Drought tolerant Bamboo

Bamboo selection and planting tips for hot dry climates…

Bamboo thrives in Mediterranean conditions! While this may sound overly optimistic given that many bamboos originated from Asia, it’s also true. Bamboo does thrive in zone 9. You just have to select bamboo that loves our summer heat, and thrives in our mild winters. In the Central Valley of California, we’ve grown heat tolerant Vivax and Oldhamii bamboos (often together: vivax and oldhamii make a wonderful interspersed shade pairing) with spectacular results. Golden bamboo also loves zone 9, and can perform shading miracles while lapping up our summer heat. How to plant bamboo in hot and dry climates is also very important. Keeping bamboo rhizomes moist in the heavier clay’ish soils typical of zone 9 can be difficult, but the clay also works grandly in our favor, as clay is a wonderful retainer of moisture once properly wetted.

Planting bamboo in zone 9 requires the budding bamboo connoisseur to be cognizant of the extreme drying factor upon bamboo leaves in our hot and dry summer winds. Bamboo leaves will curl horizontally when dry. A good slower and deeper than average soak will usually bring your drought tolerant bamboo back to health. With proper planning and some zone 9 specific planting “protection,” your bamboo will thrive under our Mediterranean sun. The mild winters and loooooong hot summers of zone 9 provide ideal conditions for growing a variety of bamboo species. Don’t be afraid of growing bamboo in the heat, the same sun that makes grapes and olives thrive, makes bamboo grow incredibly green and luscious. Once you’ve selected that perfect heat and drought tolerant bamboo, follow this easy guide to planting bamboo in zone 9 climates.

How to Plant bamboo in Zone 9

1. Select a planting site where your bamboo will receive some summertime heat protection until well established (via existing plants canopy cover, building/wall shading, or utilizing a more northeastern facing position). If no shade exists, consider a shade cloth partially screening your bamboo (providing some summertime heat relief for the bamboos first growing season). An established drought tolerant bamboo is likely good on its own entering year two. Planting time matters greatly with zone 9 tolerant bamboos, early fall or spring is thought to best, though we have frequently planted in nearly all seasons (outside of july august inferno days) with good results.

2. Choose a spot that drains well in our wet winters, a slight slope is perfect, and take into consideration that you’ll want to irrigate this spot 12-18″ deep. To satisfy most timber bamboos planted in a zone 9 climate, you’ll need to water slow and steady to reach this depth without significant and wasteful runoff. Think of how you can encourage this type of irrigation (slow, deep to 12-18 inches, but never soggy enough to “drown” the rhizomes) as you dig into heavy soils,

3. Dig your hole as deep as the bamboo soil line is tall, plus 6 inches.

4. Dig the hole twice as wide as the potted size of the bamboo.

5. Blend rich moisture absorbing and holding compost with your hard earned (likely clay laden in our mediterranean climate) dirt, a shovel of each at a time. A 50/50 mix of good compost to native soil works wonderfully to combat summer heats drying effects.

6. Gently pull your drought tolerant bamboo plant from its pot.

7. Add approximately 6 inches of pea gravel and light soil or other well draining mix to hole, your bamboo will partially rest on this keeping the nerve center (the rhizome) wet but not constantly flooded. Plant your bamboo in the hole matching the bamboos soil line and root tops, relatively evenly centered in the hole. If your bamboo is planted on a decent slope, you may consider placing the bamboo towards the front of the hole, thus allowing more volume of soil and compost to occupy the generally flatter backside of the slope where water will “hold” against the bamboos rootball longer.

8. Back fill the hole with your special compost and native soil mix, tamping the sides of the root ball with shovelfuls of the heavy clays innate to our soil. This will give your bamboo a firm hold in our hot dry summer winds, and keep water from “rushing through” light airy soil mixes.

9. Carve out a nice “watering moat” ring (either via a raised pile ring of excess soil, or by a soaking depression dug out to retain water) around the bamboo, and soak your new bamboo thoroughly. Moats and rings encourage water to stick around the bamboos irrigating area, and penetrate heavier zone 9 soils evenly.

10. Ideally you want to ensure that your new bamboo does not dry out during the first summer. *** Always remember that even in our hot summers, bamboo does not want to have its feet constantly flooded. It can be hard to over-water bamboo that has good drainage. Other than flooding, bamboo will nearly always reward your watering diligence with plant vigor. Thoroughly watering your bamboo 12-18″ deep (with an assist from zone 9’s incredible yearly light output) will generally yield consistent, and often astonishing, bamboo growth.

11. Your bamboo will tell you if it is drying out, the bamboo leaves will roll up into tight funnels, and become spindly. Don’t panic yet, bamboo is not really vengeful about a missed watering or two, and will likely bounce back when properly irrigated. Bamboo rhizomes often survive our extreme droughts by dropping leaves and redirecting energy back underground, where our heavy water retaining soils can often keep them alive until the next growing season.

12. Mulching 2-4″ of hay, wood chips, or other saturating cover will help the surface soil stay moist and add some winter freeze protection to your bamboo. Rejoice as bamboo generally drop their own heat-abating mulchy layer of leaves throughout the year,

13. Fertilize with your favorite high nitrogen (bamboo is a grass, as such responds well to high N fertilizer mixes) to augment your compost feeding. In the Central Valley we have fed our bamboo compost tea, straight seasoned manures of all types, and Osmokote. All performed well when given to healthy plants in spring, prepping the bamboo for summer heat with increased foliage. We have also let goats, sheep, chickens, etc bring up our bamboo canopies in return for fertilization.

14. Enjoy your new drought tolerant heat loving bamboo!


Hot Weather Bamboos

Many bamboos thrive under summer heat and mild winters, The timber bamboos Phylostachys Vivax (“Vivax”) and Oldhamii grow at astonishing rates in zone 9. Mexican weeping bamboo is a beautiful clumper, right at home in the heat. Click here to get to know the many heat tolerant bamboo species…

Bamboo Uses

did you know many bamboo shoots are edible, or that bamboo makes beer and an array of handy crafts and building material? planting bamboo is a preppers dream, here’s the short list of a thousand uses for bamboo…