Q. Can I grow bamboo in the Northeast?
Although most bamboos prefer warm climates, there are several species that can be grown under colder conditions. Moreover, many bamboos can be grown in colder temperatures than the minimum temperature cited in catalogs, if one accepts limitations in size and seasonable conditions. In colder climates some bamboos can be grown as perennials, i.e. letting them die back in winter and relying on the new growth that will occur each summer (obviously, they will not grow as large as hardy species). Bamboos grown in northern climates should be given a thick mulch in winter to protect their rhizomes. They will do better in south-facing locations, protected from cold winds.
The following species are recommended for colder regions:
Fargesia spp. - These are the hardiest bamboos. Fortunately, they are non-spreading, clumping plants (pachymorphs). Some species are the food source for giant pandas in China.
- Fargesia denudata - This species is not well known, but its arching shape is very beautiful. It is cold hardy to Zone 5.
- F. dracocephala - Known as dragon’s head bamboo, this species is very cold hardy (to -20°F). It develops attractive red or red-black stems when grown in full sun. Nursery-bought specimens can vary considerably in their appearance and growth characteristics.
- F. murielae - This is one of the world’s most hardy bamboos (to -20°F). The upper parts of the plant arch over in an attractive manner, giving rise to the common name “umbrella bamboo”. It prefers a somewhat shady location.
- F. nitida - Also cold tolerant to about -20°F. The stems (culms) are red-purple or brownish purple in color and are topped with delicate dark green leaves. Several cultivars with variations in shape, size and color have been developed.
- F. robusta - This is the largest and most vigorous Fargesia. It is perfect for use as a hedge or screen. The cultivar ‘Pingwu’ Green Screen™ grows in a very upright manner. Hardy only to Zone 6.
- F. rufa - A selection known as Green Panda™ is quite cold (and heat) tolerant and makes a very attractive landscape plant. It grows into a large clump (6-8 feet wide) with arching culms. Zones 5-9.
- F. scabrida - Asian Wonder™ is a new introduction with very narrow leaves and grey-blue stems. Prefers full sun. Zones 5-8.
A few species of spreading bamboos (leptomorphs) are also suitable for northern gardens. These must, however, be grown with care as they are very invasive (see a separate LibAnswer on controlling bamboo in the garden).
Phylostachys is a large genus with some cold-hardy species:
- P. aureosulcata is one of the most widely planted bamboos in the United States. It is hardy to about -15°F. Although the plant has an upright habit, the individual stems have a zig-zag form. It has attractive yellow culms with green stripes and red nodes. Also known as “yellow groove bamboo”.
- P. bissetii is very cold hardy (to -20°F). The culms and leaves are predominantly green. Its early shoots are edible.
- P. heteroclada is also known as the “water bamboo” as it grows well in wet, saturated soils. Unlike most other members of this genus, it has stiff, erect growth.
- P. nigra is known as “black bamboo” for its dark black stems. It makes a very beautiful ornamental plant. Several cultivars are available.
Pleioblastus is another bamboo genus with several species that are hardy to about 0°F. P. simonii does not shoot out until mid to late summer, so it does not grow very tall.
Sasa spp. - Most members of this genus are hardy to about 0°F. They are shrub-like in appearance and tend to be very aggressive.
For tips on a variety of gardening topics, see our Plant Information Guides.
- Courtesy of NYBG Plant Information Service