Bamboo is one of the fastest-growing plants in the world, but despite this, bamboo is still highly popular as bonsai. That’s because bamboo bonsai can be much easier to care for than other types of bonsai.
Styling bamboo bonsai is a little trickier than styling other types of bonsai. You don’t have quite as many options because bamboo doesn’t have real branches.
That being said, bamboo bonsai looks attractive and is styled in group planting to resemble a forest. Bamboo also tends to be very resilient, making it a better choice for beginners than other more delicate bonsai options. Bamboo is not just for beginners, though. Bonsai lovers enjoy adding bamboo as accents in their collections.
Think bamboo would make a good addition to your bonsai collection? Keep reading to find out how to select and care for a bamboo bonsai.
Selecting Bamboo for Bonsai
Bamboo is a grass with a woody, hollow stem. There are over thousands of bamboo species growing in all kinds of climates from tropical to cold. Not every type of bamboo is good for bonsai.
Bamboo is known for growing quickly. For this reason, dwarf bonsai is usually the best choice for bonsai. Otherwise, your bamboo bonsai can quickly get out of hand.
Here are some of the varieties that work well as bonsai:
- Bambusa ventricosa: Also known as Buddha’s Belly, the dwarf variety of this species is highly popular as bonsai. Being grown as bonsai encourages this plant to grow bulges and zigzags that give it character.
- Bambusa multiplex: Choose the dwarf varieties called tiny fern or tiny fern striped to get one of the smallest types of bamboo. They have small leaves that are the appropriate scale for bonsai. I’d recommend this type for beginners.
- Pleioblastus fortunei: Commonly called Dwarf White Stripe, this species is compact and makes a good choice for bonsai. However, you’ll need to plan to prune the roots frequently to keep this plant the right size.
- Pseudosasa owatarii: This variety naturally only grows about a foot tall, making it easier to grow as bonsai. This species also happens to tolerate colds down to 0 degrees Fahrenheit, so you can leave it outside all year long in most climates.
Other varieties of bamboo can work well as bonsai. Think about whether you want tropical bamboo or a more hardy bamboo when choosing your variety. You’ll have the most success if you choose a bamboo that is a dwarf variety or one that naturally stays small.
There are also some common houseplants that have bamboo in their names but are not actually bamboo plants. Although not part of the bamboo family, these plants are still beautiful:
- Lucky bamboo: This attractive plant looks like bamboo, but it’s actually a type of water lily. Lucky bamboo looks beautiful, but it’s just not a bamboo plant.
- Heavenly bamboo: Despite the name, heavenly bamboo isn’t bamboo. Although it’s a shrub rather than grass, it does grow in similar conditions to bamboo. Heavenly bamboo does grow well in a container, and it makes a nice houseplant. If you’re interested in real bamboo, though, pick a different plant.
Depending on the type of bamboo you choose, the care you provide will be a little different from one variety to another. Next, we’ll talk about the general guidelines for growing bamboo as bonsai.
If the climate in your area permits, bamboo does best when it is grown outdoors year-round. Bamboo that naturally grows in a moderate climate can handle being outdoors all the time (unless you live somewhere with extreme cold). This type of bamboo will go dormant during the winter and continue growing when the weather warms up. Most bamboo prefers a location with a lot of sunlight, so don’t put it in a shaded area.
Tropical bamboo will most likely need to be indoors year-round or at least during the winter (unless you live in a tropical climate). When bamboo is indoors, place it somewhere it will get 10 hours of sunlight each day. You may need to use artificial light if you cannot provide enough natural light. Tropical bamboo continues growing throughout the winter.
Tropical bamboo usually likes a humid environment. If you keep tropical bamboo indoors, be sure that it gets enough humidity. You can raise the humidity levels by placing several plants together to create a more humid microclimate, by using a humidity tray, or by placing open containers of water near the bamboo. If your house has low humidity levels, you may need to use a humidifier to keep your tropical bamboo bonsai happy.
The best temperature for bamboo depends on the type of bamboo. In general, bamboo can handle high temperatures, but it may need extra shade and water during this time.
Most often we assume that bamboo is a tropical plant, and a lot of varieties are from tropical areas. However, there are varieties of bamboo that grow in moderate and even cold climates. These varieties will go dormant during the winter and can handle colder temperatures.
Bamboo grows best in soil that is loamy, well-draining, and slightly acidic. Most commercial potting mixes are designed for exactly these features, so you don’t necessarily have to buy a potting mix specifically for bamboo.
Bamboo is not nearly as picky as some other common bonsai plants; however, you should use fresh soil each time you repot your bonsai.
How Often Do You Water Bamboo Bonsai?
Bamboo dries out quickly, so it needs to be watered regularly. Check the soil before watering each time. If the soil is mostly dry, then it’s time to water again.
