Planting Bamboo In Portland (3 Things To Know)

by Ben Bowen

Planting bamboo is like cooking scallops: do it perfectly or don't waste your time.

Poorly installed bamboo takes over your yard. It takes over your neighbor's yard. It takes over your weekends digging it out. It eventually takes over your bank account as you hire someone because you can't dig it out..... and then it comes back.

You are probably thinking you don't need to know anything more about planting bamboo. Just don't do it, right? Not exactly.

I love bamboo and we have planted hundreds of clumps over the years.

No other plant can give you instant height while taking up so little space. Bamboo can be a focal point or a backdrop, a sharp exclamation point or a soft accent. And if you are leaning modern or Japanese with your landscape design bamboo will fit right in.

So how to do bamboo right, right?

How to plant bamboo in Portland:

1. Know what kind of bamboo you are getting. 

There are two basic types of bamboo we use in landscapes around here. One is "running" bamboo. This is what most people think of when they hear bamboo. Timber bamboo, yellow bamboo, and black bamboo are all running varieties.

Running bamboo is aggressive. "You just sprayed Roundup on my fur baby" aggressive. It spreads via rhizomes. During the winter, when the garden seems dormant, bamboo is sending shoots out. They are just 4"-6" below the ground and can travel 10'+ in a couple months. In spring new canes start shooting up. They will be under your deck, in your crawlspace, punching through your pond liner.... it can get ugly very quickly.

But running bamboo sure is beautiful.

The second kind of bamboo is "clumping" bamboo. Many clumping bamboos are shorter and bushier. I think they are mostly ugly. But, instead of spreading aggressively they behave like a typical ornamental grass. The clump just gets a bit bigger.

2. Install rhizome barrier if you plant running bamboo.

Do not bother with pots or concrete or pruning trenches. Just use bamboo barrier and install it correctly. With very little care your bamboo will stay contained and happy. Be sure your barrier is deep and that at least 3" is above grade. If you are containing an area make sure you overlap your barrier ends by 3'+ or the bamboo will make its way out.

3. Make your life easier and install Fargesia robusta 'Campbell'.

Fargesia robusta is a clumping bamboo. The 'Campbell' variety looks very much like running bamboo and does very well in the Portland area. It is pretty much all we plant now. It is tall, pretty, and very bamboo-y. And it is exceedingly well behaved. No barrier is needed.

Using Bamboo In Landscape Designs

We use bamboo for style, for screening, for height, and for texture. Interested in talking to a landscape designer about using bamboo in your garden? Contact us today to set up a free consultation!