How And When To Fertilize And Water Bamboo Plants
Bamboo are very easy to grow and care for. That said, as with any type of plant, a little good advice can go a long way.

Here's some tips for feeding and watering bamboo plants in the landscape...

How To Fertilize Bamboo Plants

Though it may not look like it, Bamboo is a grass plant. Though bamboo does not require fertilization, as with many other types of grass plants, such as lawn grass, bamboo responds very well to it, especially nitrogen: the first number on any package of fertilizer. 

To keep my bamboo plants healthy I feed them before new shoots begin to emerge in late winter or very early spring and again in early summer. 

In general, bamboo benefit from nitrogen, which is the first of the three numbers on any package of fertilizer. There are many types of fertilizer or plant foods for use on bamboo plants. 

Here's a list of fertilizers with basic instructions for how to use them.

Bamboo Fertilizer 

There are several fertilizer products on the market "specially formulated" for bamboo. These usually come at a higher cost so we use just use Fertilome 19-8-10 Tree & Shrub Food, an exceptionally high-quality fertilizer which contains the essential nutrients and elements bamboo love and need for optimum health and vigor. Apply 2 pounds of fertilizer per 100 square feet in late winter or very early spring (before new shoots emerge) and again in early summer.

Lawn Fertilizer

When feeding bamboo with a lawn fertilizer select one that contains around 20 percent nitrogen, give or take a few percent, and apply about 2 pounds per 100 square feet in spring and again in early summer. Avoid the use of a lawn fertilizer that contains a weed killing chemical, which can kill your bamboo plants and any other plants you spread it around!

Organic Plant Food

When feeding bamboo with an organic plant fertilizer or food, which is usually much lower in nitrogen, you'll need to apply more generous amounts of fertilizer so that the bamboo gets enough nitrogen. For example, if the organic fertilizer you're using contains 5 percent nitrogen apply about 4 pounds per 100 square feet in spring and again in early summer.


An alternative method for feeding bamboo is compost, which slowly feeds both the soil and the plants. Composted manures, mushroom compost or homemade compost are suitable materials. For season-long feeding, simply spread a 1- to 2-inch layer of compost around your bamboo plants in spring. A second application can be made in early summer. Not only will the compost feed your soil and plants, it will also help to retain moisture in the soil. 

How To Water Bamboo Plants

Once established, bamboo need little care and normal rainfall is generally all that is needed for plants to thrive. That said, in the absence of sufficient rainfall, newly planted bamboo may require some supplemental irrigation. During prolonged periods of dry weather even established bamboo will appreciate supplemental irrigation.

Note:  If your newly planted bamboo begins to lose some leaves soon after planting it could just be that it's just adjusting to the new soil and sunlight conditions in the planting site. As with so many other plants and trees, after a period of time new leaves will emerge to replace the ones that dropped during this acclimating and transition process. Under most all conditions bamboo will retain 70% of its leaves after having been planted. A significant or total loss of leaves could be an indicator of an overly wet or dry soil, or a lack of sunlight. 

Here's some tips for watering bamboo plants...

How Often To Water Newly Planted Bamboo?

First, it's important to know that constantly soggy or wet soil can be equally as problematic for most Bamboo species as is bone dry soil. 

As with so many other types of plants, too much water around the roots of bamboo plants severely limits or even cuts off the supply of oxygen that roots and plants depend on to grow properly. Too much water can also cause irreversible decay of roots, commonly called "root rot." So make sure to plant your bamboo in a well-drained site.

In average garden soil you should not have to water your newly planted Bamboo every day. More often than not, as mentioned, this causes soggy soil conditions that can lead to root rot and other harmful plant diseases. In the absence of sufficient rainfall, water only as needed to keep the root ball and surrounding soil damp to moist. Keep in mind that deep soaking less frequently is much better than splashing just a little water on the plants every day, and that it's better to let a bamboo plant go a little dry than to over water. 

Based on climate, weather and other environmental factors such as soil type, soil drainage, sun exposure etc, the watering schedule in every location is different. If you are growing your bamboo in the ground and are unsure how much water to provide there are two ways to know when your newly planted bamboo might need a drink of water, or not.

