How Bamboo Grows

I get lots of questions from folks all over the country asking what to expect from their new bamboo plants, so I decided to write this article describing the growth characteristics of bamboo. 

The number one error folks make is thinking that a single bamboo cane grows gradually over a period of years like a tree or shrub. I can see how this is easy to assume considering bamboo canes can reach 60 feet or more in height, but believe it or not, bamboo grows to its maximum size in one growing season….sometimes within a single month.

The process for how bamboo spreads and grows is often hard to explain, so I will use a running example of what to expect from a new bamboo plant. Let’s say you started out with a medium/large size bamboo such as Yellow Groove. Under the right conditions the bamboo should grow to 30ft tall, but you won’t get any 30ft tall canes in the first couple years.

  1. Day 1: Brand new plant is arrives in the mail. It has to be small enough to fit in a shipping box so let’s say it is 3 feet tall. This is a full grown Yellow Groove plant (just a smaller one dug from the edge of a larger grove). The common misconception here is that the small starter plant you receive will itself grow. This small plant will never grow… but it will begin to develop the root system for the grove and in future years this root system will spread and put up larger and larger canes. After planting you will generally see nothing happen until spring.
  2. Spring rolls around: your bamboo plant has been busy building a root system under the ground, and as the ground warms in the spring you will see pointy bamboo shoots begin to emerge from the soil around your original plant. You might get only 2 or 3 new shoots the first spring but each shoot will grow quickly to its maximum size. For purposes of this example let’s say you get 3 new shoots. Each of these shoots grows quickly into six foot tall plants (twice the size of the one you started with) Each year the new canes grow larger than the ones from the previous year. After the shooting finishes and the new canes leaf out you will see nothing else until the next spring.
  3. Next spring rolls around: You start this spring with 4 plants. You have 3 six foot tall Yellow Groove plants and the single 3 foot tall plant you started with. More shoots will start to emerge when the ground warms. This year you get 10 new shoots around the base of your small grove and each of these shoots quickly grows into 12 foot tall plants. Now you have the new 12ft tall plants and the three 6ft tall plants from the previous year as well as the original 3ft tall plant you started with.

As the example illustrates each year the new canes grow larger and more plentiful. In a few years you might be getting 40-50 new canes. It might be 6-10 years before your grove is putting up the maximum size for the species but when it does almost every new cane will be this large. The small little plant you started with will be completely shaded out and long forgotten by this time and you will have a thick grove of large majestic bamboo.