Companion Plants for Bamboo

Ella Earth
19 Min Read
Photo by Brian on

Bamboo is one of the most unique and versatile plants found in gardens and landscapes around the world. Known for its fast growth rate and hardy nature, bamboo can provide numerous benefits like erosion control, habitat for wildlife, and versatile landscaping options.

However, bamboo is not meant to grow alone and thrives best when companion planted with other beneficial plants. Companion planting with bamboo can improve soil health, enhance pest management, provide essential nutrients, and create balanced, low maintenance ecosystems.

Companion Plants for Bamboo
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Companion Plants for Bamboo

This article will explore the many benefits of companion planting with bamboo and provide recommendations on the best plants to pair with different bamboo species in small and large spaces.

We’ll look at nitrogen fixing legumes, nutrient rich plants, pest repelling companions, erosion controllers, and more. The goal is to understand how to design functional bamboo ecosystems that provide value while requiring minimal inputs.

Key Takeaways

  • Companion planting can improve soil health, increase biodiversity, and provide better pest management for bamboo
  • Choose companions based on bamboo’s growing conditions and complementary growth habits
  • Legumes, like clover, fix nitrogen to nourish bamboo and other plants
  • Nutrient rich plants like comfrey add phosphorus, potassium and trace minerals
  • Carefully selected companions can help control pesky insects and reduce pesticide use
  • Erosion preventing groundcovers stabilize soil to protect bamboo
  • Compact options allow thriving bamboo ecosystems even in small gardens

Benefits of Companion Planting with Bamboo

When planted with the right companions, bamboo gardens can become productive, low maintenance ecosystems. Some key benefits of companion planting with bamboo include:

Benefits of Companion Planting with Bamboo
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Improved Soil Health

Different plants affect the soil in various ways. Legumes fix nitrogen, some plants mine deep nutrients, while others produce compounds that stimulate microbial activity.

When grown together, these soil enhancing properties have a multiplied effect. The diverse root systems of companion plants also create channels that improve drainage, aeration, and nutrient absorption around bamboo’s roots.

Increased Biodiversity

Monocultures of single plant species are vulnerable to pests and disease. But Polycultures with diverse plantings confuse pests and provide habitat for beneficial insects. They also support wildlife by providing food and shelter. This biodiversity strengthens ecosystems and makes them more resilient to threats.

Enhanced Ecosystem Services

Beyond individual benefits, intentionally selected companions work synergistically to recycle nutrients, suppress weeds, and create microclimates.

Soil fertility improves over time, reducing the need for external inputs. Water retains better in the soil, moderating moisture levels. Companions essentially amplify bamboo’s ecosystem services.

Better Pest Management

strategically placed companion plants like alliums, certain flowers, and herbs can effectively repel or attract beneficial insects to control major bamboo pests. Others may distract pests from bamboo or act as a barrier. When used thoughtfully, such biocontrols minimize pest damage without relying on pesticides.

As we can see, the advantages of companion planting go well beyond aesthetics. By pairing bamboo with plants tailored for the site conditions and overall goals, gardens become productive systems that sustain themselves with minimal maintenance. Let’s explore suitable plant partners for different bamboo needs and growing areas.

Choosing the Right Companion Plants for Bamboo

Choosing the Right Companion Plants for Bamboo
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When selecting companion plants, the first step is to understand the bamboo species in question and its preferred growing conditions. Bamboos vary significantly in terms of size, spreading behavior, pH and moisture preferences. Planting companions also need to complement bamboo’s growing habits rather than compete directly with them for space, light and nutrients.

Diversity is also important the more varieties included, the greater the ecological benefits. However, gardens still need to remain aesthetically cohesive. A balanced mix of trees, shrubs, groundcovers and flowers creates vertical layers for wildlife and visual interest.

