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LeBeau Bamboo Nursery      Medford, Oregon 541-499-4992 info@lebeaubamboo.com

Creating a Privacy Hedge with Bamboo - A Complete Guide

Posted on June 9th, 2015 by LeBeau Bamboo Nursery in Bamboo Care and Maintenance

When to Use Bamboo

People are usually looking to create a privacy screen because they want to block out neighbors they don't like, ugly buildings they don't want to look at, or create a visual border around their landscape. Most of the people in one of these situations are looking for a plant to suit their needs that will establish quickly, provide a beautiful screen in all seasons, and won't require a lot of maintenance.

Bamboo certainly fits these criteria, especially because it is one of the fastest growing plants on the planet. In fact, new shoots can grow up to several feet per day - that will surely hide that new (but somehow still ugly) shed your neighbors built right behind your backyard! Additionally, because bamboo is an evergreen, you will get even and beautiful coverage throughout all four seasons. Plus, bamboo requires very little maintenance (even running bamboo requires less time than many other evergreen hedge plants, but we will get to running vs. clumping bamboo later).
Chusquea culeou forms an excellent privacy hedge when planted in a row.
Like most bamboos, Chusquea culeou forms an excellent privacy hedge when planted in a row.

Variety Selection

Before purchasing a bamboo plant, you need to make sure you have selected a variety that will work for you. There are over a thousand species of bamboo worldwide, all thriving in different environments and each with its own special qualities. On top of the thousand-plus species, many of those species have additional cultivated varieties which can differ significantly from the mother plant. Some grow very large, some have intriguing coloration, and some varieties have unusual appearances or shapes either up close or from a distance.

Factors to Consider
Sun Exposure - some bamboo varieties prefer full sun while others prefer some shade. You want to be sure that you select the variety that will be the happiest in your environment because that just means less work for you in the future.
Maximum Height - every bamboo variety has a maximum height that it will normally grow to. Some bamboo varieties don't grow very tall, with some topping out at less than a foot tall. These will make an excellent groundcover to be sure, but probably not do too much to help you grow a hedge. The first step is to determine the approximate height you desire for your hedge. However, note that in our experience people tend to be happier with hedges a little taller than they originally think - for example, we have a lot of people that want a bamboo hedge that only grows to about eight feet. Once they purchase their plants and grow them to full height, they really wanted a plant that would grow to about fifteen feet. If the variety you get ends up being a little too tall, bamboo is also easy to trim - see more information on that in the Future Maintenance section.
Cold Hardiness - different bamboo species and varieties have vastly different temperature tolerance ranges. While some are hardy to -20°F, most tropical species are damaged at around 30°F. Be sure to select a variety that is rated to the minimum normal temperature in your area. Temperatures below the rated hardiness level may damage leaves, canes, or roots depending on moisture level, plant health, and persistence of cold weather. Usually, plants that are damaged make a full recovery by spring. Even plants which are killed to the ground will normally resprout from the roots and rhizomes.

Finding Plants to Meet Your Specifications

Our main plant list allows you to search for plants based on various specifications including hardiness zones, sun exposure, and height.

Running vs. Clumping Bamboo

Fargesia robusta is a beautiful clumping bamboo that will not invade your yard.
Fargesia robusta is a beautiful clumping bamboo that will not invade your yard.
Just about everyone who gardens has, at one point or another, heard some story of running bamboos spreading and taking over entire lawns. Generally, most people would like to avoid becoming another one of these stories and by planting clumping bamboo you can be sure you won't. A clumping bamboo is guaranteed not to take over your yard because it has a different growth pattern from running bamboos.

Clumping bamboo refers to bamboo species which, by nature, do not spread long distances underground. Instead of coming up ten or twenty feet away from any existing canes, new shoots from clumping bamboos emerge next to the existing canes each year. The result is a slowly expanding clump, some species expanding as little as 1/2" per year. Some species, such as Fargesia robusta, are still considered clumpers but will expand about three inches per year - these are generally referred to as "open clumpers."

Of course, running bamboos do have their place. Many people are looking to cover large areas and want runners, or might have fallen in love with a particular running variety due to coloration or habit - for example, one popular runner has black canes, another has yellow canes striped with green that are also temporarily a burgundy red when new. Runners are certainly a possibility and can be contained easier than most people think. Check out containing running bamboo.

