Bamboos are tropical grassy plants with evergreen leaves. The plant is made up of canes or culms that grow from the underground root mass called the rhizome. Depending on the variety, bamboos can be a round, compact forms or large, imposing plants that are more than 100 feet tall.
Bamboos take on one of two forms -- clumping or running. The types are determined by the branching habit of the rhizome. In clumping bamboos, the rhizomes grow for a few inches before sprouting new culms or canes. This keeps the form of the plant bush-like and compact. The rhizomes on running bamboos create long offshoots that then grow new shoots. This type of bamboo is aggressive and invasive.
Bamboos have a growth cycle that's different from other plants. Running bamboos start growing in the early spring, once the weather warms up. The previous season's canes fall off and new ones grow. New culms grow from the underground rhizome at the same time. When the culm reaches its full height, it stops growing vertically. Clumping bamboos produce new growth in June or July when the weather turns rainy. Shoots grow until frost sets in. The new canes don't grow leaves or branches until the following summer.
Bamboo plants grow best in moist, well-drained soil. It's also possible to grow them in sandy soil if attention is given to watering. If you want the best growth, plant bamboo in full sun to partial shade. Spring and summer fertilization will give the bamboo nutrients. Mulch around the base of each plant to keep weeds at bay and retain soil moisture.
The appearance of a bamboo's canes are often distinct enough to identify the variety. Hawaiian Striped bamboo is a clumping variety that grows golden canes with green stripes. Alphonse Karr bamboo works well as a privacy screen. Its canes have a pink hue when young. They turn a golden color with green stripes when the bamboo matures. Giant Timber bamboo is one of the most often planted in the United States. It has deep green canes. Graceful bamboo is a vase-shaped plant with culms that arch outward.