Some general principles for choosing companion plants include:

  • Nitrogen fixing plants for fostering soil fertility
  • Nutrient accumulators that tap hard to reach minerals
  • Edibles, medicinals or ornamentals that attract beneficial insects
  • Deeprooted options for maximum water and nutrient absorption
  • Erosion preventers along slopes or areas prone to runoff
  • Plants with varying pH, water and light preferences
  • Locally native or climate adapted species over exotic varieties

Let’s explore in more detail some key families and species that make excellent bamboo companions.

Nitrogen Fixing Legumes

Legumes, characterized by their unique ability to fix nitrogen from the air, are extremely beneficial for bamboo gardens. They do this through a symbiotic relationship with rhizobia bacteria in nodules on their roots. This biological nitrogen fixation enriches the soil without external fertilizers.

Some top legume choices for bamboo include:

White cloverSpreading rapidly via stolons to form a dense groundcover, nitrogen fixing flowers attract pollinators.
Crimson cloverAnnual option that brings quick green manure benefits before summer heat, bright blooms for pollinators.
Fava beanTall climbers produce huge leaves to shade soil, edible beans high in nutrients.
PeasRapid cover crop for nitrogen fixation and soil protection over winter months.
AlfalfaDeep taproots access subsoil nutrients and moisture, excellent companion for erosion control.

The nitrogen fixed by legumes nourishes not only the legumes themselves but also companion plants like bamboo. This biological nitrogen pumping improves soil health and fertility over time while reducing the need for fertilizing. Legumes also prevent erosion, compete against weeds, and provide habitat and forage.

Other Nutrient Rich Companion Plants for Bamboo

Beyond nitrogen, bamboo also requires ample phosphorus, potassium, calcium and trace minerals for optimal growth. Certain plants have evolved to uptake nutrients that are otherwise unavailable to most plants. When grown together, these nutrient accumulators cycle minerals through decomposition to nourish whole gardens.

Some top options here:

PlantMacro/Micro Nutrients
ComfreyPotassium, phosphorus, magnesium, calcium, vitamins/minerals
NettlesNitrogen, potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron
ChrysanthemumPhosphorus, manganese
YarrowCalcium, silicon, zinc, iron
PlantainCalcium, copper, potassium, vitamins

As dynamic accumulators, plants like comfrey and nettles scavenge minerals through their extensive root systems, even remediating contaminated soils. Their quick decomposition through mulching or composting releases these concentrated nutrients to nourish other plants. Not only do they improve soil structure and fertility, their flowers also attract beneficial insects to bamboo gardens.

Plants for Pest Control

Plants for Pest Control
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While companion planting creates balanced bamboo ecosystems with fewer pest issues overall, certain pests will inevitably occur at some point. Carefully selected companions can help naturally ward off or control key bamboo pests such as:

  • Scale insects
  • Leafhoppers
  • Aphids
  • Caterpillars
  • Borers

Some top pest repelling plant options include:

PlantPest Control Mechanism
GarlicRepels many insect pests through natural oils.
MarigoldsRelease chemicals that interfere with pest development.
MintProduces strong scent masking bamboo from pests.
CilantroMasks bamboo scent, shelters beneficial insects.
DillAttracts predatory wasps and flies that parasitize pests.

Additionally, flowering plants provide food sources for predatory and parasitic insects like ladybugs, lacewings, and hoverflies that actively hunt pests.

Careful spacing of such companions deters pests from bamboo without using pesticides. Their aromatic oils, scents and exudates safely repel major bamboo attacking insects.

Companion Plants for Erosion Control

Erosion poises a constant threat to bamboo, especially on slopes or areas exposed to heavy rain or runoff. Deep rooted grass like plants bind soil effectively and prevent nutrient loss. Some top erosion controllers for bamboo include:

PlantRoot DepthGrowth Habit
AlfalfaOver 10 feetDeep roots create channels improving drainage & stability.
BambooSeveral feet or moreThick rhizomes anchor soil structure.
Purple prairie clover2-4 feetForms dense mats spreading horizontally.
Fescue2-3 feetFibrous clumping roots hold soil together.
Japanese sedge2-3 feetFast growth forms an impervious ground cover layer.

