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Timber Bamboo

Plant of the Week

Timber Bamboo
Latin: Phyllostachys bambusoides

No photo available.

We educators are always trying to find ways of bringing math into our curriculum, and gardeners also need math. So our math question for the day is: If a stand of bamboo doubles in size every seven years, how many years will be required to take over the world?

Well, maybe it won’t really happen, but most bamboos do spread so gardeners wanting to plant these woody members of the grass family must be prepared to deal with it when it begins its move.

The giant timber bamboo of China is a magnificent plant that can grow to 70 feet tall with stems over 5 inches in diameter. It is hardy in warmer parts of Zone 7 and South but usually only attains really grand size in frost-free areas.

The plant has a woody stem -- called a culm in bambooese -- that emerges from an underground rhizome. These culms emerge from the ground in the spring and grow 3 feet or more a day as they shoot to the sky. The culms are a beautiful gray-green with the nodes usually 6 to 8 inches apart on the hollow stems.

Bamboo stems are the new puppy of the plant kingdom -- they simply must be caressed when you see one. It takes five years for a bamboo colony to become well established and start producing the really tall canes.

This is the most important bamboo in Asia -- from a timber standpoint. While visiting Hong Kong a few years ago I saw 25 story buildings completely encased in a scaffolding grillwork of this bamboo, with workers scurrying about unconcerned even though they were hundreds of feet off of the ground. In addition to its use as a building material, it is also edible. The newly emerging buds are harvested and used in stir fry dishes.

As a landscape plant, bamboos in general must be realistically evaluated. They will run, and the better the soil, the faster they will establish and spread. The fastest growth occurs in moist, bottomland sites such as where we see our only native bamboo growing -- the wild rivercane.

Stopping the spread of bamboo is usually best accomplished by a barrier of some type, such as a road or a concrete or metal curb sunk to sufficient depth in the ground.

In a deep bottomland soil, curbs might have to be three feet deep to stop spread whereas in more typical upland soils a curb half that depth will work. You can also slow the spread of a colony by cultivating around the edge of the stand and removing the rhizomes as they encroach into the area. Deciding to plant bamboo is like deciding to get a tattoo, once you’ve made the decision you best learn to enjoy it.

The timber bamboo is hardy in most of Arkansas, except for the mountainous regions, and even there it will survive in protected sites. Watering is important the first year to insure establishment, but after that it will usually fend for itself.

The best time to dig the plant is in late winter just before new culms appear. It should be moved with a ball of soil attached. Usually the culm is cut off when moving the timber bamboo because it is so top-heavy it is difficult to secure without using a telephone pole as a stake. In really cold winters the timber bamboo will freeze to the ground but the underground rhizomes will not be killed. It requires little attention once established and is bothered by no serious pest problems.

By: Gerald Klingaman, retired
Extension Horticulturist - Ornamentals
Extension News - May 14, 1999


The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture does not maintain lists of retail outlets where these plants can be purchased. Please check your local nursery or other retail outlets to ask about the availability of these plants for your growing area.