Growing Bamboo in Containers. Indoor and Outdoor

Growing Bamboo in Containers. Indoor and Outdoor

Bamboo is beautiful. I am sure that you agree if you are on this page. It is a plant that grows outdoors all over the world.

What if you can’t or don’t want to grow it in the ground? There can be many reasons for that.

Maybe you are renting and it is not a good idea to put bamboo permanently in the ground. Maybe you want to have a nice indoor plant. Or you just totally love the look of outdoor bamboo containers either for accent pieces or privacy screens.

So let`s explore growing bamboo in containers!

Does bamboo grow well in containers

Bamboo has a reputation of a plant that spreads quickly and is hard to contain. So you might have some doubts whether it grows well in containers.

Not all bamboos are created equal. There are more than 1400  species of bamboo in the world and you can definitely find bamboos that will grow well in containers.

When it comes to bamboos, they are generally divided in two groups – runners and clumpers.

Clumpers can grow very well in containers but they need to grow in partial shade to stay healthy.

Runners are a bit trickier, but also possible to grow in containers. Smaller runners will generally grow better in containers than larger ones.

In a container, bamboo won’t grow as tall as it would in the ground. The height it reaches in containers is usually about half or 75% of its maximal possible height.

It will also require more watering in the summer than if it was in the ground, if you live in the drier climates or choose to place the container indoors.

The bamboo will also be less hardy in container due to the fact that the soil in container is more likely to cool down or freeze.

You will also need to divide or transplant the bamboo regularly in order to keep it from getting too root-bound.

Indoor vs outdoor

Most bamboos prefer to grow outside. But that should not stop you if you want to add this plant to your interior.

When it comes to growing bamboo indoors, it means that you should choose a bamboo species that are suitable for indoors and expect a little more maintenance to do compared to growing it outdoors.

The main issue with indoors is the dry air, that most bamboo dislike. So you must provide the humidity to keep it happy. It`s advisable to spray the indoor bamboo with a misting bottle daily.

Here is a page that lists bamboo that grow well indoors.

What time of year to plant

When to plant your container bamboos will mainly depend on the climate where you live.

In general, the best time for planting is spring – March, April, and June. Especially if you live in USDA Hardiness Zone 5 or Zone 6. It gives the bamboo time to root well in the container and that makes it more likely to survive the winter.

If you live in a warm climate, then you can pretty much plant your bamboos all year round. But keep in mind that spring and fall are still preferable.

While it is possible, planting in the heat of the summer is not advisable. In case you do plant in summer though, then you really must make sure to remember watering it generously and regularly for its rhizome and root system to develop properly.

How to choose a good container bamboo to grow

With hundreds of bamboo plants available in the market, you will want to make sure you choose the best ones for your climate, practical and esthetic needs.

How do you do that? I suggest starting with eliminating the bamboo plant groups that are not suitable for you. There are several steps in the process of excluding what you don`t want to get.

Because you will want to plant in containers, you should start by eliminating all bamboos that are not suitable for containers.

Then you choose – will you go for indoor or outdoor one?

If you are going for an outdoor variety, then next thing to take into account is the hardiness. Make sure you know what USDA Zone you live in and exclude all species that can`t grow in your climate.

Then you decide what size of bamboo you want. When growing in containers they will mostly range from small to medium size. You can`t expect a huge tall bamboo to grow in a container. If you look for privacy screen, you will probably choose from taller varieties than if you want a small indoor accent.

Now that you have excluded all species using the factors mentioned before, it is finally time for you to choose the esthetic – what color, shape, density, and leaves.

Note: If you like how a rapidly spreading running bamboo variety looks esthetically and it is not really a plant that is considered suitable for growing in containers – do not plant it in a container no matter how much you like it.

Why? Because that is the number one way how to get in trouble. The bamboo will run its rhizomes deeper down than it normally does, will escape through the drain holes at the bottom and will spread all over your (and possibly your neighbors) garden.

Because the rhizomes will be deeper, it`s going to be extra hard to eradicate it.

Choosing containers

After you have chosen the perfect potted bamboo, it is time to get an appropriate container for your new plant.

