Can you grow bamboo in the USDA Zone 6 where the temperatures go below freezing and plants get buried in snow during the winter? Yes, you can. But you should be careful to choose a cold hardy bamboo variety.
There are more than a thousand species in the bamboo family, and the majority of them come from the tropics or subtropics.
Because there are so many different bamboo varieties, you can find some for any climate, including Zone 6.
There are dozens of varieties of cold hardy bamboo to consider growing in Zone 6. Most of them belong to either the Phyllostachys or the Fargesia genus ( group) which are the two most cold hardy groups of bamboo.
The good news is – this means you can have both running AND clumping bamboos. Almost all Phyllostachys are runners ( meaning – spreading fast) and the ones belonging to Fargesia tend to be non-invasive clumping bamboos.
Fargesia is more popular among homeowners as it contains many wonderful well-behaved types of non-invasive bamboo.
They are used in various landscape designs adding unique texture and a year round pop of color. Fargesia is a great evergreen for hedges, for screens, as well as an elegant accent piece.
Choosing cold hardy bamboo for Zone 6
There are several things you need to take into account when choosing the bamboo to grow:
- Your climate and growing conditions on spot
- What is it going to be used for – (accent specimen, screen, hedge, bamboo grove)
- The local laws (there are regulations regarding bamboo in some places)
- How often you like to change things up in the landscape design
- How ready you are to take regular action to control the spreading of bamboo
Regarding climate and growing conditions – the main thing is to choose a bamboo hardy enough for your climate zone and read about the specific preferences of the species – different bamboo grow better in different conditions.
If you are someone who likes to change up your landscape design on a regular basis, in-ground bamboo may not be the best plant for you. However, you could plant bamboo in containers that way it would be simple to move them as often as you wish.
Bamboo is a plant that demands commitment. It is very hard to eradicate once it’s established. Clumping bamboo is easier to get rid of. Running bamboo can take years of effort until they are gone.
Zone 5 bamboo
Why am I talking about Zone 5 in an article about Zone 6 bamboo?
2 reasons –
- You may want to be extra safe in case of an unusually cold winter and get yourself a bamboo cold hardy down to Zone 5
- Bamboo planted in areas exposed to cold winds (as opposed to sheltered areas where building or fences protect them partially) can sometimes get more damaged and it’s safer to go for hardier species
Here are some good examples of bamboo hardy down to USDA Zone 5. They all will grow well in Zone 6 as well:
- Fargesia nitida
- Fargesia murielae
- Fargesia sp. Jiuzhaigou
- Fargesia Green Panda
- Fargesia denudata
- Fargesia dracocephala
- Phyllostachys nuda
- Phyllostachys bissettii
- Phyllostachys Yellow Groove
- Phyllostachys Aureocaulis
- Phyllostachys Spetabilis
- Phyllostachys Incense Bamboo
- Phyllostachys Lama Temple
Best bamboo species for Zone 6
I have made a list of bamboo that grow well in Zone 6. All bamboo are different and you can find different kinds that can be used for hedges, containers, ornamental specimens, bamboo forests.
As you see I have divided them in two main categories – clumping and running bamboos. But after that – there is a lot of variety between them.
Clumping non-invasive bamboo
Fargesia robusta ‘Wolong’
Beautiful as a garden specimen or privacy screen. USDA Zone 7, Root Hardy to Zone 6
Fargesia dracocephala ‘Rufa’
Great bamboo for a hedge or privacy screen. Grows well in containers. Grows 6 to 10 feet tall.
Really good bamboo to use as an evergreen groundcover. USDA Zone 6 to 9
A dwarf bamboo with very large long leaves. Root hardy to Zone 6.
IMPORTANT: If you`re planting running bamboo, always use a root barrier, for example, this Deep Root Barrier available on Amazon.
Phyllostachys Aurea – Golden Bamboo
One of the most popular bamboos in the USA. Grows about 15 feet tall in Zone 6. A beautiful bamboo with golden yellow stalks. Can spread aggressively, make sure to take measures to control it.
Phyllostachys bissetii – Bisset Bamboo
Grows up to 18 feet tall in Zone 6. It is exceptionally 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 16 feet tall in Zone 6. Forms a very dense screen with unusual yellow and green striped canes.
Shibataea lancifolia – Lancifolia Dwarf Bamboo
A sow-spreading bamboo ideal for use in shady areas as a small shrub, hedge, or groundcover. Typically grows 1 – 7 feet in height, depending on pruning.
Semiarundinaria fastuosa – Temple bamboo
A bamboo with interesting stalks of purple or dark reddish color. In Zone 6, it is best suited for growing in containers and brought inside during winter.
Phyllostachys nigra ‘Henon’ – Henon Giant Gray Bamboo
Grows about 40 feet tall in Zone 6. Ideal for forming a true bamboo grove or forest. Once established, Henon is highly drought tolerant.
