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Outdoor Bamboo Dying? Assess and Fix the Problem!

If you look at your outdoor bamboo and it looks unhealthy or even dying – read on!

This is the ultimate guide to troubleshooting bamboo health issues and their causes, as well as giving you simple steps to fixing them. 

Can You Revive a Dying Bamboo

You can revive a dying bamboo if it is showing signs of stress or damage if it still has some life to it. 

It is best if you know what variety of bamboo you have. It can help tremendously with identifying the reasons why the plant is unhealthy or dying. That is because what is great for one bamboo can be a problem for another.

To revive a dying bamboo: 

  1. Assess the bamboo and its symptoms
  2. Come up with a list of the most possible causes of the plants health issues
  3. Adress each cause one by one, starting with the most probable one. 
  4. In addition to directly solving the main problem, provide the bamboo with optimal conditions for the variety you have

Be patient with recovery. It will take some time for your plants to get back to be as healthy and beautiful as before.

In this article, I will go through the most common reasons for bamboo having problems and dying. And I will take you through the symptoms like different types of yellowing, browning, and flurry leaves and give ideas on what to do to fix your plants! 

Causes of Bamboo Issues

When outdoor bamboo plants look unhealthy and start to decay, the most common reasons are the wrong climate or conditions for the species, harsh winds, constricted root system, or watering problems. 

1. The Wrong Growing Zone

Each species of bamboo have their tolerances of temperature. It is important to plant bamboo that is suitable for your area. Typically sellers give information about appropriate USDA growing zones for the species. If you plant bamboo suitable for Zone 8 and higher, you cannot expect it to survive a Zone 5 winter. 

2. Cold Winds

Most bamboo species do not tolerate harsh winds well, especially in colder regions. Try to find a way to shade your plants, especially in the winter. Cold winds can be harsher than the freezing temperatures themselves. 

3. Constricted Root System

This is a common issue for bamboo grown in containers. Bamboo spreads and has to be repotted every 2 to 3 years to stay healthy.

4. Watering Issues

Generally, bamboo does best in well-draining moist soil. Both underwatering and overwatering can lead to problems. There is a common myth out there that bamboo needs a lot of water but soggy soil can lead to root rot and eventual decay. 

Yellowing Bamboo

Are your bamboo plants turning yellow and you`re worried that they are dying? The bad news is – yellowing is signaling health issues of bamboo. The good news – it`s usually not a sign of dying and is quite easy to fix. 

Normal Level of Yellowing

Before we jump into problematic yellowing of outdoor bamboo, let`s find out what is normal. 

Bamboos are evergreen. This means they will have some yellowing and loss of leaves throughout the year but not all at once. It`s more noticeable in spring  – bamboo cuts off the nutrient supply to the older leaves to focus more energy on new shoots and making fresh leaves. 

There are species of bamboo that drop a more significant amount of leaves in the spring, so if you`re worried, find out what to expect from the variety you have. For example, Golden and Moso bamboo have more yellowing leaves than many other species. 

If all or most leaves turn yellow it is a signal there`s a problem, though.

You may also be concerned to see yellow culms and think the bamboo is dying. 

Before you start panicking, the number one question you have to ask – are you growing a naturally yellow bamboo variety, for example, Golden bamboo? Some bamboo species are yellow from the beginning but some turn more yellow with age. 

Sometimes bamboo shoots up some new culms right before the cold season. Those can get yellow and die pretty quickly. It`s not a problem that will affect other culms. Just cut them out if you don`t want them to “ruin the view” but it`s OK to just leave them there. 

Problematic Types of Bamboo Yellowing

If you think the yellowing on your bamboo plants is not at a normal healthy level, you can start assessing what type of issue could be causing it. Not all yellowing is the same, and different problems ask for different solutions. I will list the 6 most common ones. 

1. Fresh Bamboo Leaves are Yellowing

The newly emerging fresh leaves usually indicate that the bamboo lacks iron in the soil. That’s a common problem in soil that is too alkaline.

