Tall clumping bamboo for Southern California?
July 1, 2012 12:31 AM   Subscribe

I'd like to plant bamboo to cover up an unsightly structure that borders my property. Can anyone make a recommendation for which varieties of bamboo might be best?

I'm looking for clumping (NOT running) bamboo varieties which meet the following criteria:

- Reach heights of 15+ feet
- Tolerate growing in a shady area
- Would do well in Southern California (zone 10)
- Drought resistance would be nice, too
posted by illenion to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Check with your local agricultural extension, trusted local growers/plantsmen, or the like - most bamboo varieties (I don't care what they say on the label) are highly invasive and will not only spread via rhizomes but require regular maintenance to keep them from getting out of control entirely. I would imagine that's especially true in zone 10.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 2:05 AM on July 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm sure if you google "bamboo Southern California" you'll find some growers. Even with the clumping I'd put down some tip of barrier to ensure your neighbors don't get any unwelcome surprises. I'm not sure what you're trying to cover, but you'll probably want to pick up 2-4 plants to surround whatever it is. One thought might be to get some really large pots and put the bamboo in there - it resolves the running issue and ensures that the soil is in good condition, but more prone to drying out.

Another thing to keep in mind is that California is a bit picky about what type of plants get imported, so a grower within CA is probably your best bet. So check out something like bambusa multiplex and go from there.
posted by Farce_First at 3:45 AM on July 1, 2012

Many varieties of bamboo are massively invasive. Add to that they're fast growing, so they can easily turn into a maintenance nightmare. What you may want to look for is a clumping variety. You're in luck, because these are usually found in mountainous areas and don't do well in full sun, so shady area, check.

Unfortunately, as mountainous plants, they really can't take the heat. Few of these varieties (aka fargesia, pronounced "far-JEEZ-ee-ah") will grow in your zone -- most peter out at zone 9, but I did find one : 'Rufa', aka 'Sunset Glow' will supposedly go to zone 10, though other sources say that it can't handle frequent forays in 90 degree plus weather. If you can manage to get the plant established, it should be fairly drought tolerant.

You could try to opt for a running bamboo (aka phyllostachys, pronounced "fil-lo-STAK-iss"), but be aware that you'll have to maintain it by controlling the runners twice a year, in fall and spring. You can do this with your lawnmower Ideally, if you put in a physical barrier (concrete or plastic) at least 18 to 24 inches deep, you can keep it confined to one area.. this is especially important if you're planting it on a property boundry, otherwise, you'll be giving your neighbor a maintenance nightmare. On the plus side, running bamboo is more attractive than clumping bamboo - when you see people walking through groves of bamboo in the movies, these are always of the running variety.

Unfortunately, the majority of the bamboo of the phyllostachys prefer full sun, but many grow beyond your 15 foot requirement, some reaching 30 to 50 feet tall. Avoid aurea (aka golden or fishpole bamboo), because it's supposedly really, really, really invasive. As for drought tolerance, these plants all can handle it somewhat, and are reluctant to spread in really dry soil.

One variety you might want to look into is nigra (aka, Black bamboo, pronounced "NY-gruh"). It will tolerate part shade.
posted by crunchland at 3:54 AM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Please, please, please before you do this, make sure it isn't invasive and isn't running. I live in an older community and they were planted in the 50s and 60s. I have a bamboo barrier to keep it from coming in from my neighbors yard. It's miserable and incredibly expensive to deal with (and is something like whack a mole if it gets out of control). FYI, I got my bamboo barrier from the Bamboo Garden link frm the place above. They can give very, very good advice.
posted by waylaid at 4:58 AM on July 1, 2012

Perhaps your agricultural extension can recommend a native plant instead?
posted by LarryC at 7:18 AM on July 1, 2012

One technique I've read about for planting spreading bamboo is to get a big sturdy flowerpot... the kind you'd put out front by your front door, 30 gallons or so. Dig a hole deep enough to bury it and expose the top most edge by an inch. Make sure there are holes in the bottom for drainage. Then plant your bamboo in it. Like a giant houseplant but outdoors. You could even plant two, side by side, this way.

Short of all that, I found a nursery in the San Diego area that specializes in bamboo for zones 9 and 10. Here's a list of their clumping varieties.
posted by crunchland at 7:40 AM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Don't let people's well-deserved loathing for running bamboo turn you against clumping bamboo. It's a completely different situation.

My giant timber bamboo Bambusa oldhamii is the best thing I ever planted, though some winters in zone 9 get a little colder than it likes. It grows to fifty feet tall and is very well behaved, spreading like a large bush, nothing like invasive running bamboo. It was well shaded in its youth, with a little morning sun, then grew up above the tree cover and dealt fine with the sun up there.

It does like to be watered, though. Watering makes a difference in how quickly it grows, if there's not a lot of rain.
posted by Ery at 8:07 AM on July 1, 2012

There was a recent askmefi on bamboo, and there was some good advice in there (though most of it was on the side of 'don't do it').
posted by jquinby at 3:22 PM on July 1, 2012

This weekend I added four containers of B. multiplex Alphonse Karr bamboo to my backyard. Thanks to all for the advice.
posted by illenion at 8:32 AM on July 16, 2012

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