Bamboo is a grass native to Asia, Africa, and parts of the Americas. It is a woody perennial that grows in two main types: clumping and running bamboo. Clumping bamboo reaches the greatest diameter and grows in stately, solid groves of golden and green culms. Running bamboo is an aggressive, quick-spreading plant that tends to be more slender and infinitely more pervasive. Both types can be propagated from cuttings.
Seeds or Slips
Bamboo is challenging to grow from seed, simply because it is difficult to get adequate viable seeds. Some of the plants only produce seeds after a few decades. The process of flowering and seed-producing is so energy-intensive for bamboo that some species die after flowering. If you do find good seeds, they need to be planted quickly, because they don't remain viable for long. Successful seedlings will root and grow fairly fast. But it's simpler and safer to just take a cutting. Bamboo is easy to propagate from cuttings; you are pretty much guaranteed to get a healthy plant that will establish itself with no problems.
Making the Cuts
The two- or three-year-old culms that form around the perimeter of the mature plant make excellent cuttings for new plants. For clumping bamboo, cut off the small branches on the new culms where they grow from the culm. Trim them to the second node above the culm and place each cutting in planting medium, either flat or at a 20-degree angle. Cover the cutting with soil over the nodes, but leave the last bit of the cutting free of the soil. The nodes will produce new roots, and you will see new plants growing in about six weeks.
The fast-spreading rhizomes of running bamboo will have buds and roots. Dig up the rhizome and cut the end free, leaving enough to support the mother plant. Cut the rhizome into 12- to 14-inch lengths with at least two buds each. Cover the pieces with a few inches of soil and keep them watered. The rhizome cuttings grow into new plants in four to six weeks.
Divide young growth to get new plants. Cut immature culms apart below the point at which two culms join, preserving a bit of the root. It's best to use two joined culms for a better chance of success, although you can grow a new plant from one culm with some roots. It is important to keep the divided plants from drying out between cutting and replanting. The roots are easily damaged and have to be kept moist until they are covered again with watered soil. Replant the cuttings in a new pot, where they will establish strong roots and grow into sturdy young plants. After about two seasons, they are ready to transplant to a garden or grove.
Lucky bamboo, sold on the streets of Chinatown and in florist shops around the Chinese New Year, isn't bamboo at all. It is a houseplant that will grow in water alone, although it may be grown successfully in soil. Lucky bamboo is pretty tough and will do well in less than ideal light conditions. In fact, direct sunlight can burn the leaves. Cut a stalk that is developing new shoots and place the cuttings in a container of water with river rocks or glass marbles to hold them upright. The cuttings will grow new roots and form another plant.
Benna Crawford has been a journalist and New York-based writer since 1997. Her work has appeared in USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, and in professional journals and trade publications. Crawford has a degree in theater, is a certified Prana Yoga instructor, and writes about fitness, performing and decorative arts, culture, sports, business and education .