Non-invasive clumping bamboo – best species and maintenance

Non-invasive clumping bamboo – best species and maintenance

You have probably heard horror stories of bamboo invading the whole neighborhoods and now want to know how to find the type of bamboo that does not spread.

I have good news for you – finding bamboo species that do not spread aggressively is very simple.

All you need to do is look for information on the label (or the internet) that says  – CLUMPING bamboo. 

Clumping bamboo is the type of bamboo that is non-invasive not spreading bamboo that grows in nice tight clumps in one spot.

The famously fast-spreading bamboos are called RUNNING bamboo so if that is not something you want, then avoid them.

What is clumping bamboo

Ok,  so clumping bamboo is the type of bamboo that does not spread aggressively. But how does it look like and how does it grow?

Let`s look into that! 

Clumping bamboos have a pachymorph rhizome system, which in simple words means that the underground rhizomes (buds) turn upward and become canes immediately. Each rhizome produces only one stalk (culm).

Because of this they remain in a tight clump and expand outward gradually with a slow and very predictable pace. They only grow a couple of inches wider each year and stay confined in the spot they are planted in.

What makes running bamboos different is that they spread and explore new territory before shooting up as new canes. 

Other than the similar growth pattern, the non-invasive clumping bamboos have a lot of variety between them – there are different colors, sizes of stalks and leaves. Some species stand very upright, others have a more weaving shape. There are tropical species and also very cold hardy ones. Some of the clumpers are edible, others are not used for cooking. 

Pros of growing clumping bamboo

  • A non-invasive rhizome and root system
  • Great for wind protection, sound barriers, and privacy screens
  • A wide variety of species to choose from
  • Many species grow well in containers and do not break away from them
  • More drought tolerant than running bamboo (in general)
  • Can be trimmed or pruned to keep the shape and size you like
  • Prevents soil erosion

Top 3 clumping species

Bambusa Multiplex Alphonse Karr

Cold hardiness: Zone 8 to Zone 11

Alphonse Karr is a very popular clumping bamboo among homeowners as it is so adaptable to various environments. It grows equally well in containers and outdoors in the ground. And you can grow it indoors as well if you put it in a well-lit space. 

Bambusa Malingesis Seabreeze bamboo

Cold hardiness: Zone 8 to Zone 11

Seabreeze bamboo is well known for its salt tolerance. It grows well in coastal areas with salty winds and can even withstand minor flooding. Reaches 35 to 40 feet in height. Looks excellent as a single ornamental specimen or grouped in a hedge or privacy screen. 

Fargesia Rufa  Dragons Head/Green bamboo

Cold hardiness: Zone 6a to 9b

Rufa is one of the most popular of the hardy clumping bamboos. Typically it`s hardy down to Zone 6a but some say they grow it successfully even in Zone 5.

It forms a very nice willowy clump with lots of green arching canes. It`s excellent on its own or in a hedge. Grows nicely in containers as well both outdoors and indoors. 

Maintenance

Unlike with runners, clumpers do not require control measures like root barriers. In fact, restricting a clumping bamboo with a root barrier can be harmful if shaped in an unnatural way.

Typically clumping bamboo grow in a round manner and if you restrain the rhizomes in a long narrow enclosure the plants will likely grow shorter than their relatives in a non-restrained environment. 

A better option than a rhizome barrier is simply trimming the unwanted shoots at the ground level. But keep in mind that the root ball of a clump needs to occupy a certain size in order to grow canes of maximum height.

Thinning

Clumpers in the southern states tend to grow very quickly and can form very thick impenetrable clumps fast if not thinned from time to time. 

If you leave it to grow completely wild it may lose the attractiveness and become quite a mess – with new and old dead canes and branches intertwined. 

You can control how dense the clump becomes by removing the unwanted canes at any point.

Each shooting season will provide you with new shoots and you can choose how many of them you want to leave to maturity. The ones you don`t want – when they are fresh  – cut or even kick them and that`s done. Bonus if you have an edible species. 

Pruning

Pruning is a simple and effective way to control the height of your bamboo. Because bamboo botanically belongs to the family of grasses, it does not damage the plant the same way as mowing the laws does not damage the grass of your front yard. 

However, there is one important difference between the lawn and bamboo – the bamboo cane that you prune will not grow taller again. It will stay the same height from that point on. The good news – no more work to maintain the ones pruned once. 

And while it will stay the same height, you can expect it to get bushier with new branches. 

Most bamboo grown in suburban areas for screening are very flexible so the process of pruning will be easy – no ladders, no risking your life. Just select the one you wish to cut and bend it towards yourself while you stand on the ground. 

Some clumpers have long branches and a weaving growth pattern. Which looks amazing in the right spot. But sometimes you just need to trim the branches shorter, for example, if they grow over a driveway. Most of the time the branches don`t grow back too soon so it`s not something you have to do a lot. Once or twice a year is typically enough to maintain the shape of the branches.  

Featured image by: reader of the pack, Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0, resized to fit the blog