Plant Spacing and Size: Balacing Budget vs. Patience

One of the most common questions we are asked is how far apart to plant bamboo when installing a privacy screen, and how big of plants to start out with. This really depends on three factors - the variety, how much money you are willing to spend, and how long you are willing to wait. Clumpers generally have an optimal spacing that is more set in stone than with runners because they are limited in their coverage area. Most varieties should be spaced between three and five feet apart for a solid screen. On the details page for each bamboo variety, there is a heading for plant spacing - this will let you know the specifics for each species. For runners, the spacing is far more up to you. We generally recommend five foot spacing for planting runners as this should create a solid screen within a couple of years (depending on the starting size, of course). Closer will create a solid screen sooner, and further apart will create a solid screen later. If you are as patient as a monk and are willing to wait a decade or two, you could even plant a single small running bamboo to cover an area several hundred feet long.

The primary factor to play with, however, is starting plant size. One gallon plants are the most common shipping size and are fairly cheap - usually in the range of $15-$20 each. One gallon plants under good conditions will usually reach eight to ten feet within two or three years. Plants with a maximum height greater than this will usually start to see significant increases in size after this period. A five gallon plant will usually reach eight to ten feet within the following season, and ten gallon and above sized plants will be anywhere from ten to thirty feet height to start with.
One gallon plants are cheap and easy to plant, but take longer to establish.
One gallon plants are cheap and easy to plant, but take longer to establish.
25 gallon plants create an instant grove, but are expensive and more difficult to plant.
25 gallon plants create an instant grove, but are expensive and more difficult to plant.

Planting Your Plants

Although planting bamboo is simple, there are several important steps to keep in mind, as there are several differences between bamboo and other plants. The primary difference is that the root ball should not be torn apart during planting. Bamboo roots and rhizomes grow only during certain times of the year and won't heal like vegetable or flower roots. Bamboo can be planted any time of the year, however some seasons are better than others. Spring and fall are the best seasons for planting bamboo, while summer is less ideal. If planting in the summer, make sure to water your new bamboo more frequently than usual. Planting in the winter if fine for mild climates, but for colder areas it is probably better to keep the potted plant in a protected area until early spring.

Long Term Maintenance

Like any other plant, bamboo needs regular maintenance after establishment. This mostly involves trimming away dead or unhealthy sections each summer. On most species, culms live for only seven years and begin to look unhealthy after the fifth or sixth year. The vibrant colors present in the younger culms tend to fade to yellow-greens or grays and many branches, especially those near the bottom, begin to die. Once a culm reaches this stage, it should be removed. However, removing live culms should only be done to mature, healthy plants and no more than one third should be removed each year. Going over this limit saps the plant's ability to generate new growth the following year and may cause shoots to form incorrectly or abort entirely. You also want to remove canes after the new shoots have completed their growth for the year so the plant is less susceptible to stress. For most hardy species, old canes should be removed in late June or July. Tropical species should have canes removed later, towards August, because they tend to produce new shoots over a larger range of time.

Containment of Runners
Long term maintenance also includes containing running bamboo. Running bamboo species spread through an underground network of rhizomes, which tend to grow within the top six inches of soil. Because the rhizomes are so shallow, they can be contained more easily. Our favorite method is to use a wide path around the bamboo, where the original soil has been replaced with a soft mulch about six inches deep. This makes it easy to use a small shovel to cut around the perimeter of the grove during mid summer and again during the fall, pulling the cut ends of any rhizomes we find during the process (hint: if you want to propagate more plants from the rhizomes, wait to do this until early spring and plant the rhizomes in a new location). We do this twice per year because it makes it easy to pull the cut ends, as they have not yet had time to produce many roots to hold them in place (plus the added compost makes a huge difference for this part). For a dense screen twenty feet wide, it takes us about a half hour each to contain the bamboo. Be sure to keep up with the maintenance because if the rhizomes root in over several years, they become far more difficult to remove.
Our compost walkway serves as an excellent containment barrier.
Our compost walkway serves as an excellent containment barrier.
If you are the kind of person who likes to do things right the first time and sit back in later years, you might consider installing plastic rhizome barrier. Rather than installing a compost path around the grove, use a Ditch Witch to dig a trench about two feet deep. Place the rhizome barrier in the trench and leave about two inches above ground to help prevent rhizomes from going over it. Then, each fall check for rhizomes that might have gone over the barrier and remove those (this is not very common and most groves will go several years between an escaped rhizome).

For full information on containing running bamboo, check out containing running bamboo.

Getting Your Plants

People in the Southern Oregon area can visit our nursery to get sizes ranging from one to twenty five gallons, visit our contact us page to find our nursery. For those who live elsewhere in the United States, we ship plants in 1, 2, and 5 gallon containers to the Lower 48 States. One gallon containers get the best shipping rate, in fact we charge a flat rate for any number of one gallon plants (so you can ship 100 plants for the same cost as a single plant). If you are looking for a faster hedge establishment, the two gallon sizes are quite a bit bigger but still get a fairly good rate. Five gallon plants are more expensive to ship as they tend to be fairly large, but are well worth the money if you want a hedge fast.

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