Bamboo in Containers

By Jennifer York and Joe Ruffatto, Bamboo Sourcery

Would you like a bamboo privacy screen or windbreak for your deck but don’t have room for a ground planting?  Do you have an empty corner on your patio that is calling for a lush spray of green foliage?  Do you love bamboo but don’t want to put it in the ground?  Perhaps bamboo planted in a container is your answer. Although it does not do well indoors, with proper attention to species selection, planter size and maintenance, bamboo will thrive outside in planters.

First consider the space you have available and the kind of container you will use.  Bamboo likes room, so the bigger the planter, the better.  Redwood planters work well and may be lined with root barrier, which both protects the wood and helps the bamboo retain moisture.  Ceramic pots are generally not strong enough, while cement planters can be used, but only if lined with root barrier to protect your bamboo from lime leaching out of the cement. Bamboo in Containers - Sonoma County, CA - Bamboo Sourcery

If you have a small pot or a long narrow planter, running types of bamboo are preferable, because their roots can turn and continue to grow in another direction, expanding the total root mass to support more upper growth.  Clumpers on the other hand, have very strong, dense root structures which can only expand so far without breaking the container.  When you place your planter, especially those with runners, be sure to set them 2-4” above ground.  This way, if any wayward rhizomes (roots) push out of the pot and attempt to root down into the ground, they are easy to see and snip off with clippers.

Bamboo likes deep and plentiful watering and in containers, regular monitoring is critical.  Unlike ground plantings, there is less grace period once containers dry out.  Keep a close eye on your bamboo to determine how much and how often to water. Make sure the water runs out of the bottom of the pot each time you irrigate.  As a rule of thumb, if the leaves curl sideways (lengthwise), your bamboo is stressed and not getting enough water.  If the leaves droop downward, your bamboo might be getting too much water and/or not enough drainage.

Good drainage is extremely important.  Bamboo will rot if left sitting in water or soggy soils for long.  Containers must have adequate drain holes and should not sit in saucers where water collects.  With built-in planters, pay special attention to designing excellent drainage – it will pay off in a big way in the long run.  Bamboo is not picky about soil type, as long as it drains well.  The recommended fertilizer for bamboo planted in containers is a balanced slow-release fertilizer, such as 14-14-14 or 16-16-16.  Once your bamboo is well established, you can withhold fertilizer to slow growth, with the aim of extending its life in a planter.  However, it is suggested that you start with a bamboo plant close to the size you ultimately desire, as growth in a container will always be slower and more limited than with ground plantings.

Like any potted plant, bamboo in containers will eventually become root-bound.  When this happens, water flows around the root ball without truly penetrating and the plant becomes vulnerable to suddenly drying out and dying.  A root-bound pot can be submerged in a few inches of water for at least 30 minutes to re-hydrate.  But it’s best to divide the plant or re-pot it in a larger container before it reaches this state.  Pruning and thinning will help a plant remain viable longer in its container. Once the pot is fairly full of culms, begin selectively removing older, thin, misshapen or tilting culms (which can be used as garden stakes or for crafts). At some point you will still need to divide the plant, but thinning will postpone the need for quite a while.  You can also prune lower branches to show off the vertical structure of the culms for esthetic reasons.

Then comes the fun part, selecting your bamboo plants!  There are literally hundreds of choices…  bamboo for sunny or shady locations, bamboo with a strong vertical stance or graceful weeping form, and bamboo in a variety of sizes, colors and textures.   Nestled in the wooded hills of west Sebastopol, Bamboo Sourcery Nursery and Gardens has a huge selection of bamboo.  Their extensive demonstration gardens and expert advice can help you select, contain and properly maintain your bamboo, in a planter or in the ground.  They also deliver and install bamboo, and build redwood planter boxes to your specifications.


Bamboo Sourcery is open Tuesday through Saturday 9-4.  Appointments are recommended, but drop-ins are welcome.  Please call 707-823-5866 or visit for directions and a lot more helpful information about bamboo.

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