Using Bamboo in Your Backyard

Properly selected and maintained, bamboo can be a useful plant in the back yard. However, it can also take over an area and cause disputes with the neighbors if not well managed. The key is to select the right varieties and keep it under control. You can grow bamboo outdoors in USDA Zones 5 through 10.


A Bit About Bamboo

Bamboo is an extremely varied family, with small groundcovers, medium-height plants and literal forest giants of 100 feet or more. The latter is definitely not a good choice for the average backyard. Bamboo’s fast growth means a quick screen or shade and most need routine watering and fertilizer. Generally speaking, clumping bamboos are easier to control.

Choosing Varieties

Bamboos are either running or clumping in terms of growth habits. Running bamboo can be invasive in the right conditions. These are better choices:

  • Sasa veitchii – green leaves with white edges, grows three to five feet tall.
  • Pleioblastus viridistriatus – chartreuse with dark green stripes; mow to ground each spring to use as groundcover.
  • Fargesia dracocephala ‘Rufa’ – rust-colored culm sheaths, about 10 feet tall. Vigorous and cold-resistant.

Bamboo as a Groundcover

Smaller bamboos can make good groundcovers. Some, like the pygmy bamboo, can be kept at 18 inches. Others are mowed or cut to the ground each spring so their leaves are always green and fresh. Once a bamboo culm has been cut, it will not regrow. Many bamboos with small leaves and slender stems can be used as groundcovers with judicious trimming.

Bamboo as a Screen

Bamboo that grows eight to 10 feet tall can make a good screen or hedge. Use it to hide an unattractive wall or something like a dog kennel in the back yard. If you use a good barrier to prevent it from spreading, bamboo can be grown along a fence to provide some privacy from the neighbors – choose varieties carefully for this purpose.

Bamboo for Shade

Taller bamboos can create a nice shady spot in the backyard. Unlike many trees, they will provide good shade within a year or so. Choose a bamboo that matures at about 10 to 15 feet. Trim the branches and leaves from the lower part of the stems so you have a bushy top. Decide how big you want the clump and cut excess culms to the ground each year.

Using Bamboo Poles

If you allow culms to reach their full growth before you cut them, you can use them for various backyard projects. Make a horizontal cut at ground level. Allow the culm to dry in warm shade for several weeks. Longer culms can be turned into a trellis for beans or vining plants like morning glories. Shorter pieces can be uses as stakes for plants.