1. Checking Soil Moisture 

This method involves simply checking the soil moisture around the roots or root ball of your bamboo plant. To check soil moisture you can use your finger to see if the soil at the surface is moist or dry, or you can use a soil moisture meter. If the top inch or two of the soil surface is dry it's usually time to provide some water.

2. Watch The Leaves

Watching the leaves of your bamboo can tell you when to provide water, and when not to. The leaves of bamboo will begin to roll into themselves when the soil has dried to a point the plant needs water. That said, when the soil has become excessively saturated due to over irrigation and/or poor soil drainage the leaves of a bamboo will sometimes roll into themselves, having a similar look of when the soil is too dry.

Basically, you will know if a bamboo plant was a little dry when after providing water the rolled leaves open back up within a couple hours or so. On the other hand, if the leaves remain rolled indefinitely after watering, and/or are turning brown, you know the soil is wet and therefore to hold off on the water. Cease watering your bamboo plant and wait until the leaves start to curl up into themselves before you water again.

Note:  If the soil in the area around your bamboo plant tends to stay soggy for long periods after a rainfall or irrigation, you may want to test soil drainage and make adjustments if necessary to ensure the soil drains properly. 

To test soil drainage, dig a hole 12 inches wide by 12 inches deep in the planting area or near your plant. Fill the hole with water and let it drain. Then, after it drains, fill it with water again, but this time clock how long it takes to drain. In well-drained soil the water level will go down at a rate of about 1 inch an hour. A faster rate, such as in loose, sandy soil, may signal potentially dry site conditions and possibly a need to add organic matter to help retain moisture. A slower rate indicates poor draining soil and is a caution you need to improve drainage, replant in a raised mound, relocate plants to a well-drained site, or look for plants that are more tolerant of wet or boggy conditions.

Watering Established Bamboo Plants

When established, bamboo are more tolerant of temporary flooding and drought. During a hot summer established bamboo will roll their leaves to prevent transpiration. This is a neat characteristic of bamboo so do not be alarmed to see your bamboo roll up its leaves. During a prolonged period of drought your established bamboo will appreciate an occasional deep soaking. 

Watering Bamboo In Containers

Essentially, follow the same instructions as when watering plants in the ground. However, keep in mind that soil dries out more quickly in containers so it's a good idea to check soil moisture daily until you have a good idea how long it takes the soil to dry out. Always use your fingers or a soil moisture meter to determine whether or not the soil is dry or wet. If the top 2 inches of soil in the container is dry apply some water. If damp, wait to water.

Other Bamboo Care Tips

Well-established bamboos are rather tolerant of flooding, but newly planted bamboos can suffer from too much as well as too little water. 

Regarding young bamboo, it's always best to use the finger test to check soil moisture before watering. If the soils feels wet, wait to water. If dry, provide water.

When growing a long hedge or screen of bamboo, installing a simple drip system with a timing unit that connects to a water spigot is a cost effective and efficient way to assure the watering needs are met, while minimizing the chance of over-watering. 

Soil pH

Soil pH is a measurement of the alkalinity or acidity of soil and is measured on a scale of 1-14, with 7 as the neutral mark. Any measurement below 7 indicates acid soil conditions, and anything above 7 indicates alkaline.

Bamboo grow best in a moderately to slightly acid soil ranging from 5.5 to 6.5 on the pH scale. Most average garden soils range between 6.0 to 7.0 on the pH scale.

If you're unsure about the pH of your soil, and whether or not it's suitable for growing bamboo plants, it's a good idea to test the soil pH in the planting area. You can quickly test soil pH with an inexpensive soil pH tester kit or probe. To raise the pH (make more alkaline) you can add pelletized limestone to the soil. To lower the pH (make more acid) you can apply Soil Sulfur, Aluminum Sulfate, or Chelated Iron. Adding organic compost to the soil or using compost as mulch can also help to increase acidity and maintain acid soil conditions.

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