Paired with deep rooted trees and shrubs, these tough grasses and grass like plants protect vulnerable areas and preserve soil productivity long term. Their extensive fibrous root systems retain moisture, improve soil aggregation, and physically hold soil in place during rains. This stabilizes slopes for bamboo to thrive with minimal risk of erosion.

Companion Plants for Bamboo: for Small Spaces

For gardeners with limited space, bamboo is still an attainable option when paired with compact companion plants suited to containers or tight spots. Some top bamboo species ideal for small gardens include dwarf bamboo varieties as well as clumping bamboo.

Container gardens allow creative vertical stacking with trailing plants dangling over the edges. Some top compact bamboo companions include:

Dwarf honeywortForms a 6 inch carpet of silver foliage perfect for spilling over containers.
Dwarf Asian jasmineFragrant star shaped flowers on a vigorously trailing vine perfect for hanging baskets.
Dwarf herb selectionPair basil, rosemary, thyme, oregano and more for culinary and pest benefits in a compact space.
Dwarf butterfly bushAttracts pollinators with funnel shaped blooms on a 2-3 foot tall shrub.
Dwarf azaleaDense clusters of colorful flowers on an evergreen 3-4 foot tall, wide shrub.

For small in ground plots, wind dwarf clumping bamboos with low growing groundcovers, creeping herbs and bulbs. Dwarf legumes fix nutrients without taking over. Emphasis should be on multilevel plantings, vertical training and maximizing space efficiently with limited plant choices. Creative container stacking mimics the structure and function of bigger bamboo ecosystems.

Companion Plants for Bamboo: for Large Spaces

Companion Plants for Bamboo: for Large Spaces
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In expansive gardens, bamboo truly shines when given appropriate companions to meet its scale. There is space for larger trees, shrubs and ground layers. Here are some top options for bamboo in big landscapes:

Maple trees60-100 feetProvide autumn color, shade bamboo; extensive roots nourish soil.
Golden rain tree60-80 feetAttractive foliage, peelings add organic matter as mulch.
Hydrangea3-10 feetSummer flowers, holds moisture; leaves add minerals when composted.
Blazing star3-5 feetFall bloom attracts pollinators; branching structure creates varied layers.
Hosta1-3 feetOrnamental leaves provide shade, harbors beneficial insects.
Switchgrass3-6 feetOrnamental plumes, erosion control & deep roots improve structure.

Larger trees and structure plants foster biodiversity with habitat and forage. Their leaf drop and decomposition in autumn nourishes bamboo. Varied layers meet different needs for microclimates, food, nesting places and wind protection. Expansive bamboo forests become rich ecosystems.

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Final Thoughts on Companion Plants for Bamboo

In conclusion, companion planting offers immense benefits for creating sustainable, balanced bamboo ecosystems. By pairing bamboo with nitrogen fixing legumes, nutrient accumulators, pest repelling plants and erosion controllers tailored to the conditions, gardens become low maintenance systems that thrive with minimal human inputs over the long run.

Small gardens maximize benefits through careful plant selections, container stacking and creative use of space. Meanwhile, larger plantings allow bamboo and suitable companions to shine on their full scale.

The vertical layered structure and functional relationships in these companion planted bamboo gardens foster rich biodiversity above and below ground.

For gardeners just starting out with bamboo, I recommend beginning with a few key nitrogen fixers like white clover. Observe how these change the soil quality over seasons before expanding plant choices.

Interplant companion seeds and seedlings in open spaces for biodiversity. Mulch plant bases well to retain moisture around bamboo as new ecosystems establish.

With some planning and the right companions matched to each bamboo type and growing area, incredible ecosystems can evolve that produce yields and maintain balance largely on their own.

