Gardening Help FAQs

Here are answers to some of the most common questions we receive about garden plants. You will find concise information on general gardening techniques as well as plant selection and care. For detailed information on specific plant pests and problems refer to our Common Garden Pests and Problems page.

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Horticulture Questions and Answers

Can I grow any bamboos as a ground cover?

Small, low-growing, spreading or running bamboos can make good choices for ground covers in the right situation. Some of these shorter varieties of bamboos, those that are two-feet tall or less, can serve as attractive and efficient erosion controls. The ability of some of them to cover a lot of territory in a short time can be an advantage in situations of extreme erosion, sites that are limited by water, wide pavement or construction. This same characteristic can be a drawback in some garden situations where they might have the potential of becoming rampant pests. That's why you should be familiar with the growing habits of bamboos before planting them.

Hardy dwarf running bamboos for the Midwest are best treated like herbaceous perennials. In harsh winters, they will die back to the ground. In very mild winters or milder climates, they will be evergreen. Cut or mow them once each year in late winter or early spring before new growth begins. Do not plant these bamboos where they can grow into lawns. If you use some imagination, invasiveness does not have to be a problem. For instance, plant stoloniferous or running bamboos along a stream or river--bamboo won't cross water.

Good prospects in dwarf bamboos for our area include pygmy bamboo (Pleioblastus pygmaeus), dwarf silver-stripe bamboo (Pleioblastus argentostriatus) and dwarf yellow-stripe bamboo (Pleioblastus viridistriatus). Pygmy bamboo also is sold under the names Arundinaria pygmaea or Sasa pygmaea. This bamboo grows in full sun to full shade to a height of only one to one-and-a-half feet.

To keep dwarf bamboo ground cover low, to encourage rhizome growth and to prevent it from becoming too woody, mow this pygmy bamboo once every year or two. The best time for this is in the early spring. It will form a dense sod that is nearly care free. Site this bamboo carefully where it can not run out of control. There also are other related dwarf forms of bamboo you might wish to consider, including a variegated form with green and white foliage.

The best time for planting bamboos is early spring although containerized plants can be planted any time during the growing season. These bamboos prefer not to be dry, yet they are amazingly drought resistant, especially in shady places. They thrive when the soil is moist but not soggy. They are tolerant of poor soils. They require ample moisture when first planted--give them a good soaking at the first sign of leaf curling. Dwarf bamboo ground covers will benefit from light applications of a high-nitrogen lawn fertilizer applied in the spring.

Since bamboos are not carried by many nurseries, you may wish to write for a free bamboo source list from the American Bamboo Society, 1101 San Leon Ct., Solana Beach, California 92075.