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10 Tips to Grow Bamboo in Cold Climates

Most bamboo species are native to warm climates, however, bamboo can grow in diverse climates all over the world. If you live in an area that gets cold and temperatures drop well below freezing in winter, you will need to keep some things in mind to be successful with growing bamboo. 

It is possible to grow bamboo in states like Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Iowa if you follow some simple steps. 

I have made a list with 10 tips that will help you become a proud grower of bamboo on your property.  As you will see, it is actually quite simple and does not take too much time.

1- Check your cold hardiness zone 

As a gardener, the first thing you should know before you plant anything is the weather conditions in your area. The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map is a useful tool to find out what are the average annual winter temperatures and help determine which plants are most likely to thrive. Typically when buying your bamboo plants, information about the cold hardiness zones it can withstand should be available. 

If you are unsure what`s your zone you can go to the USDA plant hardiness website and either look at the map or simply enter your ZIP code in the search box they provide. 

2- Choose the right species

To grow bamboo plants in cold climates, you need to find cold-hardy bamboo plants. Some will survive winter as far north as USDA cold-hardiness zone 5 and a few very rare species can grow even in zone 4. 

Keep in mind that not all species that can survive harsh winters will behave the same. While some bamboo will stay up and behave the same as in warmer climates, some species may shed leaves and act as herbaceous perennials, meaning, only the underground parts will survive the winter.  

If possible, ask the local bamboo sellers or growers how the specific bamboo you’re buying acts in your climate. 

Here are examples of good cold hardy bamboo on Amazon: 

Phyllostachys Bissetti 

  • Hardy down to -15F. Colder temperatures may damage top growth, but the plant will re-establish from roots
  • Sun conditions may vary from full sun to full shade
  • Mature plant size will reach about 20 feet in height and 1 inch in diameter

Fargesia Rufa 

  • Hardy to -10F to -20F
  • Grows best in full sun
  • Rapid growth up to 8′ tall when mature
  • Has purple-red sheaths on new culms
  • Dense, slightly weeping habit, makes a nice border plant

Phyllostachys Harbin Inversa

  • Fully hardy in zones 5 to 11
  • Can reach 15 to 25 feet in height and 2 inches in diameter.
  • The bamboo is yellow with green stripes but if planted in full sun, when the new canes emerge, they will turn a beautiful magenta/orange color. Once the new cane has stopped growing in height (about 30 to 40 days) the cane will return to its standard coloring.
  • Grows well in full sun to partial shade.

Another great place online is Lewis Bamboo. They have a nice selection of cold-hardy bamboo available. 

3- Buy from local or other northern nurseries

It is OK to order your bamboo from growers that are located more to the south however the best option if available is to get your bamboo plants from local nurseries or growers in a similar climate.  

Local nurseries have several advantages going on for them even if they can be a pricier option. 

Knowledgeable staff – the employees at the local nursery have a great understanding of the plants they grow and your specific climate conditions. They can give you expert advice and provide tips for growing, soil conditions, fertilizing, protecting from frost, recognizing and combatting possible pests and diseases. 

Better adapted plants – the plants in the local nursery have been grown locally so they do not suffer from huge light and temperature variations they`d get if traveling from far away. Locally grown plants are usually hardier because they are already accustomed to soil conditions and seasonal changes in your area which also means that they will require less water and fertilizer. 

When you buy plants from big-name national retailers, chances are that the plants you buy come from a place with a completely different environment from yours. And there`s a big possibility that the fresh-looking plants have been grown in a carefully monitored greenhouse with stable conditions which are not replicable in the “real world” a.k.a your yard. 

No concern about foreign pests – locally grown plants don’t have the risk of transporting unknown foreign pests to your property. 

4 – Choose the planting spot carefully

Bamboo is popular and people have it for many reasons. It can play the role of and ornamental focal point in your yard but also be great for privacy screens, hedging, windbreaks, ground cover. Depending on the way you want it to grow you should choose the planting spot that fits best to your wishes and what the bamboo requires for good growth. 

If you plan to plant bamboo near the border to your neighbor, in most cases it is wiser to choose a clumping bamboo over a running bamboo in order to avoid the risk of it spreading too fast in the wrong direction.

Take into account the sun conditions that your chosen bamboo requires – some will thrive in full sun, some prefer partial to full shade.

If you get harsh cold winter winds, see whether there`s something to protect the bamboo at least in the wintertime. 

5 – Get ready for winter

Typically summer care for bamboo in colder climates like zone 5 is not a huge problem, normally there’s enough sun and rain for optimal growth.

It can get a little trickier in winter – cold, snow, wind, frozen soil – all of these conditions can be stressful for the bamboo plants. While your bamboo will survive the winter, to accelerate its growth in spring, better make sure the plant gets as little damage throughout the winter.

If you want you can cover the bamboo with mini greenhouse tents, however, that prevents rainwater, so you would need to water. This is not a necessity though, so don’t worry if you leave your bamboo out as it is.

6 – Mulch generously

Mulch around your bamboo plantings to protect the root zone from freezing during extremely low temperatures.

Normally about 4 to 6 inches of any mulching material you have is enough, though for especially extreme climates go for a deeper layer.  You can use commercially sold mulch or stuff you have around the property like grass clippings, pine needles, hay, wood chips e.t.c. 

An extra mulching layer is most important for new plants during the first 3 years – that is the period when bamboo is still establishing on your land and is the most vulnerable. 

Once established most bamboo can survive winter with no problems, as it has grown significantly bigger biomass of roots and rhizomes and is more protected naturally.

7 – Protect from wind

In areas with extreme and cold winds protection from the wind is vital. 

One way to do that is by laying down your bamboo culms and covering them with bales of hay or straw. 

Alternatively – plant bamboo near a fence, house wall or dense bush that stands in the way of the prevailing wind direction in the area. 

8 – Consider growing in containers

I personally think that container bamboo is a great way to go for northern growers. 

If you want to grow bamboo in containers outdoors, you should keep in mind that 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. 

So why do I think containers are a great option? 

You can move them! 

When the temperatures go close to freezing you simply move the containers with plants to a greenhouse, garage or any building you have available. Now, try moving them to a building that is not completely dark though, as bamboo needs light, as any plant. 

If you can`t move the containers inside – wrap them carefully. Any insulation material is good to use as long as it does not let the soil freeze. 

9 – Don’t panic if leaves fall off in winter

Normally bamboo stays green all year round however there can be exceptions.

It may not happen every winter but if your bamboo sheds all its leaves, do not panic – it’s almost certain that the underground parts of bamboo are still alive and will regrow the plant in the spring. 

Bamboo can get yellowing leaves or even shed leaves under a variety of stressful conditions. Freezing cold windy winter is definitely stressful for any bamboo plant even if they are of a hardy variety.

Shedding leaves in winter works as a way to protect bamboo from losing too much water in wintertime when it is hard to get it from the soil. The bamboo loses water through leaves even on cold days, especially it`s sunny during the day.  

Do not cut the culms off if this happens. Leaving bamboo as-is will help it grow back sooner. 

10 – Shake off snow

Shake off the show if there is a lot of it weighing on your bamboo. If it’s going to melt away soon then don’t bother but leaving bamboo under a heavy blanket of snow for a long time brings unnecessary strain to the plant. 

If you can’t shake it off, don’t try to break off frozen snow and ice. That will do more damage than good.

Featured image: Snow on Bamboo by Tony Kent, Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0