Do you have a beautiful grove of bamboo and you’re wondering when it might die? Maybe someone bought you a lucky bamboo in water and rocks and you want to keep it going.
So how long will your bamboo plants live? Small bamboo plants in water will live 1-2 years. If you plant them outside they can live for many more years. The individual culms (stalks) or bamboo plants in a grove live 10-12 years. New ones sprout each spring. A bamboo grove will eventually all flower at once (gregarious flowering). At that point each culm will die. It will take 3-7 years for gregarious flowering once begun to kill the entire grove.
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Common Bamboo Lifespans
Here’s a quick table showing the common lifespans of different types of bamboo. Generally, a grove won’t die until it undergoes gregarious flowering.
Scientists are still trying to figure out why gregarious flowering occurs. For most bamboo varieties it’ll occur every 20-120 years (source).
Flowering doesn’t guarantee grove death. There are three types of bamboo flowering that we’ll cover in the next section.
|Bamboo Variety||Type of Growth||Common Uses||Average Lifespan (till Gregarious Flowering and Grove Death)|
|Golden Bamboo||Grove||Windbreak, Ornamental, Natural Fence||15-30 years (varies – may resprout from rhizomes after flowering)|
|Lucky Bamboo||Pot||Indoor Ornamental||1-2 years|
|Giant bamboo (Dendrocalamus giganteus)||Grove||Windbreak, Ornamental, Natural Fence||40 years|
|Dwarf green stripe (Pleioblastus sp.)||Low grower||Edging||Not applicable – flowering doesn’t kill the cluster|
|China gold||Grove||Windbreak, Ornamental, Natural Fence||Not applicable – flowering doesn’t kill the cluster|
|Moso bamboo (Phyllostachys edulis)||Grove||Flooring, clothing, edible shoots||Not applicable – flowering doesn’t kill the cluster|
|Guadua bamboo||Grove||Scaffolding, Construction||26-33 years|
Types of Flowering – Continuous, Sporadic, and Gregarious
Continuous or Annual Flowering – This is more common for other ornamental plants. It’s the type of flowering that happens every year. Most often the seeds aren’t viable and the plant doesn’t die. This type is rare for bamboo but it can happen.
Sporadic Flowering – This type happens when individual culms of a grove goes to flower. They may or may not die but it won’t kill the grove. Again, seeds from this are mostly not viable. Scientists believe this occurs due to pests or other environmental factors. Some species of bamboo like Guadua the scaffolding construction bamboo can flower either sporadically or gregariously.
Gregarious Flowering – This is the final type of true flowering for bamboo. When this is triggered every culm in the grove goes to flower. This happens in clumps and can take 3-7 years to affect the entire grove. After the clump flowers it produces viable seeds then each culm dies and dries out over the course of a few years (i.e. the culm flowers, sets seeds, then slowly dies over a few years.
Scientists are unsure what triggers gregarious flowering. They suspect it may be built into the genetic code of the bamboo. It happens over wide areas even for groves growing in different elevations or conditions.
Note that with gregarious flowering you’ll have enough warning that you can start planting new clumps which will have a few years to get established and replace your grove.
In addition the floor of the grove will be covered with viable seeds that may also sprout and start a new bamboo forest for you.
How Does Bamboo Die?
After gregarious flowering bamboo culms will slowly dry out and die over a several year period.
It’s unclear as to why this happens. The two most common theories are that seed production uses all the energy in the grove which kills it.
The second theory is that the bamboo is making way for it’s seedlings to grow by killing the existing grove. This opens up light and water resources the grove was using and makes them available to the new seedlings.
What Do I Do If My Bamboo Grove Dies?
If your grove undergoes gregarious flowering you should begin clearing some small areas to let in light and free up water resources. Then plant a new clump of the same type of bamboo in the opening.
Scatter these new clump plantings through the existing grove.
In addition you’ll want to start taking down dead, dry stalks. You can chop these up to act as mulch for the new plantings as well as to protect and distribute the seeds.
Seeds will be attached to the end of the dead standing bamboo culms.
What Do I Do If My Bamboo In A Pot Dies?
It’s game over. Most lucky bamboos and other bamboos planted in rocks and water only live 1-2 years. If you plant it outside before then (or in a larger pot with soil) it can live for many more years.
That also assumes you keep the larger soil pot indoors if you don’t live in an area where lucky bamboo can live outside.
Lucky bamboo is a native of West Africa and can only live outside in the use in hardiness zone 9 or warmer. Zone 9 average minimum temperatures are 20-30 degrees F.
There are 15 Zone 9 states in the US listed below. Lucky bamboo can live in soil outside in any of these states. It may need protection on cold nights below 20 degrees F.
- New Mexico
- South Carolina
Does Bamboo Die In Winter?
Once the root ball is established bamboo can make it through winters easily. That assumes you’ve planted a variety of bamboo suited for your area. You can figure that out either from your local garden store or from your local USDA extension agent.
Bamboo grown in pots of soil don’t have the same protective effect of bamboo in the ground. That’s because the ground acts as a large temperature battery that doesn’t fluctuate as much throughout the year.
A pot exposed to surface air though can drop lower in temperatures which could harm your bamboo over the winter.
You can fix this with a simple electric heater coil. See example below.
How Does Climate Affect Bamboo?
Your local climate or hardiness zone will affect which types of bamboo you can plant. Some won’t be able to make it through your winters.
The coldest areas in the US where bamboo can still live is hardiness zone 5 (roughly Idaho through southern New York, Vermont, and Maine).
Here’s a list of some of the hardiest bamboos that can live through zone 5 winters:
- Fargesia nitida
- Phyllostachys nuda
- Fargesia murielae
- Phyllostachys bissetii
- Phyllostachys aureosulcata
- Phyllostachys atrovaginata
- Phyllostachys decora
- Fargesia dracocephala
- Phyllostachys parvifolia
- Phyllostachys stimulosa
- Phyllostachys heteroclada