The wispy, finely textured leaves on bamboo add soothing, rustling noise and lush foliage to the garden. When the tips or edges of bamboo leaves turn brown, it doesn't just ruin their looks, it also points to an underlying health problem. The plant's appearance is often the first indicator something is wrong. Identify and resolve the underlying issue to restore your bamboo to its green glory.
The bamboo (Bambusa) tribe includes more than 1,500 species. Those you're likely to find at the garden center include include yellow grove bamboo (Phyllostachys aureosulcata), which grows in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 9 and black bamboo (Phyllostachys nigra), which grows in USDA zones 7 through 11.
Bamboo can be divided into two types: running bamboo and clumping bamboo. Do not grow running varieties directly in the ground as these plants can spread aggressively and some species are considered invasive weeds in certain areas. Keep fast-spreading bamboo contained by only growing it in a pot.
Water More Often
If the leaves on your bamboo are wilting, curling and turning brown, the bamboo is likely not getting enough water. Bamboo needs twice weekly watering during the first six months after planting. Use enough water to moisten the soil to a depth of 8 to 10 inches. After six months have passed, reduce watering to approximately once every 10 days.
Watch the plant's appearance for indications you need to water more often. Common signs of drought stress include:
- Pale green or yellow coloring
- Leaf loss leaving behind bare bamboo canes
- Drooping or bending of the bamboo's central cane
- Brown spots, brown edges and brown tips on the leaves
As it grows taller, the bamboo plant naturally sheds its lower leaves. Let the leaves lie where they fall. This creates a natural layer of mulch, which returns nutrients to the underlying soil while also keeping the soil underneath moist.
Adjust the Fertilizer Schedule
Bamboo is a type of grass and, like all grasses, needs regular fertilizer to keep it looking green and lush. Brown leaves or loss of color in the leaves may be the result of low soil nutrients.
Fertilize bamboo twice a year, once in the early spring and once in the summer. Use any standard lawn fertilizer. For example, if you're using a 21-5-6 lawn fertilizer, apply 2 pounds of it per 100 square feet. Water the soil immediately after fertilizing to dissolve the fertilizer and help carry its nutrients down into the soil.
Unlike many plants, bamboo isn't especially picky about specific nutrient dosages. A little too much, or a little too little, won't harm the plant.
Bamboo is naturally resistant to most common plant pests. It may occasionally be attacked by mites, aphids and other soft-bodied pests. These can stress the plant, causing brown spots on the leaves, stunted or deformed leaf growth and scarring.
Spray the bamboo with a strong jet of water from a garden hose. Spray all parts of the plant, including the undersides of the leaves where pests tend to congregate. This is often enough to keep aphids, mealybugs and other pests at population levels too low to cause lasting damage.
If water doesn't work, treat the pests with a homemade insecticide spray by combining soap and water at a rate of 1 teaspoon of dish soap for every 1 pint of water. Pour the solution into a spray bottle or garden sprayer and mist the soapy solution onto affected bamboo parts. Repeat every 10 days until pest problems subside.