Be aware that bamboo does not like to sit in a pool of water, so it’s important that excess water is able to drain from your bamboo’s container. Overwatering is the most common reason why plants die. Because bamboo needs more water than most plants, overwatering should only be a problem if excess water has no way to escape.
Bamboo can go two to three days between watering when the weather is cooler. When it’s hot, expect to water daily. Small containers dry out more quickly than larger containers. Bamboo can tolerate a little bit of drought, but don’t forget to water it too often.
I’d suggest bottom watering your bamboo by placing the container in a tray of water for about 10 minutes. This ensures that the soil is able to absorb as much moisture as it can hold. Sometimes soil has a hard time holding on to water poured over the soil when it’s too dry. During hot summer days when everything dries out quickly, try switching to bottom watering.
When Should You Fertilize a Bamboo Bonsai?
Because bamboo bonsai grows in a small container, it needs to be fertilized regularly. You don’t want to over fertilize, though. Bamboo is a quick grower, so providing too much fertilizer can cause your bamboo to grow out of control.
Apply a gentle, balanced fertilizer to your bamboo once a week to give it enough nutrients to thrive without going overboard. To me, it’s easiest to use a liquid fertilizer because you have more control over the amount you apply.
Bamboo is a hardy plant, so don’t worry if you forget to fertilize it every once in a while.
When to Repot Bamboo Bonsai?
Since bamboo is a fast grower, you might need to repot your bamboo bonsai once a year if its roots seem to be running out of room. For a few varieties of slower-growing bamboo, you might be able to stretch repotting to once every other year.
If possible, time the repotting right before the main growing season. Repot tropical bamboo between the end of spring and beginning of the summer. Repot other bamboo varieties during the middle of spring.
When you repot, remove the old potting mix from the container. Be sure to get rid of any potting soil clinging to your bamboo’s roots as well.
Use sterile scissors or pruning shears to cut off old roots. This won’t hurt the bamboo, and it’s necessary to keep your bonsai from growing too fast.
You can either use a new container for your bonsai or return it to the same container. Use fresh potting mix regardless of which container you use.
Be aware that bamboo bonsai sometimes lose a few leaves after being repotted. This is not something to worry about unless a significant number of leaves die. If more than a few leaves die, your bamboo bonsai may have another problem.
How to Bonsai Bamboo
Bamboo bonsai are different from other types of bonsai. Because bamboo is a grass rather than a tree or shrub, it doesn’t react the same way.
As long as you choose a small variety of bonsai and stay on top of trimming and pruning, you don’t have to worry as much about styling and shaping bamboo bonsai.
Bamboo Bonsai Styling
Bamboo bonsai is typically styled in a forest or group planting style. Given that bamboo tends to grow this way naturally, there are no other practical ways to style it.
Bamboo is a colony plant that produces new shoots each year. You can remove some of the shoots and eventually new ones will grow in to take their place. The nice thing about bamboo is that if you mess up the styling, it will just grow more shoots anyway. Bamboo is not delicate, so you’re unlikely to hurt it permanently.
Unlike other bonsai, there’s no need to wire bamboo bonsai into any particular shape. Just keep up with pruning and trimming.
After 5-10 years, bamboo culms (the stems or shoots) will die. When this happens, just remove the dead culms. There should be enough other stems that losing a few each year won’t dramatically affect your bonsai’s appearance.
Bamboo Bonsai Trimming and Styling
Pruning and trimming are the things you must stay on top of with bamboo bonsai. Most bamboo types want to grow quickly. Prune any unnecessary shoots and trim the leaves frequently. If you live in a warm climate, you’ll have to trim and prune more frequently because your bamboo will grow quickly.
As a forgiving plant, bamboo doesn’t get stressed by trimming and pruning, so don’t worry about removing too much growth.
If you work with bamboo’s natural characteristics, you’ll have a beautiful bonsai specimen.
Bamboo Bonsai FAQ
Can you bonsai bamboo?
Certain bamboo varieties make beautiful bonsai. Look for dwarf bamboo or for varieties that grow more slowly. Bamboo is very popular among bonsai lovers.
How do you propagate bamboo bonsai?
Bamboo bonsai can be propagated through rhizomes, culm cutting, and division. The best method for propagation varies depending on the type of bonsai.
How much sunlight does bamboo need?
In general, bamboo needs a minimum of six hours of sunlight each day. Most bamboo types thrive with even more sunlight. For indoor bamboo, try to provide as much sunlight as possible. You may need to supplement with artificial lights.
Can bamboo grow in the dark?
Bamboo cannot grow in the dark. Most bamboo varieties need a lot of light to thrive; however, some bamboo will grow in shade or partial shade.
Can you grow bamboo from seeds?
It is possible to grow bamboo from seeds, but it isn’t done often. Because the seeds do not have a high germination rate, most people use more reliable methods to propagate bamboo instead.
Have another question about caring for your bamboo bonsai plant? Drop a comment below!
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