There is much misinformation on bamboo bonsai trees. While there are over 10,000 species, there are also many plants that may sound like they are bamboo trees, but are not. For example, heavenly bamboo and lucky bamboo are not bamboo plants at all! Growing a bamboo plant as a bonsai is possible, but it is different than growing a regular bonsai tree.
Bamboo trees are the fastest growing plant in the world, which makes them hard to control in small containers. The lack of actual branches with these trees makes styling these plants a little more tricky than styling other bonsai. Nonetheless, it is still possible, and fairly common, to grow bamboo plants as bonsai.
Which Bamboo Species Should I Bonsai?
There are two types of bamboo plants: running and clumping. Basically, running bamboo plants spread very fast and wide. As such, they are considered to be invasive plants. Clumping plants do not spread nearly as fast as running plants do.
When growing bamboo as a bonsai, there are a few species that will grow better than others. Bambusa multiplex bamboo is great for being made into bonsai. Rarely growing higher than 3 feet tall, they are very small, which is ideal for bonsai growing. They are clumper plants, so they will not grow too aggressively. Pseudosasa owatarii is another bamboo species that is very small, standing at about 1 foot tall, and grows well as a bonsai. Other common bamboo include dwarf stripe and the dwarf green stripe.
Some species that will not grow well are Temple bamboo and Arrow bamboo. They grow just fine as a regular plant in a garden, but they both have large leaves that are not favorable for bonsai growing.
How to Care for Bamboo Bonsai
You can grow bamboo trees indoors or outdoors, depending on the species. Water these trees often, as they will dry out quickly and like to be damp. Fertilizer needs differ depending on where it is placed and what type of fertilizer you use. Trimming and wiring can both be done throughout the year. There are only a few pests that commonly infest bamboo plants.
Indoor or Outdoor?
Tropical bamboo trees should be placed indoors where they can receive lots of light. They can also be placed outdoors in climates with hot temperatures all year round. Indoors, your plant may need artificial lighting in order to thrive. This should be done for around 10 hours a day, every day.
Temperate bamboo will need to be placed outdoors. Your climate should be warm in the summer and cold in the winter. These trees will likely go into dormancy into the winter, meaning they stop growing to survive the winter and prepare for growth in the spring.
Always check the bonsai’s soil before watering and never water on a routine. Watering on a schedule can cause under- and over-watering, which will kill your plant. That being said, bamboo prefers constant dampness, so water frequently, especially in the summer. In the winter, you can water outdoor bamboo less often. These trees will dry out very fast.
Tropical plants should be fertilized with a balanced fertilizer year round. Since they grow consistently all year, they should also be fertilized consistently all year.
Temperate plants should be fertilized during the growth period. This growth period is from spring to autumn. Do not fertilize in the winter.
For both, follow the directions on the packaging. Usually, liquid fertilizer should be applied once a week or solid fertilizer should be applied once a month.
Bamboo trees take the trimming of their leaves very well. You can trim the leaves all year round. Roots can be trimmed about once a year. Tropical trees can have their roots trimmed more often.
You can also wire the bamboo’s branches using copper wire. This can be done at any point during the year, but for best results, we recommend wiring during the late winter or early spring. Check on the wire often, as it can cut and scar the branches easily.
Common Pests and Diseases
Common critters that you may encounter are red spider mites and scale. Red spider mites occur more often in indoor, tropical bamboo. You can exterminate these pests using insecticides or pest sprays. Consider also improving the living conditions of your plant.
Caring for a bamboo bonsai can be a slightly difficult but very rewarding experience. You can grow both indoor and outdoor bamboo plants. They should be watered often and fertilized regularly. Prune the leaves all year round and trim the roots once a year or so. Wiring can also be done all year. There are a few pests that may occur, but there are ways to rid your plant of them. A bamboo bonsai can be the perfect addition to any household.