Winter Bamboo

by philinshelton on December 15, 2009

in Bamboo Basics

Here's a short report and a few pics of how our clumping bamboos performed during last week's record cold snap. It's raining and temperatures are back in 40's this week but last week, the night temperatures in much of southwestern WA dropped below 10 degrees F., with daytime highs in the teens and twenties. Here at the nursery, we saw temperatures drop to 7 degrees F. a couple of nights, and to about 12 degrees a couple more nights (however, with hardly a breath of wind during the coldest days). These temperatures are the coldest I have seen here in the last 10 years, so it's a good time to assess the cold performance of our popular clumping bamboos. My most popular Fargesia species didn't even blink at the cold, that includes container and field plants alike.  Most of the containers are in an unheated hoop house, but even the ones outside fared very well.  Below is Fargesia robusta, picture taken after the coldest weather passed, but still frosty.
F. robusta - second season in the ground

F. robusta - second season in the ground

Fargesia 'Rufa' also fared very well.   Below is one of the many 'Rufa' planted out here at the nursery.  All of them came through unscathed.
Fargesia rufa - second season in the ground

Fargesia rufa - second season in the ground

My favorite of the clumpers is Fargesia scabrida.  Containers and plants in the ground survived without any damage.  Pictured below, is a plant I pruned for a demonstration video How to Prune a Clumping Bamboo .  If you compare the video images to the pics below, you can see how the canes have darkened with exposure to sun and cold temperatures.
F. scabrida plant - second season in the ground

F. scabrida plant - second season in the ground

Fargesia scabrida - second season in the ground

Fargesia scabrida - stems darkened by sun and cold

Fargesia denudata had mixed performance.  Plants in the ground came through looking fantastic, as did most of the container plants.  Some containers, however, suffered some pretty severe leaf keel, even in the protection of the hoop house (pictured below).
Some plants exhibited severe leaf curl, but may bounce back

Some plants exhibited severe leaf curl, but have bounced back

I have one Thamnocalamus crassinodus planted out.  Last winter it died back to the ground, but the new growth that came up in spring 2009 survived this cold snap, although I am not going to get my hopes up until the worst of winter is over (about February).  Below, plants in the hoop house suffered severe leaf keel, but may partially recover.
T. crassinodus is one of the less hardy of the clumpers I grow

T. crassinodus is one of the less hardy of the clumpers I grow

Yushania 'Pitt White' is another marginally hardy plant for our area.  It will regularly die back to the ground in our colder winters, but is vigorous enough that it will come back and increase in spread over the following growing season.  Below, a container of 'Pitt White' that was left outside, unprotected.  This one is fried bad enough that I will have to cut the stems back to the top of the container.  Plants in the protection of the hoop house showed no permanent damage.
Foliage damage beyond recovery

Foliage damage beyond recovery

Bambusa multiplex 'Alphonse Karr' is a clumping bamboo that continues to surprise and impress me.  At home in the heat of southern Florida, the plants in our hoop house not only survived the cold snap, but persevered with very little leaf damage (pictured below). I promote this bamboo as a house plant for our region (one of the few bamboos that will thrive indoors) and it amazes me that a sub-tropical bamboo will survive with a frozen rootball in an unheated hoop house!
B. Alphone Karr in an unheated hoop house

Foliage of B. 'Alphone Karr' in an unheated hoop house

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

ron rogers March 6, 2010 at 7:56 am


I have some questions about clumping bamboo.

Here’s what I’m looking to do:

I have a raised bed surrounded by field stone. It is about 3′ wide, 25′ long, by 1′ tall. I would like bamboo to fill in this area to block the view of my neighbors driveway. The bed in in full sun and it will be exposed to strong coastal winds.

How long will it take for a cold hardy bamboo to reach a minimum height of 7 foot? How many plants would it take to fill in the area?

