Bamboo is a lovely plant to have in your garden – it has attractive, leafy foliage; redolent of an exotic garden somewhere in Asia; and it acts as an excellent screen. However, bamboo does grow very well. And it tends to spread. And… spread a bit more. Eek!
You may be staring at your forest, wondering how to prune bamboo so that it stays healthy and attractive, yet doesn’t take over your entire garden. Well, we are here to answer that very question.
Why prune bamboo?
You don’t actually have to prune bamboo. You can just leave it as it is, and it will be fine. It will grow, and be quite happy being completely left alone. Some gardens can cope with having a natural looking bamboo screen about the place, and a bit of the wild and wonderful will add to the appeal.
However, some people like a more tightly controlled bamboo plantation, or have a smaller garden which cannot afford to be completely taken over by one plant.
Also, the bamboo plant does really benefit from a good trim every now and again – not only will this help to train the bamboo the way you want it to go, but it will make it healthier and can reduce the potential for disease.
Trimming it back can really enhance the aesthetics of the plant; for example to showcase some attractive stems, or the new growth of leaves in between the stems.
Trimming the bamboo will also help you to keep it under control and allow you to train the bamboo to the shape that you want. Bamboo topiary, anyone?
How to prune bamboo?
There are a few different ways to prune bamboo, depending on the reason you want to prune it, and the type of bamboo you have. When you first start to prune, you should always identify which stems you wish to cut, and mark them with paint or a dark maker pen to ensure you cut the right ones.
When removing the stems, cut them as close to the ground as possible, to keep the plant looking as tidy as possible, and to prevent anybody tripping over them!
A. Maintenance pruning
To simply maintain bamboo and keep it healthy, just trim it so that it looks the way you want it to – either into shapes, or just as a leafy screen. This is as simple as removing dead growth, and pruning stems that have grown too tall and leggy.
Dead branches can be cut off at the base, whereas if you are removing part of a stem then cut it above the node, so that it will grow new shoots.
B. Pruning to thin
If your bamboo is looking too clumpy, you can thin it out by removing some of the wider stems on the outside of the plants.
If you want to thin some of the taller branches that are leaning over, cut them just above a node, so that the length is reduced but the stem doesn’t die back. This has the added bonus of being able to make the plant stand more upright and give it more strength.
C. Pruning for a hedge
Bamboo makes a great hedge plant, as it is tall and makes a fantastic and attractive screen. It is simple to do this with bamboo; you pretty much just need to maintain it and allow it to grow in its natural way, but remember that most of bamboo’s new growth happens in Spring. So you need to wait for the canes to produce all their new growth before you prune, and do this later on in the season.
D. “Legging up”
Some bamboos have very colourful attractive stems which you may want to showcase. You can show these off against a plain coloured wall, or add a screen to offset the colours of the bamboo stems.
To do this type of pruning, just remove the lower leaves and branches to the height that you want them, removing them at the point that they grow from the stem.
Best tools for pruning bamboo
Small snippers work great at cutting away thin little branches or the larger leaves. These are perfect for the smaller twigs and branches, or just the leaves that are starting to yellow.
You can use a small pruning saw for the larger stems and branches; just make sure that you cut the above a node so that they grow back. Or, you can go crazy and dig out the machete!
For dwarf bamboo, it is advised to cut them right back to ground level every year, and you can use a hedge trimmer or a mower for this.
When you are pruning your bamboo, always make sure that you are wearing goggles and strong gloves, to make sure that you don’t injure yourself.
What to do with bamboo prunings
The prunings from your bamboo trimming can be used for a few other purposes, as well as benefiting the health of your whole bamboo plant.
If you leave the pruned leaves around the base of the bamboo plant, they will rot and produce good nutritional compost the following year, plus they will also encourage the soil drainage.
The leaves are great for adding to compost, to create nutritional leaf mulch to use on the garden for the following year, while any long canes you have removed can be stripped of their leaves, dried out and used as supports for beans and other climbing plants.
This video is a great guide on how to prune bamboo:
You may wish to leave your bamboo to sprawl and cover the whole of your garden, or you can trim it into shape to keep it as healthy and sculpted as you like. You can create weird and wonderful shapes, or a regimented screen. Additionally, I also have some tips on reviving yellow bamboo here.
However you decide to prune your bamboo, just follow the tips above and your bamboo will look fantastic!