Can you grow bamboo in Minnesota? Yes! But there are only a handful of bamboo that are cold hardy enough to survive the harsh winters.
Quick note: If you are clicked on this article to learn about Japanese knotweed (also known as Minnesota bamboo, Michigan bamboo, Japanese bamboo, Mexican bamboo) – it is NOT A BAMBOO and is incredibly INVASIVE AND HARD TO eradicate.
Scroll to the end of the article for info on that.
The majority of bamboo prefer warm subtropical and tropical climates but luckily there are a bunch of hardy bamboo suitable for Minnesota weather.
There is a catch though, Minnesota is quite a big state and it falls into several USDA plant hardiness zones.
If you don`t know – the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Plant Hardiness Zone map divides the United States into zones according to the average minimum cold temperature. In simple words – what is the coldest it gets during winter.
It is important for gardeners because different plants have different tolerance for low temperatures.
The good news is – you CAN grow bamboo all over the state. The bad news is – in Zones 3a and 3b most likely you will have to grow them in containers/planter boxes and move inside when the winter comes.
For zones 4 and 5, there is more to choose from.
Hardy bamboo plants
To successfully grow bamboo in Minnesota you must choose one of the hardy species that can tolerate the freezing temperatures during winter.
And look for a bamboo species that is cold hardy enough for your location. There is no point having a Zone 6 plant if you live in Zone 3a. It will die off in winter.
When shopping for plants you should be able to find a label with their cold tolerance and other useful info.
Don`t buy bamboo before finding out whether the species is suitable for your climate. The further North you go, the less bamboo to choose from.
Hardy bamboo for the Minnesota climate.
All bamboo species mentioned below can be grown in-ground or in containers. If you want to grow bamboo in Zone 3, then move the containers inside until early spring.
Tip: If you move container bamboos inside, choose rooms with windows – bamboo will not love a totally dark garage for a long time.
If you happen to live in that tiny part of Minnesota that is in Zone 5, then go to the article about Zone 5 bamboo and you will get more choice of plants.
Here are the bamboos that you can grow outside in-ground in Zone 4:
The best choice: Phyllostachys nuda – Snow Bamboo
Also known as Nude Sheath bamboo. A running bamboo. Incredibly cold hardy. Root hardy down to -30F.
Grows 6 to 8 feet tall in Zone 4, can reach 10 feet in Zone 5 (if you’re in that little patch around Fairmont, Minnesota). It may drop some of its leaves during winter in Zone 4 but there is a high chance it will stay evergreen in Zone 5.
Preferred light conditions – full sun or part shade.
The new shoots are edible and delicious.
Phyllostachys Aureosulcata ‘Yellow Groove’
A running bamboo. It has a yellow and green striping coloration. Some of the canes have a natural zig-zag shape.
You can expect it to reach 8 feet in Minnesota (grows much taller in warmer states) in a very dense pattern that makes for a perfect natural screen.
Light conditions: sun to shade
A running bamboo. Has gray-green canes great for privacy screens. One of the most resilient bamboos around, grows well in most sites and soil conditions. In Zone 4 reaches 8 feet. Most probably will not be evergreen in Minnesota but will grow new green shoots every spring.
Phyllostachys heteroclada ‘Purpurata’ – Water bamboo
Also known as Solid Stem bamboo. Root hardy to zone 4, which means it will not be evergreen in Minnesota but will shoot up every spring. This is one of the rare bamboos that thrive in wet conditions.
Hardy to zone 5, it grows to 14 feet in height. Its canes have a very attractive yellow and green striping, and it will stay evergreen even in zone 5.
How to plant bamboo
When you get your bamboo in spring, planting it is pretty straightforward.
- Choose a spot where the plant will have some protection from wind (this improves the chance of surviving and thriving in winter)
- Dig a hole that is 1.5 to 2x as wide as the root mass on your seedling. It only needs to be deep enough so the upper half of rhizomes are on level with the upper part of soil.
- Set the bamboo in the hole and spread the roots out in the hole.
- Fill the hole where your seedling sits, pressing down the soil as you go to make sure it holds the plant up nicely.
- Water the hole thoroughly.
- Water weekly until the bamboo plants are established.
Growing bamboo is not complicated, and requires little work in the summer. The main thing is to make sure it is protected enough to survive winter.
- If there`s not enough rain, water your newly planted bamboos (at least for the first year) about once a week.
- Leave the fallen leaves on the ground. They keep the roots protected and moist, as well as return nutrients to the soil as they decompose.
- Apply mulch generously to protect the roots. A heavy layer of mulch maintains a higher temperature in the soil.
- Don’t remove the leaves fallen on the ground – they are a natural protective layer against cold.
- Think of the placing of your plants – make sure they are protected from winter winds that can be as damaging as frozen soil.
- If there is frozen snow on bamboo branches that can`t be shaken off, don`t try to break it off. Trying to break the ice will do more damage than good.
- When the winter is over, add a layer of mulch or fertilizer to the soil in spring.
What’s different in containers
The main thing to remember – the soil in pots is going to freeze harder and faster than ground soil and therefore the roots are going to be colder and more likely to suffer in the winter.
What does this mean for you? The best and easiest option to protect your container bamboo in Minnesota is to move them inside – a greenhouse, garage, shed, or any other building you have.
Bamboos need light so don’t leave them in the dark the whole winter, move them outdoors as soon as the cold ends.
If you can’t move them inside: mulch the soil and create insulation for the pot – wrap it. Hay and straw are quite good if you want to use natural materials. But any insulation will do. The main thing is to ensure that the soil does not freeze.
How to contain bamboo
As long as it’s kept in line, bamboo is an amazing plant to have in your garden.
All the bamboo I mentioned before come from the Phyllostachys genus – they are all running bamboo.
While in a cold place like Zone 4 or 3 bamboo does not spread as aggressively as it does in warmer climates, it still needs to be kept in place.
Installing a 30 mil by 24 inch deep HDPE (high density polyethylene) root barrier at the same as planting your bamboo is the most effective way to keep it contained.
Alternatively – regularly make sure to root prune around the bamboo, it helps if you dig a trench to better see any rhizomes that are trying to spread so you can cut them all.
Japanese knotweed (Minnesota bamboo) – invasive and dangerous
Japanese knotweed, also known as Minnesota bamboo (and Michigan bamboo, Mexican bamboo, Japanese bamboo and probably other variations), is an extremely fast-growing shrub that became popular a few decades ago as a border planting along roadsides and between properties.
It grows in a clump of stalks that resemble bamboo. It grows up to 10-feet in a single season and forms a dense monoculture.
It is considered one of the 100 worst invasive species in the world and is a prohibited species in Minnesota.
Japanese knotweed is very damaging not only to wildlife but also urban areas – it can grow through sidewalks and building foundations.
It is super hard to eradicate because it has adapted to survive volcano eruptions in Japan.
You can’t kill it by moving – the pieces that the mower throws can potentially grow new plants, causing even more problems.
It also spreads fast and far by its huge rhizome system – so you may think you’ve killed it but it shoots up nearby.
If you notice Japanese knotweed on your property, contact the local authorities or experts that can give you detailed advice on how to deal with this plant.
Resources: Wilson Bros Gardens, Lewis Bamboo, Canada`s Bamboo World
Featured image: Wolfgangfoto, Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0