How to dig and transplant (or pot) a bamboo division from an existing grove

It’s something done so often at the bamboo farm that I no longer think about it, but folks often contact me asking how they can transplant bamboo.
One of the immediate hurdles is the size of some bamboo varieties. If you walked up to a grove of Moso every cane might be over forty feet tall. “How can do you get a small potable plant from such a large species?” people ask.  Well the answer may be… you can’t (at least not without a little coaxing).

A grove of bamboo starts from one tiny plant and over the years grows a large interconnected root system. If you sever pieces of the root system (which stresses the grove) the rhizomes will respond by putting up small “emergency” shoots (generally right around the spot you severed the rhizome). These small shoots will generally max out in size anywhere from a just a few inches tall to five or six feet, and once they harden up (I generally wait a month or so after they have put out leaves) you can then dig the small plants and pot them.

How do you sever the rhizome? I generally go around the grove (In early March) with a sharp spade and drive it straight down. A large grove will have a huge amount of rhizome growth so basically wherever you decide to put the shovel will probably hit a rhizome. When the new spring shoots start to emerge you will likely get some small ones around the areas where you severed the rhizomes. Once you start digging plants out of the grove this process will perpetuate itself in the sense that when the following spring rolls around you will likely get small plants coming up around the area where you dug the small plants in the previous year.

OK now that you have coaxed smaller plants from the grove how do you dig them? Depending on the species, digging bamboo can be very hard work, especially if you are digging from the interior of the grove and you have to cut through a crisscrossed mesh of rhizomes. I generally start by digging a circle around the plant; (digging straight down and staying at least 5-6 inches away from the cane’s base) ultimately, you will be digging a root ball with at least a 10-12 inch diameter (you can dig it much larger than this if you want).  This is accomplished by positioning the shovel where you want it and jumping down onto the shovel as hard as you can with both feet. Sometimes you may have to do this step several times to cut through the roots. (Don’t do this with soft soled shoes and bruise your feet like I once did) Once you have cut straight down 8 inches or so, pull the shovel out reposition it, and continue until you have cut a circle all the way around the plant you are digging. Bamboo roots grow very shallow so once you have cut through the surface roots/rhizomes you can normally pry up the root ball very easily.

Next comes either potting or transplanting the bamboo to another hole. I use the same procedure for either situation. If you are potting the bamboo make sure the root-ball fits into the pot with a few inches room on each side. I fill the pot two thirds of the way full with soil and run the water hose into it mixing with my hand until it is the consistency of thick soup. To avoid air pockets, I then twist the bamboo root ball into the mud until the mud squishes up the sides and fills in any voids. If necessary I sprinkle a little more soil on top (but keep the roots at about the same level they were naturally growing)

Bamboo is very hardy. Using this method I have at least a 95 percent survival rate for transplanting or potting bamboo. Remember that once you pot it up the cold hardy rating goes down substantially so you will want to keep your pots protected if you have cold winters.