How to Care for Bissetii Bamboo

Native to China, Bissetii bamboo (Phyllostachys bissetii) is a popular running bamboo great for making a beautiful evergreen screen or hedge in the United States.

Bissetii is fast-growing, low-maintenance bamboo with an arching habit. Its leaves are up to 4.7 inches long and o.6 inches broad and are 1 to 2 inches in diameter. 

If receiving lots of direct sunlight, the green culms often turn a light golden light color. In more shaded areas, the bamboo is a dark lush green. Its culm sheaths are brown. 

It can grow in a wide variety of many planting sites and soil conditions. Bissetii is tolerant of adverse growing conditions, such as wind, cold, and drought, as well as heat and humidity. Harsh environments like seashore and slope, as well as urban environments, are suitable for Bissetii.

By Filostachys; CC BY-SA 4.0

Quick facts:

Type: Running

USDA Plant Hardiness Zones: 4 through 10

Light conditions: full sun or part shade

Height: 8 to 40 feet (depending on location and growing conditions)

Culm Diameter: 1 to 2  inches

Suitable for containers

How tall does Bissetii grow

The maximum height of Bissetii varies a lot from location to location. In regions with colder winters, it matures shorter than in subtropical places. The diameter of culms does not differ a lot – 1 to 2 inches wherever it grows.

Maximum height of mature Bissetii depending on the region: 

  • USDA zones 9 and 10 – up to 40 feet
  • USDA Zone 7  – around 30 feet
  • USDA Zone 6 – 18 feet 
  • USDA Zone 5  -12 feet
  • USDA Zone 4 – 8 feet 

Keep in mind that bamboo has a unique growth pattern and in the first 3 to 5 years it may not seem like it`s getting much taller but then quite surprisingly it stretches in height very rapidly. 

How fast does Bissetii grow

Bissetii bamboo will reach mature size in about 3 to 5 years, however, the way it grows might surprise you. 

Bamboo grows in size a little differently than most plants.
The first year after planting all of the new bamboo stalks will grow to about the same height but will be quite short.
The next year – you will get more new shoots and they will be taller than the previous year.

Every new generation of shoots will continue to be taller until the bamboo reaches full maturity. Typically it will reach the maximum height of that year’s culms in 60 to 90 days and those culms will never grow taller.

As the bamboo grows taller, it also spreads. At first, it seems like not much is happening but in 3 to 5 years it fills in and provides a beautiful thick screen. 

Care

Phyllostachys bissetii is exceptionally adaptable and requires little to no maintenance.

Bissetii can grow in full sun or part shade and tolerates moist to dry soils. It is suitable to grow in urban places as Bissetii is moderately tolerant of metropolitan pollution and has a tough root system. 

Although Bissetii tolerates most soil and sunlight conditions, it prefers moist, well-drained, organic-rich soil that is crumbly in texture. It will grow faster and be more luscious and healthy if it grows in ideal conditions. 

Bissetii is one of the most cold-hardy species growing in North America withstanding temperatures down to -15 degrees F. The root system when mulched properly will handle temps down to -25 degrees F. You can check out the post I wrote about growing bamboo in cold climate

Fertilizing

Bamboo grows fine without fertilization but it responds very well to it – feeding can encourage faster growth and more luscious foliage. 

You can safely fertilize your bamboo once it has been in the ground for about a month.

The main nutrient to look for is nitrogen ( the first number on any package of fertilizer).
The best option for your Bissetii will be a time-release fertilizer that contains about 20% nitrogen. Feed it once in the early spring to encourage new growth and again in summer to replace any nutrients that are being depleted.

Alternatively – use compost, which slowly feeds both the soil and the plants. Compost will also help retain moisture in the soil which is useful in dry regions. Composted manure, mushroom compost, or homemade compost are all suitable materials. Spread a 1 to 2-inch layer of compost around your bamboo plants in spring and early summer. 

Planting

Bamboo can be planted at ground level or slightly deeper. Start by digging a hole about twice the size of the root ball, then cover the roots with the soil, step on it lightly, water it and you’re pretty much done. Simple! When you plant the bamboo choose a nice rich soil and a layer of good topsoil.

