The diversity of bamboo is incredible. It has evolved to fill a variety of ecological niches ranging from the tropics to Alpine regions, from rain forest to dry chaparral, and from acid to alkaline soil. A genus that has worked out well for me here in the Northeast is Phyllostachys.

The variety of conditions which this genus can be grown lends itself to almost anyone interested in growing bamboo. All species of Phyllostachys have edible shoots and almost all can handle the hot summers and cold winters common to zone 5. A runner, this genus grows best in full sun at maturity but like some shade when younger. The heaviest shooting for Phyllostachys occurs during the spring.

I'd like to cover three from this genus which are my favorites.


Phyllostachys nigra or Black Bamboo grows to about 15' in height with beautiful black culms (stems) and plumed masses of small leaves. The culms start out green and change to black during the first year or so. It is very sensitive to salts and minerals in the water and soil which result in leaf tip burn. I use only collected rain water for this species and am very careful about over watering. Although these could go in the ground, I have kept mine in pots. I keep them outdoor for approximately six months and move them in during the winter. When misted daily, they do well indoors.

Phyllostachys nigra "Bory" or Leopard Bamboo is a variation of the Black Bamboo. It grows larger (30' to 50') and develops large decorative black spots on the culms instead of being a solid black. The Leopard Bamboo can take temperatures down to – 5 degrees F and has excellent tolerance for summer heat, winter cold and drought. However; like all other bamboos, you must be careful when re-potting. Bamboo grows in spurts, which happen in the spring and again in the fall. Wait until late fall, after its done growing, to do any re-potting or re-planting. Use a good potting mix which drains well, yet retains moisture. Never use a regular commercial plant mix. Here are some suggested mixes:

Phyllostachys purpurata or Zig Zag Bamboo is smaller than the other two. It's delicate culms tend to grow in a angled pattern, hence the common name. It is hardy to 0 degree F and will bend to the ground under the weight of a heavy rain or wind. As with all container grown bamboo, it needs to be fertilized on a regular basis. I generally use organics such as fish emulsion and sea kelp. In Asia, the bamboo fertilizer of choice is well composted horse manure. You can use other manures if they are available but be careful of the nitrogen hot ones such as chicken manure.              


For More Bamboo How-To, check out this section of the Website.