When choosing a container the most important things to look for is whether it provides enough space, drainage and insulation.

A wooden container will be great. But really, any material will do as long as you ensure the space, drainage and insulation for the plant.

Size of container

The main factor that will determine the container size, is the size of your specific bamboo plant. However, the general rule is – the bigger the better. Bamboos really love space for their rhizomes and roots to spread.

For the smallest bamboo varieties you should not get a container that is smaller than 18×18 inches and at least 18 inches deep.

Bamboo rhizomes (the part that spreads) tend to grow fairly shallow – only up to 12 inches deep. The roots however, can go as deep as 2 – 3 feet down in the soil, depending on the species.

If you are planting your bamboo in fairly small pots, make sure to remember to divide and replant the plant at least once every 2 years.

And keep in mind that bamboo in a small container will grow shorter, with thinner canes, than if they are given more space to spread.

Choosing soil

What type of soil bamboo plants in containers prefer?

Bamboo is not too picky about soil and can grow , the better the conditions, the better, faster, and healthier the plants will grow. 

Generally, the best choice is loamy well-draining, and slightly acidic (pH 5.5 to 7). A great choice for container bamboo is a mix of Miracle-Gro® Moisture Control® Potting Mix, well composted manure and biochar.

To learn more about best soil for bamboo and how to improve the soil you have, go to the article where I go deep into best soil for bamboo.

Planting

After determining what type of bamboo, soil, and containers to use, you now have the task of putting it all together – it`s planting time!

When planting anything, there are 2 things to consider:

  • How much space to leave between plants
  • How deep to plant

When you buy bamboo for planting, in most cases a planting guideline for in ground-spacing will be provided. If you are lucky, you might even get a spacing guideline for container spacing, however that will not always be the case.

Bamboo in containers does not grow as large as potted bamboo. For that reason a rule of thumb is to take the in-ground spacing guidelines and divide them by half.

For example, a bamboo that should be planted 7 feet apart in the ground, in a container will only need a 3 to 4 feet spacing.

Now, I can almost imagine some of you protest that you want a nice long bamboo screen and such big gaps don`t fit your needs.

That is not a problem. Bamboo grows to conform to whatever space it has, and it happens fast if you have a running variety. Bamboo in a long narrow planter will grown into a long, narrow screen.

How deep to plant

When you buy bamboo for planting, it will already come into some sort of pot.

When you are repotting, you want to keep it the same, don`t go deeper than it is in the original nursery pot; bamboo prefers to grow shallow.

Don`t forget to put a layer of some wood chips or other material that helps with drainage.

Maintenance

Container bamboos do require a little bit more maintenance than the ones grown in the ground.

They are less hardy in containers and can become root-bound if not divided and re-potted in time. Also environmental stress affects potted bamboo more than in-ground plants.

However, if you make sure to meet their needs, you can have a thriving bamboo plant almost anywhere, whether in container or not.

So let`s start by remembering the basic things any potted bamboo plant needs to have to be healthy – enough space, drainage and insulation.

If you have taken care of these things when you are initially planting them in the containers, then after that maintaining a potted bamboo requires little work.

In the first year after first potting your plant, you should irrigate or ensure that your bamboo are receiving generous amount of water.

While in-ground bamboos are ok with no fertilizer it is a little different for the potted ones.

You should give your plants a yearly, slow-release, high nitrogen fertilizer, so that your bamboos are receiving a steady diet of nutrients.

Depending on how much space you have given to your bamboo plants to spread, you should repot them every 2 – 5 years. This varies a lot depending on the species and container sizes but you will most probably be able to tell visually when it`s time to give your plants more space.

Pruning

You may wonder can you prune bamboo. The answer is yes.

And the good news is that bamboo canes will not grow any taller once you cut the tops. That means you only need to do around once a year when the younger canes exceed the height you prefer.

When pruning, there are a couple of things to keep in mind:

  • Cut the cane just above the node
  • Cut the canes after they leaf out, not before
  • Leave some branches on the cane, otherwise the cane will die back.

One thing that will happen to the pruned bamboos  – the will get bushier.

Featured image by mrhayata; Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0