Although most species can tolerate most pH levels, they prefer slightly acidic soil at about a pH6. A simple pH testing kit used around the base of the plant can give you a pretty accurate reading. 

If your soil turns out to be alkaline, you can choose one of the following methods to fix it:

  • Add an acidic fertilizer with iron around the bamboo. Good options are a fertilizer with Chelate Iron or an organic ion-tone fertilizer. Be careful – don`t use too much. Bamboo does not like over-fertilizing. 
  • Use sulfur instead of iron to make the soil more acidic. Add a little bit of the sulfur-containing plant food once in a while if the soil in your garden is too alkaline. 
  • Make compost with coffee grounds, oak leaves, or pine needles. You can mix it with the existing soil or add a layer on top. That will make the soil less alkaline. 

Keep in mind that it always depends on the species you have. This will work on most bamboo but there are exceptions. For example, Shibatea bamboo will not respond to this. 

2. Older Bamboo Leaves are Yellowing

Older leaves yellowing and dropping can be a sign bamboo needs plant food. 

Although bamboo does not need fertilizer often, older leaves turning yellow can be a signal it`s time to apply a  bamboo fertilizer with nitrogen. Any lawn fertilizer is also good for bamboo. 

Wait and watch if the condition improves after fertilizing. If not, something else might be to blame.

3. A Flurry of Dead Leaves

When the majority of bamboo leaves turn yellow and fall or cling precariously to a branch there can be several possible reasons – extreme dehydration or on the contrary, bogged soil, algae on the roots, mealybugs. 

To fix it – first try to identify the most possible cause, then cut away the dead leaves and other impacted parts of the plats – this will help redirect the bamboo`s energy to healthier regions. 

Then, remove any algae or mealybugs if you find that they are the cause of the problem. If watering issues are to blame – improve the irrigation to get optimal conditions. 

4. Bamboo Leaves Turn Yellow with Brown Tips

Yellow leaves with brown tips typically are caused by a lack of water. Sometimes, in temperate climates,  it’s wind damage.

If the soil is too dry – increase your watering frequency. If you`re too busy to water manually, a drip irrigation system will help sustain a good moisture level in the soil.

Restrain from raking up the leaves on the ground, because they help reduce evaporation from the soil. 

5. Bamboo Leaves Have Yellow-pale Spots

Yellow-pale spots on bamboo leaves are very likely caused by a mites infestation. Mites are hard to see because they are very tiny. But they suck the life out of the leaf so you can easily spot the affected areas. 

There are many ways to get rid of them. You can pressure wash the plants with water or insecticidal soap or use neem oil.

6. Yellow Bamboo Culms and Leaves

If both the culms and leaves turn yellow usually it is because the soil has become water-logged. Bamboo does best in well-draining aerated soil. Think – are you watering it too much or possibly the soil is clay-heavy? 

If the issue is clay-heavy soil – mixing in some organic compost with the layer of topsoil can help. Later for maintenance – now and then apply a layer of compost on top. It will help open the heavy soil for better drainage as well as providing extra nutrients to the bamboo. 

When fixing the soil, also cut off any affected culms. 

Browning Bamboo

A moderate amount of browning leaves is part of the normal life cycle of outdoor bamboo but they can signal health issues as well. 

As mentioned before – bamboo normally have a blend of fresh, yellowing or browning, and dead leaves. You only need to worry if substantial parts of bamboo turn brown. 

Browning is usually caused by one of these stressors – water issues, extreme temperatures, direct sunlight, pests, or too much fertilizer. 

Browning can also be caused by culm damage by pets and wild animals, as well tight fencing or plant ties that are too tight. Nutrient deficiencies ( most commonly iron) or lack of growing area can be factors as well. 

Causes of Bamboo Browning

1. Water Issues

When bamboo leaves turn brown, two water-related problems can be blamed – chlorinated water or too much water in general. 