Phyllostachys atrovaginata – Incense Bamboo
One of the few Phyllostachys species suited to wetland sites. Reaches 12 to 18 feet in Zone 6. Great as ornamental specimen and grows well in containers. Not the best for privacy screens and hedges.
Phyllostachys vivax ‘Huangwenzhu Inversa’
How to grow and care for Zone 6 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.
If you want an immediate screen – as long as you leave some space to spread in width, you can plant them back to back. Most bamboo will not suffer from it BUT their growth rate may be slower than for the plants you give more space.
To grow a full size bamboo grove, larger intervals are recommended ( 5 to 20 feet, depending on species).
If it’s your first time dealing with bamboo, you`re in for surprise. It’s growth pattern is quite different from most plants.
Don`t expect much growth from your new bamboo plant in the first year. It will likely only produce a few short shoots the first season. But the size and number of new shoots will be almost exponential until the bamboo reaches it`s maturity (depending on species – it could take about 3 to 5 years)
In colder regions like Zone 6 bamboo should be planted outdoors early enough to become established before the next winter comes. February through May would be the best time.
If you plant later in the year like June or July, to improve the chance of surviving the first winter, provide your new bamboo with a deep layer of mulch and give it extra protection from cold and drying winds.
Planting bamboo is pretty straightforward:
Dig a hole in the ground that is about 1.5 to 2 times more wide as the root-mass of your plant.
The only needs to be deep enough for the top of the root-mass to be level with the top of the soil.
When filling back the planting hole with soil add well composted manure to the mix. .
Water the new planting thoroughly
In general, bamboo is not too picky about soil and can grow in various conditions but to get the best growing results amending the soil is the way to go.
To learn about the best soil conditions for bamboo and get tips to improve your native soil so that bamboo can thrive you can read the article I wrote specifically about it.
So there is a spot in your landscape where you wish to plant bamboo. To choose the right type of bamboo for that spot you should keep in mind how sunny or shady the chosen place is.
There are bamboos that like lots of sunlight and others that can grow well in shady areas.
For example, most Phyllostachys grow best if they get at least 5 hours of direct sunlight daily. Fargesia, Thamnocalamus and Sasa bamboos, on the other hand, tend to do well with light to moderate shade.
Botanically bamboo belongs to the grasses even if some of the bamboo species are huge and tree-like in their appearance.
This means that your average 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 growth 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.
Mild weather – twice a week
Hot or windy weather – 3 to 4 times a week.
How much water bamboo needs each time you water it?
A rule of thumb:
Plants under 5 gallon pot size – half a gallon of water
Plants over 5 gallon – 1 gallon.
Don`t overwater your bamboo. It is not good to water them every day or leave them in soggy wet soil. That can lead to problems like excessive leaf dropping and root rotting.
Well established bamboos are more tolerant to flooding (they still don`t prefer it) but they are a lot more sensitive the first year.
As you probably know by now all bamboos can be divided in 2 general categories – running and clumping.
Running bamboos can spread vigorously and definitely need to be managed. All species of Phyllostachys, Sasa, Shibataea, Pseudosasa and Pleioblastus are running bamboos.
They can become invasive with no maintenance but can be kept in check by cutting back new shoots and installing root barriers.
There are several methods to prevent bamboo spreading. Root pruning as the first option for control.
Also, correctly installed 60 mil by 30 inch deep HDPE (high density polyethylene) root barrier is very effective for rhizome control. 30 mil by 24 inch will do in many cases, however then you should be extra careful and check more regularly if it`s still holding well.
The bamboo rhizomes are usually in the top few inches of soil. However when the rhizome encounters an obstacle, it can turn or go down. For that reason you should avoid loose soil or air pockets next to the barrier just in case the bamboo goes deeper than you want.
When you fill the hole 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.
Clumping Bamboo are much slower and only spread a few inches a year. However they also need to be root pruned to control spread, once every 2 years is normally enough for clumping bamboo.
Container bamboo care for Zone 6
Bamboo grows well in containers if their needs are met.
Here are a few of the main tips to care for bamboo growing in containers or planters in Zone 6.
Every two to five years they will need to be repotted or divided when they have filled all the space there is for them in the container.
Repotting or dividing is best done in the springtime.
If you don`t do it, your plants can get root bound or overgrown and can escape or even break their container
Keep in mind that bamboo in containers will grow smaller in size than their in-ground relatives. The larger the space in the container, the larger the bamboo will grow.
Bamboo in containers are more susceptible to environmental stress. They are more sensitive to heat and cold, strong winds can tip them over, and the restricted root space allows them to dehydrate quickly so they need more watering.
A well established bamboo in a container should be watered 3 to 5 times per week during the summer, and the container needs to have good drainage.
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 is not nearly as hardy as the same bamboo would be in the ground.