Cold hardy bamboos are a way for people living in the north to add tropical beauty to their landscapes. The evergreen plants provide a pop of color even in winter when most plants have lost their leaves.
Can you grow bamboo in Zone 5
There are way over 1000 different types of bamboo that grow all over the world in various conditions. But many of them grow in tropic and subtropic areas.
Can bamboo really grow in USDA Zone 5 where it snows and temperatures in winter drop as low as -15F (5A)?
YES, bamboo can grow and even stay evergreen in USDA Zone 5 if you choose a cold hardy bamboo variety.
Choosing the right bamboo for Zone 5
When you choose the bamboo to grow, it is not enough to choose the one looks the most visually interesting to you.
You must also consider:
- The climate and growing conditions
- How will it grow – as accent specimen, screen, hedge, bamboo grove, or other
- The local laws (there are regulations regarding bamboo in some places)
- Are you ready to commit to bamboo (it is hard to get rid of once established)
- Are you ready to take regular action to keep bamboo contained
Regarding climate and growing conditions – most bamboo are not hardy enough for zone 5. Be careful to choose a bamboo that is known to survive and thrive in Zone 5. I`ve listed some of them below.
If you like to change up your landscape design often, in-ground bamboo is not the best plant for you. Bamboo in planter boxes are a better option – you can move them as often as you wish.
Why am I advising against in-ground bamboo if you like changing the landscape?
Because bamboo is a plant that demands commitment. It is very hard to eradicate once it’s established.
Best evergreen bamboo species for Zone 5
Below I have listed different kinds of hardy bamboo that can be used for hedges, containers, ornamental specimens.
As you see I have divided them into two main categories – clumping and running bamboos. All of the mentioned bamboos are evergreen in Zone 5
Clumping non-invasive bamboo
A beautiful hardy clumping bamboo. Popular for making evergreen privacy screens but also great as an ornamental specimen. Grows best if protected from the afternoon sun.
A versatile clumping bamboo – great for hedges, containers, as a specimen. Hardy to Zone 5b. Prefers morning light and afternoon shade. Grows 10 feet and taller.
IMPORTANT: If you`re planting running bamboo, always use a root barrier, for example, this Deep Root Barrier available on Amazon.
Phyllostachys bissetii – Bisset Bamboo
Grows up to 12 feet tall in Zone 5. It is incredibly adaptable – can grow in dry and moist soils, in sun and shade, and grows in a wide variety of climates ranging from Zone 4 to 11. Great for privacy screens.
Phyllostachys aureosulcata ‘Spectabilis’
Grows 12 to 14 feet in height in Zone 5. Forms a very dense screen with unusual yellow and green striped canes.
Phyllostachys atrovaginata – Incense Bamboo
Bamboo that`s well suited to wetland sites. Reaches 8 to 12 feet in Zone 5. Great as an ornamental specimen and grows well in containers. Not the best for privacy screens and hedges.
Arundinaria gigantea ‘Macon’ – Rivercane bamboo
Native bamboo species! It used to cover thousands of acres in North America. A very versatile plant – they have been found in sandy soils, rock cliffs and mountain slopes, as well as muck lands and rich alluvial areas of the coastal plains.
It reaches 6 to 8 feet in Zone 5.
Phyllostachys rubromarginata – Red Margin Bamboo
The perfect choice if you want a very dense, quick bamboo grove or privacy screen that will grow under almost any conditions. Reaches 12 – 18 feet in Zone 5.
Phyllostachys nuda – Snow Bamboo
Also known as Nude Sheath bamboo. Incredibly cold hardy. Root hardy down to -30F! Grows 10 feet tall in Zone 5. The new shoots are edible and delicious. This is the best bamboo for the extra cautious gardeners. It will survive even the most unusually harsh winter if it ever comes.
How to care for Zone 5 bamboo
The spacing of bamboo will depend on what your goals are. To form a dense screen you should plant it 3 to 5 (1 – 1.5 m) feet apart.
You can also plant them a bit further apart if you have chosen a fast-spreading runner and are willing to give it some time to fill out.
The growth pattern of bamboo is quite different from most plants – you may be surprised if this is your first bamboo.
In the first year, you can expect only a few short shoots if that. But the size and number of new shoots will increase each season until the bamboo reaches its maturity (depending on species – about 3 to 5 years)
In Zone 5 bamboo should be planted outdoors early enough to become established before the next winter comes. February through May would be the best time.
The hole your dig only needs to be deep enough for the top of the root-mass to be level with the top of the soil.
Most bamboos can grow in various conditions but to get the best growing results amending the soil is the way to go.
If you wish to know more, I wrote about the best soil conditions for bamboo and tips to improve your native soil so that bamboo can thrive.
Botanically bamboo belongs to the grasses. This means that high nitrogen grass or lawn fertilizers will be good for the bamboo as well.
The rule of thumb for fertilizing bamboo is to do it twice a year during the main growing seasons of bamboo – early spring (February to April) and later in the summer.
Newly planted bamboos need frequent and generous watering in the first season until they get well established. Generally about twice a week.
Don`t overwater your bamboo. Soggy wet soil can lead to problems like excessive leaf dropping and root rotting.
Running bamboos can spread vigorously and need to be managed. All species of Phyllostachys are running bamboos.
There are several methods to prevent bamboo spreading.
Tip: after placing the barrier in the ground, tightly compact the soil next to the barrier.
Another method for control is digging a shallow trench (8 to 10 inches deep) and check a couple of times in the summer and fall for any rhizomes that have tried to cross the trench. If you find any – cut them off.
A King of Spades root cutting shovel is an excellent, professional-grade tool, for cutting rhizomes and digging bamboo. Comfortable and easy to use. Check Amazon for the current price.
Clumping Bamboo only spread a few inches a year. Root pruning once every 2 years is usually enough to control clumping bamboo.
Container bamboo care for Zone 5
Here are a few tips to care for bamboo in containers or planters in Zone 5.
Every two to five years they need to be repotted. That is usually how long it takes to fill all the space there is in the container. It needs to be done so the bamboo does not escape or break the container.
Bamboo in containers are more sensitive to environmental stress. Heat and cold affect them more, strong winds can tip them over, and the restricted root space allows them to dehydrate quickly so they need more watering.
During winter, container bamboos are susceptible to freezing and need to get protected by an extra insulation layer around the container or even be moved inside for the coldest few weeks.
Bamboo in containers are less hardy as the same plants in the ground.
Featured image: Maja Dumat – Creative Commons Licence BY 2.0