All About Propagating Bamboo

Although a perennial member of the grass family, many bamboo look like – and often are – big, impressive plants more similar to trees in some ways. Unlike trees, bamboo is usually propagated with divisions more like iris or day-lilies, or with stem cuttings like some flowering shrubs. You can propagate for growing in containers or for outside growing areas in USDA Zones 5 and above.


Bamboo Growth Habits

Bamboo grows in either a clumping pattern or a running pattern, which affects how you propagate the plants. Clumping bamboo send up individual rhizomes – like an iris. Each of these becomes a single shoot or culm. Running bamboo is more like Bermuda grass. It spreads through stolons or long vertical rhizomes. Multiple culms arise along the length of the rhizomes.

When to Propagate

Bamboo’s growth patterns are similar to those of grass. Culms begin to develop in early spring and continue to push up through early summer. Beginning in late summer, the plant shifts to building the root mass, and continues this activity until late fall. Take cuttings in mid-spring to early summer, during the active growing season. Root cuttings are best taken in fall and early winter.

First Steps

Before you begin the propagation process, prepare the new bed in the garden or the pots you’ll use for the cuttings. Containers should drain well; fill with potting soil to which you’ve added sand or perlite for better drainage. Make sure all your tools are clean and sharp. You’ll need a knife, pruning shears, a hacksaw or small chainsaw and a flat-bladed shovel.

Making Stem Cuttings

First select a healthy culm that is one or two years old and cut it to the ground. Then follow these steps:

  • Select one or more of the middle nodes with no more than three branches.
  • Cut the stem about three inches from each node with the hacksaw.
  • Trim branches back to half their length.
  • Fill the hollow bamboo stem with soil.
  • Plant three inches deep.

Making Root Cuttings

Roots are sensitive to light and dry quickly. Soak the plant the day before and work fast. For clumping bamboo:

  • Drive a shovel or knife through the root mass to split it.
  • Separate a group of three stems and replant.

For running bamboo:

  • Cut a rhizome from the main plant.
  • Divide into sections with one culm each.
  • Replant each section.

Post-Propagation Care

No matter how careful you are, your cuttings and roots will suffer some degree of transplant shock. Minimize this by propagating on a cool, drizzly day if possible. Put your cuttings in a shady area and keep them watered but not soggy. After about six weeks, begin to expose them to more sun. Don’t fertilize until the transplants are three or four months old.