Note:  Sometimes newly planted bamboos lose some leaves after planting. In most cases it’s not something to worry about – the plant needs little time to adjust to the new soil and sunlight conditions. After a while, new leaves will emerge to replace the dropped ones. A typical amount of foliage loss is about 30%. If your bamboo plant is losing significantly more it could be a sign of overly wet or dry soil or a lack of sunlight. 

Watering

Try to water newly planted bamboo about once a week. Once established, it needs little care and normal rainfall is enough to thrive and is even tolerant of temporary drought. 

As with many other types of plants, too much water around the roots of bamboo plants severely limits or even cuts off the supply of oxygen that roots and plants depend on to grow properly. Too much water can also cause irreversible decay of roots a.k.a. “root rot.” So make sure to plant your bamboo in a well-drained site.

In the absence of sufficient rainfall, water only as needed to keep the root ball and surrounding soil damp to moist. Keep in mind that deep soaking less frequently is much better than splashing just a little water on the plants every day and that it’s better to let a bamboo plant go a little dry than to overwater. 

That said, during prolonged periods of dry weather even established bamboo will appreciate supplemental irrigation. When in doubt remember – it’s better to let bamboo plants go a little dry than over-water.
Note: During a hot summer drought you may see bamboo roll their leaves to prevent transpiration. This is bamboo protecting itself and the leaves will go back to normal when the weather becomes milder.

Spacing

Typically it is advised to plant bamboo divisions 4 to 6 feet apart for a hedge or privacy screen.

If you want a privacy screen fast – plant them 3 to 5 feet apart. This will give you a thick screen by year 3.

Even one division of Bissetii will start a grove or screen over time – so if you are not in a hurry, you can plant just one, put a root barrier around the desired area, and wait until it fills up with bamboo culms over the years. 

Is Bissetii invasive

Phyllostachys bissetii is a running bamboo. Many people consider runners invasive. I think they are a bit misunderstood.

Yes, Bissetii can be aggressive in the sense that it sends the underground rhizomes away from the original clump. In good growing conditions, Bissetii from one clump can spread around 10 feet. However, it is not spreading by seed so you have way more control than with many plants that spread wherever the wind or birds take the seeds.

It is true that there have been issues with running bamboos invading neighboring properties in suburban settings – it can spread in undesirable directions if you`re not cautious. Because of this, some counties have put restrictions on growing bamboo plants so if you want to buy and plant Bissetii, first check whether it is allowed in your area. 

Spread Potential

Bissetii bamboo is classified as a leptomorph bamboo – it means the underground rhizomes in the root system tend to grow horizontally with long nodes. This is the reason it spreads quickly, spreading a thicket of culms as opposed to maintaining a tight clumping habit.

Bissetii bamboo, on average, can spread 2 to 4 feet outward annually unless contained in space. If contained, it will still send the nodes out but because they can’t get far, they will form a very thick screen quickly. 

The spread potential differs a lot depending on growing conditions. You will experience the fastest growth and spreading in regions with mild winters and long, warm summer growing seasons. Bissetii will spread in moderate and cold climates as well but markedly slower. 

The climate is not the only factor. Expect Bissetii to spread quickly if you provide it with evenly moist, well-drained, organic-rich soil that is crumbly in texture,and a full-sun garden exposure.
An opposite will happen if Bissetii grows in dense shade, compacted soil with diminished nutrients, and if the soil is too dry or flooded.

Contrary to popular belief – bamboo is not suitable for very damp flooded conditions. The chances of it surviving seasonal droughts are much higher than dealing with flooding. 

Control Phyllostachys bissetii

Running bamboo varieties such as Bissetii have a bad reputation of being very invasive.

It does grow aggressively in many settings but that is not a bad thing if your goal is to grow a dense privacy screen quickly. The fact that it spreads means it will fill the allocated space on your property.
But make no mistake – you will have to keep an eye on it to keep it contained. 

DO NOT PLANT BISSETII BAMBOO IF YOU WANT A VARIETY THAT DOESN’T REQUIRE ANY ATTENTION!