Overwatering is the most frequent mistake when growing bamboo. Too much water can cause root rot, fungal and bacterial infections, and the plant will show it. Damaged roots cannot release nutrients that are supposed to be carried to the leaves.

To fix -stop or decrease watering instantly. 

Tap water with fluorine and chlorine can also cause browning leaves on bamboo. 

Solution – change it to rainwater or filtered water. If those are not available – take tap water and let it sit for 24 hours to get rid of fluoride.

3. Pest Infestation

Bamboo leaves can get brown in case of a pest infestation. 

Bamboo are normally immune to most plant pests but occasionally they do get attacked. Likely culprits include mites and mealybugs, less common but possible –  aphids and scales. 

These pests can stress your bamboo, causing brown, stunted, or malformed leaves, and scarring.

Mites are hard to detect with the naked eye. They are more common in dry weather when the leaves are undusted. You can recognize them by tiny spots and fine webbing on the leaves.

Mealybugs are obvious with their whitish cottony covering. Mealybug invasion may also be followed by ants and greyish mold.  

Bamboo pests are quite easy to get rid of, no chemical insecticides are needed. If the invasion is moderate, sometimes a blast of water with a pressure washer can be enough. In case of a more serious infestation – sprinkle with insecticidal soap or neem oil.

4. Heat and Sunlight Issues

Browning bamboo leaves can be a response to heat and direct sunlight.

If the bamboo with browning leaves is growing in direct sunlight and it`s the middle of the hot season – this could be the reason! The warm and dry air can make it even worse. 

Check the growing requirements of the species you have. There is a lot of diversity among species – some bamboo do well in direct sun but most bamboo thrive in partial sun and others prefer shade. 

Give some shade to the browning bamboo if possible. It`s the easiest to fix for container bamboo – just move the container to a different spot. 

5. Fertilizer Issues

Too much fertilizer can be responsible for browning bamboo leaves.
Bamboo does better without fertilizer than with overfertilizing. 

To stay on the safe side – apply a slow-release fertilizer no more than twice a year. 

And even less than that is ok – if you don’t rake and leave the fallen leaves around bamboo on the ground – as they decompose they will slowly release nutrients in the soil without the worry of overfertilizing. 

If the overfertilized bamboo is growing in the container – this is a good time to give it a fresh start – replant it in well-draining potting soil. This will speed up the recovery process a lot! 

6. Exposure to Cold

Browning of bamboo over the winter period is a sign of cold damage. As mentioned before, each bamboo species has its temperature tolerances. Bamboos are evergreen if planted in the right USDA growing zone for the species. 

Still, sometimes even the hardiest of bamboos can get brown leaves during winter, especially if it’s windy. 

In case of winder damage – you can only assess the full extent of damage in spring when you see how the plant is recovering.

Whether the bamboo will survive the winder depends on the level of cold damage.

If the leaves and some branches have turned brown there is a high chance that they will grow back quickly in spring. 

The culms turning brown is a more serious issue. It can be that new ones will emerge in spring but it can also mean that the root system has suffered and the plant has died.
Winter can be a bit of a gamble if you grow bamboo in Zone 4 or 5 and it`s worth it to take extra steps to protect your plants. You can check out an article I wrote with tips to grow bamboo in cold climates. 

Leaf Curling and Drooping

Both leaf curling and drooping on outdoor bamboo point to watering issues. If you notice it quickly and act accordingly it won`t lead to permanent damage to plants.

Bamboo leaves curl along their length when they become dry. This means you are underwatering it. 

To recover the plant – soak the soil thoroughly at first – the leaves should open back the same day. Then follow by watering once or twice a week if there`s no sufficient rainfall. 

Bamboo leaves drooping downwards, on the other hand, mean you`re overwatering it or there is a problem with drainage. 

To recover -step back from watering if you`re doing it more than twice a week ( in most climates once a week or less is enough). Incorporate well-draining materials like perlite or sand into the soil to improve drainage.