reach about 6 feet tall, become part of the forest understory. If giant cane sprouts among trees, the shade reduces its height, which can reach about 23 feet. Hill cane is a newly identified species, discovered growing in the southern hills of the Appalachia. These native habitats give growers an idea of where native bamboo will thrive. Additionally, though the native species are mainly southerners, giant cane is hardy and can tolerate cold. Colder climes also reduce height.

    Growth Habits

    • Bamboo is a perennial and typically evergreen, though cold weather might cause a plant to lose its leaves. Hill cane loses its leaves naturally, setting it apart from the other two native bamboos. If you are planning on planting this grass, you must understand that bamboo doesn't just grow up, it also grows across. The three natives are termed "runners" and possess traveling underground stems called rhizomes, which are potentially invasive.


    • If you plan on growing bamboo, running rhizomes may pose an issue when you're trying to control their proliferation. Barriers, however, can give you the upper hand. The barrier can be a container set into the ground or a trench dug around the bamboo grove. The trench should be about 36 inches deep, advises the University of Georgia, with either fiberglass or 60-mil polypropylene inserted. The barrier should stick out a couple inches over the soil so the bamboo doesn't hop the barrier. Also, container-grown bamboo won't stray when the container, with its bottom replaced by mesh, is planted into the ground.


    • Native bamboo like loamy, fertile soil. The University of Georgia advises growers to prepare the ground as you would for any garden, including a slightly acidic pH of 6 to 6.5.


    • To plant bamboo, dig a hole two times the diameter of the rootball. The hole should let the top of the rootball show a bit above the top of the soil line. Replace the soil around the ball, pack it and water thoroughly.


    • Avoid root burn by not fertilizing bamboo until it is established, which may take a year. Add a balanced fertilizer or one meant for grass. Regularly water the plant; if the leaves have curled, you aren't watering enough. Dropped leaves should be left where they fall, as they serve as mulch and provide nutrients.

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