Bissetii’s root system will spread beyond the initial planting with time, so you need to decide on a method of containment. Plan the control at the time of planting or in the next two or three years at the latest. 

Control methods 

There are several options for keeping Bissetii contained in place:

  • Install a root barrier
  • Dig a trench around bamboo planting
  • Cut or mow new shoots
  • Dig out spreading rhizomes
  • Plant it in poor soil

Root Barrier

Installing a root barrier is one of the most effective ways to contain bamboo. It does take an effort at the time of planting but after that, it is almost effortless. You need to check a couple of times a year whether some rhizome hasn`t escaped but if your root barrier is installed properly it should hold everything in.

Typically the bigger the bamboo the bigger and stronger root barrier is necessary. If you are growing Bissetii in USDA zones 7 through 10, it gets tall so a 60 mil by 30 inch deep HDPE (high-density polyethylene) root barrier is best for effective rhizome control. 30 mil by 24 inch will do in many cases for smaller bamboo and will be enough for Bissetii in USDA Zone 4,5, and 6.

Folks at Lewis bamboo have made a simple guide to installing a root barrier.

Trench

Digging a trench around the planting is a great way to visually see the roots spreading. It makes it easy to stop them without any guesswork.

What to do – dig a trench (8 to 10 inches deep) around your bamboo planting and check every now and then for any roots and rhizomes that have tried to cross the trench. Cut any you find. 

Cutting and Mowing

In a small area like a typical city yard, you can control bamboo spreading by mowing or cutting any new shoots in spring. Even stepping on them will work when they are new and fragile. 

Bamboo only puts up new shoots for a short time each year typically between April and June (but it can be different depending on location and weather. When they are “shooting,” the new plants are fragile and easy to destroy. 

Make sure to snap off all the shoots to keep the plant contained. If you leave room to mow around the planting it`s a great way to get all the shoots quickly.  

The shoots of Bissetii are edible but they are too small to be worth harvesting. However if you want to have a little spring treat – cut them just beneath the soil, like asparagus, peel back the leaves, boil them in saltwater for  20 minutes and taste the crunchy white shoots. 

Digging

Rhizomes ( the part of a bamboos root system that shoots up the culms) of Bissetii bamboo grow within the top 10 inches of soil. This means it`s easy to dig them up. The problem with this method is it`s very easy to miss some of them so the ones left in the ground will continue to spread further. This is not advisable if you have neighbors at a close distance. You don’t want to risk a conflict because of your bamboo invading their yard! 

Poor soil

As mentioned before, bamboo in perfect soil grows way faster than in less than perfect spots. You can move bamboo to a spot with very poor soil if you find it grows too vigorously in the good conditions you`ve made for it. It will not completely stop it from spreading but will significantly slow it down to an easily manageable rate. 

Killing bamboo permanently

If you find that your Bissetti bamboo has spread to the point you can`t deal with it and want to get rid of it completely, there are many ways to do it. It`s not going to be easy and will require patience but don`t give up!
I wrote a whole post with many methods you can try – read it here

Bisset’s bamboo in containers

Phyllostachys Bissetii grows successfully in containers or pots.
It needs a little bit more attention than if grown in the ground, though. 

Bisset’s bamboo in containers requires more watering. You should regularly check on it to see if it’s not become too dry or waterlogged. Browning leaves are a typical sign of inadequate watering.

If you see your bamboo shedding leaves – it means it is extremely dried out and desperate to survive – water it immediately (if in an extreme heat season – wait until the evening so that all the water doesn’t evaporate).

The roots will get too crowded in the container in about 2 to 3 years. You should repot your bamboo – divide it in whatever size chunks you wish and re-pot them giving enough space for roots to spread for the next couple of years.

To keep it healthy and lush, fertilize your potted Bisset bamboo throughout the growing season. Unlike in-ground bamboo, potted ones really do need fertilizer because they don`t get the natural nutrient exchange in the soil.
You can recognize an undernourished bamboo by its pale or yellowing leaves. If you notice that, add some fertilizer and give it some time to show signs of recovery. 

If you keep your potted bamboo indoors make sure it gets at least 2 hours of sunlight.