Sep 26, 201301:00 PMPoint of View

Green Team Part 19: Is Bamboo for You?

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These bamboo plants can quickly cover large areas, thus reducing initial costs associated with plant material and installation. Additionally, varieties of bamboo provide designers with a broad palette of sizes, colors, and textures that can be selected to complement or accent adjacent plantings, architecture, and structures. The upright form of the plant lends itself to narrow spaces that require vertical interventions where wider, tall species similar to the evergreen species would be cramped.

Bamboo’s comparatively thin culms (trunks) are also an advantage over the ever-increasing diameters of woody plants’ trunks. An abundance of species and cultivars come in a broad range of culm colors including Phyllostachys nigra, whose culms mature to a near black, and Bambusa multiplex ‘Alphonse Karr’ (a clumping variety), whose culms mature to a golden color with green stripes. Smaller species, like the dwarf fern-leaf bamboo (Pleioblastus pygmaeus), are prized as rapidly spreading groundcover; landscape architects favor them for their texture and verdure. But these plants can become invasive in unmaintained conditions and crowd out native plant species.

Groundcover bamboo was used at the Life Sciences Building at University of Albany for its full, low-growing habit and bright color.

Courtesy Mathews Nielsen

Due to the aggressive nature of this family of plants, the use of bamboo away from its native range requires a sensitive, informed approach. The complexities of bamboo selection will fall mainly on the owner due to the onerous maintenance requirements to contain or remove spreading bamboo species.

Care must be taken during installation to ensure that root barriers are properly placed; regular inspection/maintenance is required to prevent/repair any breaks. While using planters and pots may seem like an easy solution to planting bamboo, it’s good to remember that the plant’s vigorous growth will require regular repotting to ensure its health.

In addition, bamboo must be protected from high winds that can cause desiccation; this makes it counterintuitive to the desire to use bamboo to screen and act as a barrier between spaces. Siting of the plants must be approached with the intent to limit exposure.

As with all plant selections, care must be taken with bamboo, given its noted potential to become invasive. An increasing number of cities and regions prohibit the planting of these  spreading species. Few other species of plants match the aesthetic properties of bamboo. But from time to time, designers must make the environmentally responsible decision over their desire for a certain “look.”



Terrie Brightman, RLA, ASLA is a practicing landscape architect at Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects in New York City with nine years of professional experience. Since receiving her BLA from the Pennsylvania State University, she has worked on riverfronts in Pittsburgh, private residences in California and Florida, a sustainable community in Turkey, and multiple public parks, plazas, and waterfronts throughout New York City. 

This is one in a series of Metropolis blogs written by members of Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects’ Green Team that focus on research as the groundswell of effective landscape design and implementation. Addressing the design challenges the Green Team encounters and how it resolves them, the series shares the team’s research in response to project constraints and questions that emerge, revealing their solutions. Along the way, the team also shares its knowledge about plants, geography, stormwater, sustainability, materials, and more.

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Sep 30, 2013 05:50 pm
 Posted by  David Benfield

Hey, actually an accurate article about bamboo! I run a bamboo nursery and one thing I've noticed about many other nurseries carrying bamboo is that often their bamboos are mislabeled. There are several area nurseries (Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill) that carry a few bamboo species that are mislabeled.

I've tried telling the owners, but they don't seem to want to hear it. I would recommend getting bamboo from a nursery that is a member of the American Bamboo Society. In my experience, they are infinitely more knowledgeable and helpful than traditional nurseries. Feel free to contact me ( or check the ABS Source list for the closest source to you:

Oct 5, 2013 10:48 pm
 Posted by  Steve Miller

Well said, David Benfield. I'm a member of ABS. A great resource with dedicated, expert, generous bamboozers.

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