How to Prune Medium-Timber Bamboo

by philinshelton on February 20, 2009

in Bamboo Basics,How To

Phyllostachys bissetii before thinning

You could prune the big, running bamboos with the same techniques I described in How to Prune Dwarf, and Shrub Bamboos, however, your timber bamboo would probably never get over 5'-6' high.  Instead, you selectively remove some of the older, less productive culms, in order to make way for new vigorous growth. You may also want to remove some of the branches and spindly stems.


First of all, you should equip yourself with some eye protection because there are all sorts of pokys that create a real hazard when you work in bamboo.   A tool that is indispensable for removing large culms, is a sawzall.  It's fast, it allows you to get to the interior of the grove, and you can cut large canes with it easily.  In addition, the blades are relatively cheap and easy to change out (which I do frequently).  You can use a pruning saw, but they tend to bind up after they lose their razor sharpness, and the blades are expensive to replace.  Loppers come in handy, but you are limited to the size of culm you can cut, and you can't open the handles to cut culm in the interior of a grove.  Hand pruners can be used for removing small branches and spindly growth.

Culm Thinning

I start by removing the spindly, twiggy growth at the perimeter of the grove, using loppers or hand pruners to cut it back to the ground.  It opens things up for access, and it give the grove a cleaner look.
Oldest culms are bleached out, newest culms are the greenest

Older culms are more bleached

Next, I thin out the larger culms.  My goal is to open up the grove and make some room for next year's shoots, and most of the culms I remove will be the oldest ones.   The older culms are more bleached, (pictured right) so they are easy to spot.  I start by removing those first, cutting them back to the ground with a sawzall.  If things are still too cramped, I remove some of the younger culms.  The rule of thumb is not to remove more than 1/3 of the culms in a single growing season.   Note, the bamboo in this demonstration is highly managed, so the oldest culms are only 3 years old.  Normally, a grove will have a lot more older culms, and if it is neglected, some dead and dying culms that should be removed first.

Branch Thinning

Next, I remove any dead or broken branches, by cutting them back to the culm.  You can also remove any branches that are in the way, i.e. lower branches encroaching on a drive or walkway.  I always remove branches back to the culm, because those stubs are woody, sharp, and they hurt!  
Phyllostachys bissetii after thinning

Phyllostachys bissetii after thinning

So, if your bamboo is getting congested, or losing vigor, pruning will open it up and stimulate new vigorous growth.  Remember to have the right tools, remove culms at ground level, take out the oldest culms first, and take no more that 1/3 of the culms.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Pete Bray May 17, 2009 at 11:41 pm

How to remove the stubs that are left over after pruning? Pruning to the ground is great, but there is still a potentially dangerous very hard stub left just under the soil.

philinshelton May 18, 2009 at 4:13 pm

One of my bamboo friends told me that he takes a big hammer and smashes them down. I haven’t tried that though, I just live with the stubs

Constance Thayer January 3, 2010 at 6:10 pm

Hi there: Any difference in pruning a very tall timber bamboo that is about 30 feet high? We are planning to prune next week and was told remove “second and third” year growth. Considering that our bamboo has only been pruned around the perimeter, this will be the first time going into the interior of the clump. Any ideas or guidance? (We live in Santa Barbara,CA).

philinshelton January 8, 2010 at 9:18 am

It sounds like you have one of the “big clumpers”. Since it is too cold for us to grow those here, I don’t have much experience with them, but the pruning should be much the same. I would take extra care, however, not to remove too many canes at once. The rule of thumb is to remove no more than on third of the canes per year, so start by removing the dead and dying canes and see how your plant reacts.

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