Readers are encouraged to start exploring bamboo’s potential as a functional, low input perennial crop through thoughtful companion planting based on native species suited for their gardens or landscapes. With care and time, such bamboo polycultures become self fertilizing systems providing a wealth of benefits for people and the planet.

Related Article: Bamboo Plant Growth Stages

References and Additional Information

Here are a few additional thoughts and resources on Companion Plants for Bamboo:

  • Consider local soil conditions, pH levels and moisture when selecting bamboo species. Certain types will thrive best in your region’s native soil.
  • Address any existing soil issues like poor drainage, compaction or nutrient deficiencies before planting. Healthy soils are the foundation for robust bamboo and companion plant growth.
  • Source nursery grown container bamboo for planting rather than taking divisions from established stands, which could spread invasive species or pests. Properly identify plants to avoid mixing up bamboo varieties.
  • Start observing your plants through different seasons to better understand their growth cycles, needs and interactions. Make notes to refine your companion selections over time.
  • Mulching plant bases retains soil moisture and moderates temperatures around bamboo’s shallow root systems. Try shredded leaves, grass clippings or arborist wood chips.
  • Weeds threaten to outcompete young bamboo and companions. Control weeds diligently at first through manual pulling or smothering mulches until plantings fill in.
  • Consider food and habitat needs of local wildlife when choosing companion plants. Seeds, berries and shelter sustain helpful native bees, birds and more.

For more tips on bamboo species selection, planting and care guides, check the following resources:

  • USDA Plant Database ( Comprehensive bamboo info by region.
  • NC State Extension Guide to Bamboo ( In depth on culture, pests, propagation.
  • ATTRA Sustainable Agriculture publications ( Details on companion planting, ecosystem design.
  • Ecotone Bamboo Nursery ( Expert source for native bamboo varieties.
  • Bamboo Speaks Podcast Interviews on using bamboo sustainably in different climates.

With a little research and the right approach, bamboo ecosystems can thrive in any garden or landscape with minimal human inputs through the power of thoughtful companion planting. 

Frequently Asked Questions on Bamboo Companion Plants

Q. What is a good companion plant for bamboo?

A. Low growing ground covers or shade loving perennials and shrubs make suitable companion plants for bamboo. Examples include ferns, hostas, ajuga, lamium, liriope, heuchera and astilbes. Plants should not outgrow or compete heavily with bamboo.

Q. What is the natural enemy of bamboo?

A. Invasive bamboo faces competition from weeds and disturbance from pests if not properly maintained. However, it has no true natural enemies and can be very difficult to control once established without herbicides. Fire and complete removal of all roots and culms may temporarily stop regrowth.

Q. Does bamboo stop other plants growing?

A. Yes, bamboo can crowd out other plants due to its fast, aggressive growth habit above and below ground. It secretes allelopathic chemicals that inhibit growth of nearby plants. Maintain space between bamboo clumps and other ornamentals you want to grow nearby.

Q. What is the best planting mix for bamboo?

A. Bamboo grows best in open, well draining soil that is rich in organic matter. A loose, friable planting mix of 3 parts soil, 2 parts compost or rotted manure and 1 part sand or perlite will provide adequate moisture retention, drainage and nutrients.

Q. What kills bamboo from growing?

A. Herbicides containing glyphosate (Roundup) or fluazifop-P-butyl are recommended for killing existing bamboo. Repeatedly apply as directed until growth stops. Dig out remaining roots and rhizomes to prevent regrowth. Preventing establishment is easier than removal.

Q. What is the best killer for bamboo?

A. When used according to label instructions, glyphosate herbicides applied as a foliar spray or to cut stem smears are generally the most effective killers of bamboo. Products with fluazifop-P-butyl or sethoxydim as the active ingredient may also work for control. Diligence is required to eradicate all existing roots and rhizomes.

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As a passionate gardener, I can often be found tending to my plants and flowers. My garden is my happy place, where I can escape the stresses of everyday life and connect with nature. I have a green thumb and take great pride in my work, carefully nurturing each plant and flower to help them thrive.