What Is Clumping Bamboo?
Bamboo is an unusual member of the grass family of plants. Unlike typical grasses, bamboo has a thick, woody stem and grows to heights of 50 feet or more. Native to tropical and subtropical regions around the world, bamboo has come under fire as an invasive plant in temperate climates. Clumping bamboo offers the look of this woody plant in gardening or landscaping applications without the ecological threat posed by other bamboo types.
Bamboo roots take the form of creeping rootstocks, or rhizomes. Individual bamboo plants in an area are connected at the rootstock. The differences between running bamboo and clumping bamboo are the shape and length of the rhizome. Running bamboo is characterized by a thin rhizome that travels over a long distance, allowing the shoots to spread out over a wider distance. Clumping bamboo has a thicker, more localized rootstockm which results in a number of bamboo shoots in proximity to one another.
Clumping bamboo performs best in moist, well-drained soil that is rich and fertile in organic material, though plants also tolerate moist, sandy soil and can adapt to a number of different soil types as long as adequate drainage is present. Clumping bamboo favors full sun or partial shade, but plants are resilient enough to withstand full shade.
Clumping bamboo shoots grow for a short time each year. The above-ground growth period generally occurs during the spring or summer months when the plants receive optimum amounts of rain. Outside of this growth period, the rootstocks receive the plant’s energy and resources to spread in preparation for the next above-ground growth period. Individual bamboo canes or shoots last between five and 12 years, with more canes produced each year. New growth clumping bamboo shoots are taller than those formed in previous years.
Clumping bamboo is equally at home indoors or out. As an indoor feature, clumping bamboo is used as an ornamental container plant. Outdoors, clumping bamboo can be used as a privacy screen in front of windows, doors or recreational areas. Clumping bamboo is also used for ornamental landscaping and is sometimes included around ponds or fountains as a decorative plant.
Different clumping bamboo varieties have different colors, growth habits and uses in the home landscape. Bambusa multiplex ‘Alphonse Karr’ is recommended by the University of Florida as an ideal clumping bamboo for use in privacy screens because its evergreen shoots grow between 20 and 35 feet tall. Bambusa eutuldoides ‘Viridivittata’ or Asian lemon bamboo, is ideal for those who wish to stray from the typical green bamboo shoots. Asian lemon bamboo produces pink-hued new growth that hardens into a yellow and green striped cane. Angel-tipped bamboo, Dendrocalamus minor ‘Amoenus’ , grows in a clump that resembles a fountain-like spray.
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Types of Clumping Bamboo
You may think of bamboo as a water-loving grass plant that grows to tree-like heights beside rivers or in dense colonies. While this type of bamboo is a common runner type of bamboo, there are other varieties of bamboo too. Clumping bamboo is more suited for landscaping purposes since it does not tend to grow as tall and does not spread past flower beds or underneath fences in the same way that runner bamboo does. Varieties of clumping bamboo have a clumped root ball instead of spreading roots.
Clumping bamboo can grow in much higher elevations than the water-loving runner bamboo. As a result, some varieties of clumping bamboo have developed strong resistances to cold. If you live in a colder climate, choose a bamboo type like Fargesia nitida, which can withstand temperatures as low as negative 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Other varieties may not have this much resistance but can still survive in cooler climates with winters that may kill other types of bamboo.
Some types of clumping bamboo are not cold hardy. Far from it — they are tropical plants that are sensitive to cold. If you live in a warm climate and want a showy bamboo species for your landscaping project, choose a cold sensitive clumping variety, like the Bambusa multiplex. If you live in a mild climate, select an in-between variety like the Chusquea delicatula which has unusual growth patterns.
Large clumping bamboo varieties can rival the growth of runner bamboo, and Bambusa strains can reach up to 50 feet, so be careful when choosing a planting area for these. Fargesia robusta is one of the tallest mild clumping bamboo species and can grow over 15 feet high, so trim these varieties and give them plenty of space to grow.
Smaller clumping bamboo varieties like Fargesia murielae and Fargesia nitida tend to stay around 10 feet at the highest and can be trimmed to keep them lower to the ground, which makes these varieties the ideal height for bamboo hedges or screens, so try planting smaller clumping bamboo strains together.
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Landscaping Ideas With Clumping Bamboo
Bamboo is an elegant, graceful plant that thrives in a variety of growing conditions. Unfortunately, bamboo has a bad reputation, which is often deserved. A running bamboo plant spreads rapidly by underground rhizomes, eventually overtaking everything in its path. Clumping bamboo is a different type of bamboo. It grows from short rhizomes and expands slowly. Clumping bamboo’s tendency to behave and remain where it’s planted makes it a useful plant in many different landscape scenarios.
Clumping bamboo is an effective substitute for trees, especially in small areas. Plant several bamboos around a patio or outdoor area to create an outdoor room or seating area with the leafy tops forming a ceiling. Hawaiian Striped Bamboo (Bambusa vulgaris “Vittata”) reaches of heights of up to 50 feet, while Graceful Bamboo (Bambus textilis var. gracilis) arches into a graceful vase shape, reaching heights of about 30 feet.
Clumping bamboo is an ideal solution to mask an unsightly view, especially in small or narrow areas. A bamboo screen also muffles noise, blocks strong winds and creates privacy. A bamboo screen doesn’t need to be planted in a straight line. Instead, create a curving or undulating line. Alphonse Karr (Bambusa multiplex), is a dense bamboo that makes an effective, colorful screen. Although it grows to 35 feet at maturity, the plant is easily pruned to maintain the desired size. For a taller screen, consider Giant Timber Bamboo (Bambusa oldhamii), which grows to heights of 55 feet.
Bamboo is a versatile plant that tolerates being pruned to nearly any size or shape. For example, plant bamboo in a maze with walls trimmed to the desired height. You can also cut bamboo to a desired shape, then use the plant as an impressive backdrop behind smaller plants. While any clumping bamboo is appropriate for sculpting, Angel Mist bamboo (Dendrocalamus minor “Amoenus”), is an attractive bamboo with dark green stripes contrasting with lime green canes.
For a tiny growing area such as a balcony or patio, plant bamboo in containers, then place the container where the plant creates a stunning, portable focal point. For best results, plant bamboo in a sturdy terra-cotta container, which doesn’t tip easily and keeps the roots cool during hot weather. Plant dwarf varieties such as Dwarf Buddha Belly (Bambusa vulgaris “Wamin”), which tops out at about 15 feet.
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