I live along the coast in RI, zone 6A i believe.

ps I enjoyed the youtube video, now my wife cannot complain when i but a battery operated sawsall;)

philinshelton March 6, 2010 at 8:55 am

For your zone, you are going to be very limited in your choices of clumping bamboo. The only one I would recommend that will survive both the cold, the full sun and the coastal winds is Fargesia rufa. Under ideal conditions, that bamboo can reach about 9′ tall, but I wouldn’t expect it to get that tall in the conditions you describe, and it will probably suffer a lot of leaf damage over winter. My expertise is limited to growing bamboo on the coastal side of the Cascades, so I recommend that you pose the question of which clumping bamboo to use to the folks on the forum at bambooweb. Here’s a link: . You will have to register using the link at the top left of the screen in order to post a question. I think you are going to find that one of the running bamboos will be a better (maybe the only) choice for creating the screening you desire. Phyllostachys bissetii is good bet. The bed you describe is a little on the narrow side, but you can grow a nice screen in it if are willing to do some maintenance a few times a year to control spread. Sorry I couldn’t be of more help. Thanks for the comments on the videos!

Bamboo Grower July 14, 2010 at 4:07 am

We have clumping bamboo screening us from our neighbors – only difference is we are sub-tropical and I can’t stop the stuff from growing! They do make very good privacy screens though. Good luck setting yours up.

Larry April 6, 2011 at 5:52 am

I planted 4, 1 gal F. denudata last year and they did fine, putting on lots of new growth. This winter we had temps down to the single digits but not below 0 and certainly not down tot he -10 value I seen as the limiting factor for F. denudata. However during the first prolonged period of freezing temps the leaves on my plants all keeled and the culms went blonde. There still is some green on the bottoms of some culms but so far no new growth on them or from the roots. It appears everything above ground is dead. Should I cut it all back to ground level or wait and see what will happen?

philinshelton April 10, 2011 at 9:35 pm

I would wait to cut them down until a little bit later to see if any new leaves start to unfurl, however, from your description the culms are probably dead. Hopefully, you will get some new shoots even if the top growth is completely dead. Extended periods of cold, even well above the published cold hardiness of the plant (bamboo especially) can be very hard on small plants especially. I lost about 40 one gallon denudata when it dropped to about 10 degrees F., and a few more days in the 20’s, even though they were protected in a cold frame. Go figure.

Larry April 17, 2011 at 6:03 am

Thanks for the advice. There are now some new shoots popping out of the ground so the plants did make it through the winter. Still no new growth on the old culms though. I’ll give them a little more time before lopping them off if they don’t produce leaves–Larry

Larry May 20, 2011 at 3:52 pm

Well, I finally gave up on the dead culms above ground and lopped them off. However now there is a new happening. There is a lot of new growth coming up but a lot of the culms of 4 different plants have leaves that are partially shredded. These culms just don’t look healthy. Any ideas> Thanks–Larry

Connie Simpson May 1, 2012 at 7:58 am

Hi, Phil, much of the bamboo you planted here last fall has white tips to the majority of leaves and looks a bit stressed– what do you think? thanks, Connie

Nichole January 16, 2013 at 5:22 pm

You mentioned that you have a small nursery. I also live in SW Washington and I’m wondering where you are located. I plan to buy a good amount of bamboo to plant as a fence and privacy screen. If the varieties you have listed worked for you then they will work for me too. There is so much mixed info that I was having considerable difficulty deciding which variety to grow. Your photos and commentary made things much easier. Thank you!

Also, for the taller species of bamboo is pruning permanent? Meaning, if I top them will they remain at that height? Or, will the pruning be an ongoing chore?

philinshelton January 28, 2013 at 11:49 pm

Outdoors By Design Bamboo Nursery is located in Shelton, WA. Here’s a link to our website . Once a bamboo culm has matured (one growing season) it does not get any taller, so yes, if you top them, they do not grow back. However, new shoots will emerge each spring that will have to be cut at the end of the growing season. Better to grow a bamboo that is the appropriate height for the location, I think.

Larry April 22, 2013 at 7:37 am

More on my ongoing experience with F. denudata. This is the third year for these plants and I have noticed a new growth pattern. For the first two years the above ground culms died over the wont and I had to trim them off and allow new growth. However in 2012 I got a lot of taller culms and they remained green over the winter while the shorter culms died as previously. Now (April) the taller culms that remained green are putting out new leaves. Is this a common growth pattern for young plants? I mean do you lose the annual growth each year for a couple years then finally get growth that can survive the winter?

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