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Can You Grow Bamboo in Michigan?

Yes, you can!

There are more than 1400 species of bamboo that can be found in Asia, Australia, North and South America, and Sub-Saharan Africa. It can grow under various climate conditions.

Note: If you are asking about the Michigan bamboo(Japanese knotweed) then the answer is – No, you can`t. Scroll down to the end of the article to find out more.

Most bamboos prefer tropical climate but because there are so many varieties of the plant, there are several cold hardy bamboo species that can be grown in Michigan climate.

Hardy plants can survive cold winters and bamboo is no different. To successfully grow bamboo in Michigan you should choose one of the hardy species that can tolerate a range of low temperatures and freezing weather.

When you shop for plants they should be sold with a detailed label that informs you of their tolerance to cold.

If you can’t find information about the hardiness on the label you should not buy the bamboo before finding out whether it will survive the winter. There is only a handful of varieties that can be grown in the northern parts of the United States.

Which species are ok for Michigan weather

Finding cold hardy bamboo plants can be a little tricky,  especially in Michigan that is classified as belonging to zone 5 by the Department of Agriculture. Keep reading to learn more about some of the best bamboo plants for zone 5 gardens.

If you have not heard of hardiness zones, no need to worry, it`s nothing complicated. It simply refers to a plant’s ability to tolerate temperature. The US Department of Agriculture Plant Hardiness Zone map divides the United States into zones according to the average minimum cold temperature.

In the list below you will see that some of the plants are hardy enough to grow in zone 4.

Temperatures drop lower in zone 4 than zone 5, which means that the plants have a very good chance of surviving the Michigan winter even if the winter happens to be a colder one than usual.

Bamboo varieties that can grow in Michigan:

Red Margin – Hardy to zone 5, it grows very fast and is s great natural screen. It grows up to 18 feet in height in zone 5 but will grow taller in warmer climates.

Golden Crookstem – Cold hardy to -10 degrees F. It makes an excellent hedge, screen, windbreak or container plant.

Bissetii – One of the most resilient bamboos around, it is hardy to zone 4. It grows up to 12 feet in zone 5 and performs well in most soil conditions.

Incense – Well suited to wetland sites. Reliably cold hardy to -5 degrees F. In zone 5 it is recommended for container growing and should be placed indoors when the temperature falls below -5 F. In Michigan, it grows 8-12 feet tall but can reach up to 25 feet in USDA zone 7.

Giant Leaf – This variety has the largest leaves of any bamboo grown in the U.S., with leaves reaching 2 feet long and half a foot wide. The shoots themselves are short, reaching 8 to 10 feet and are hardy to zone 5.

Nuda (Snow bamboo) – Cold hardy to zone 4, this bamboo has very small but lush leaves. It grows to 10 feet in height.

Ruscus – An interesting bamboo with dense, short leaves that give it the appearance of a shrub or hedge. Hardy to zone 5, it reaches 8 to 10 feet in height.

Solid Stem – Hardy to zone 4, this bamboo thrives in wet conditions.

Spectabilis – 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.

Yellow Groove – Similar in color to the Spectabilis, it has a yellow and green striping coloration. Some of the canes have a natural zig-zag shape. It grows up to 14 feet in a very dense pattern that makes for a perfect natural screen.

Planting Bamboo Plants

After you have chosen the variety you want to grow and have a plant your bamboo, it`s time to do some work!

Do this:

  1. Choose a spot where the plant will have some protection from wind (this is important in winter)
  2. Dig a hole that is twice as wide as the rootball on your bamboo.
  3. Set the bamboo in the hole and spread the roots out in the hole.
  4. Fill the hole where your seedling sits, pressing down the soil as you go. Don`t press too hard, just make sure it holds the plant up nicely.
  5. Water the hole thoroughly.
  6. Water weekly until the bamboo plants are established.
  7. If possible, provide some shade to the newly planted bamboo for the first two weeks after planting.

How to care for bamboo after it`s established in the ground

Growing bamboo outdoors is not complicated, and requires little work in the summer. There are a couple of things to take care of to protect them in the winter.

Summer care:

  1. If it`s not raining enough, make sure to water your plants. Bamboo needs a minimum of 1inch of water a week
  2. Do not rake up bamboo leaves from the bamboo roots. The leaves will help keep the roots protected and moist, as well as return nutrients to the soil as they decompose.
  3. Add a layer of mulch or fertilizer to the soil each spring. If you are raking off the fallen leaves, then add mulch more often.

Bonus tip: Fresh and fallen bamboo leaves are a great material for mulch.

Winter protection:

  1. Apply mulch generously to protect the roots. A heavy layer of mulch maintains a higher temperature in the soil.
  2. Don’t remove the leaves fallen on the ground. They provide additional protection.
  3. Think of the placing of your plants – they need protection from cold winter winds. This step should be taken before planting, of course. Winter winds can be as damaging as frozen soil.
  4. If there is a lot of snow weighing on your bamboos, it`s a good idea to shake it off it`s unlikely to melt away in a couple of days.
  5. If the snow is frozen and can`t be shaken off, don`t try to break it off. Trying to break the ice will do more damage than good.

What`s different if you grow bamboo in containers

Clumping varieties of bamboo are a beautiful accent in outdoor gardens and have the great advantage of being easy to move and allowing to transform spaces instantly.

The main thing to remember if you want to grow any plants in containers outdoors is 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.

What does this mean for you? You guessed it –  some action is needed to protect your bamboos from freezing.

It`s convenient if you have any shelter where you can move your containers – a greenhouse, garage, shed, or any building where you can move them into for brief cold conditions.

Bamboos need light so don`t leave the containers in the dark,  move them outdoors as soon as the cold ends.

If you can’t move them to warmer space, mulch the soil and create insulation for the container – 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 control bamboo

As long as it’s kept in line, bamboo is an amazing plant to have in your garden. Running varieties can take over all the space you have if you`re not careful.

With a fast-spreading variety, you may need to consider installing a barrier.  The barrier should be at least 2 to 3 inches underground and be 2 to 3 inches above the ground. The barrier has to surround the bamboo completely to be effective.

Check the top of the barrier at least once a year. Cut back any stalks growing over the top of the barrier to prevent it from escaping.

What’s the difference between running and clumping bamboo?

Running bamboo spread at moderate to fast paces.  They have a leptomorph rhizome system, which means the rhizomes don’t usually turn up and become canes but spread out before turning up.

Clumping bamboo spread very slowly.  They have a pachymorph rhizome system, which means that the underground buds turn upward and become canes immediately, This causes them to gradually expand outward at a modest and predictable pace.

Michigan bamboo – illegal to grow

Japanese knotweed, also known as Michigan bamboo, is a fast-growing shrub that became popular border planting along roadsides and between properties.

Japanese knotweed also known as Michigan bamboo
Japanese knotweed. Maja Dumat, CC BY 2.0

It is considered one of the 100 worst invasive species in the world and is a prohibited species in Michigan.

Japanese knotweed grows in a clump of stalks that are jointed and resemble bamboo. It grows up to 10-feet in a single season and forms a dense monoculture.

Not only it spreads quickly, but it is also a damaging plant causing many problems. It can grow through sidewalks and building foundations.

Japanese knotweed is hard to kill. It can also grow from fragments, so if you mow it down, the pieces that the mower throws could potentially grow new plants, causing even more problems. It also spreads by rhizomes – thick, underground plant stems with growing roots or shoots – so you may think you’ve killed it but it shoots up nearby.