One of my favorite plants to grow on my homestead in Hawai’i is bamboo. It has so many uses. I especially like it because it allows me to earn a small income. Not with the bamboo poles themselves, but by propagating it and selling it to others. Today I am going to let you in on some of my secrets.
Bamboo can be propagated by root division, by cutting and by airlayering. The best time to propagate bamboo is in the spring for root division and just before the wet season if propagating bamboo by cutting or air layering.
Each method of propagating bamboo has its place. In this post, I’ll dive deeper into how to propagate bamboo using each method. You’ll know exactly how to propagate your own bamboo when you are done reading.
Why Grow Bamboo
Before we get into how to grow bamboo, I want to dive in a bit into why grow bamboo. Why should we care about growing a grass that grows to over 40ft tall?
- Bamboo can grow quickly, producing usable building material within 4-6 years
- Bamboo can stabilize hillsides and minimize erosion
- Bamboo can help purify streams
- Bamboo can provide an income for those who grow it
- Bamboo can be edible
- There hundreds of more reasons like these
Bamboo is an amazing plant. I feel like every time I propagate a bamboo plant and share it with my customers, I’m helping repair the ‘aina. After all, bamboo was brought as a canoe crop by the original settlers of the Hawaiian Islands. So it must have been important.
Propagating Bamboo By Cutting
This is by far my favorite and perhaps easiest way to propagate bamboo. It is pretty easy to make dozens of cuttings ready to be potted up in no time flat. Unlike the other methods mentioned in this post.
You would want to propagate bamboo by cutting just before the start of the rainy season so that you can ensure the young plants get the required moisture that they need. They like a lot of water.
- Bamboo Saw or Chainsaw
- 1 gal – 5 gal pots or grow bags
- Well draining potting soil
Step By Step
- Choose desired bamboo pole, 1-2 years in age
(Related Article: How Can You Tell How Old Bamboo Is?)
- Cut down bamboo pole with a chainsaw or bamboo saw just above the lowest node you can get to.
- Cut each node that has branching, 1”-2” below, 1”-2” above.
- Prune any excessively long branching coming out of the node
- Fill half of a pot or grow bag with potting soil. Make sure it is well draining. Here in Hawai’i, I add half potting soil, half black cinder.
- Insert your bamboo cutting
- Fill the remaining half of the pot with potting soil, ensuring the part where the branching meets the node is under soil. It is OK for the top bamboo pole section to be sticking out of the soil.
- Repeat for the rest of the node sections that you cut off your bamboo pole. Enjoy dozens of new plants taking root in about 3 months or so as long as they get plenty of water.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret from those of us who grow bamboo to sell. I can easily get 20 cuttings from 1 bamboo pole and pot them up in less than an hour. Bamboo regularly sells for $50 out of a 5 gallon pot. You’re looking at $1000! That’s pretty cool.
Propagating Bamboo By AirLayering
I used to propagate bamboo using the airlayering method almost exclusively. I liked how it didn’t take much soil, there was no need for pots, and they didn’t take up any space in the garden while rooting out.
I think it’s pretty cool to see roots developing from bamboo. The clear plastic wrap can give you a clear view of the roots weaving their way through the soil. Each one is like a little science experiment for me. I think you’ll enjoy it too. It’s pretty easy to do.
- Bamboo Saw or Chainsaw
- Plastic wrap, plastic bag or some other thin clear plastic
- Moist Peat moss
- Electrical Tape
- Tin Foil
Step By Step
- Choose the appropriate branch. I find the best airlayers come from spots where a bamboo has been harvested and a branch is growing from that cut spot. You can also find branching with roots already growing to be great airlayering candidates as well.
- Take your plastic and cut it to size, ensuring it will wrap around the bamboo culm completely.
- Tape the plastic around the bamboo culm at the bottom of the branching that you are going to airlayer.
- With the plastic in one hand, pack moist peat moss into your cupped hand holding the plastic.
- Press the peat moss to the bottom area of the branching on the culm, keeping it firmly pressed and tape it off.
- Ensure the plastic is taped off on both top and bottom of the branching, securely holding the peat moss to the bottom of the branching.
- Cover it all with aluminum foil.
- In 3 months you should see roots forming. If you do, you can cut it off at the bottom with a chainsaw or bamboo saw and pot it up into a well draining pot just like we did when taking it as a cutting.
I don’t airlayer much anymore. It was great when I was only doing a few and didn’t have much soil on my hands, but when it comes to wanting to make a lot at once, making cuttings has become the way to go.
However, if you are like me and have very little soil on hand, airlayer is a great way to make new bamboo plants.
If you have kids, it’s a great introduction into the world of plant propagation. They’ll love it!
Propagating Bamboo By Division
When I was younger, this was the only way that was ever really described as a way for bamboo to be propagated. I wish I knew about the previous two methods earlier because this method can be really difficult for some species.
Imagine wanting to propagate a giant bamboo and all you knew was to divide the root at the base. This requires digging, hacking, sawing, destroying saws, breaking backs, then finally getting a root division free. It is no easy task if you choose to take it on by hand.
The easiest way to do it is by machine. A mini excavator can just dig those things right out. It would be best to cut the pole ahead of time of course, but separating the roots with a machine will save you a sore back and hours of work.
- Shovel or a backhoe
- Saw or a backhoe
- 15 gallon pots or place to plant directly in the ground
Step By Step
- Find a culm that is on the outer edge of the clum and begin to uncover the root rhizome.
- Cut the Culm with a chainsaw or bamboo saw 2 nodes up.
- Cut the rhizome about 1’ from the culm with a handsaw or excavator
- Plant in the ground or in 15 gallon pot with well draining potting soil
- In 3 months, you should see new sprouts popping up.
Propagating most species of bamboo by division is great when you already have a backhoe onsite, but not so great if you have to do it by hand.
But for some bamboo, taking division by hand is not so hard. If it’s growing in loose soil and is a smaller diameter bamboo, it may be possible to dig it out of the ground with ease.
Starting off with the large rhizomes gives you larger bamboo plants in a much faster time than the other 2 methods.
They can also be shipped bareroot, enabling to expand the borders of your bamboo nursery business. This is the primary reason growers choose this method over others.
Bamboo Propagation As A Business
As I alluded to earlier, propagating bamboo can be very lucrative. People pay top dollar for bamboo cultivars, with some of the more obscure fetching as much as $150 per plant!
As an off grid homesteader, our economic plan depends on diversity of incomes. Growing bamboo is a way for me to generate about ¼ of my income, with the rest coming from other sources.
It complements my other work as it does not take up too much of my time to accomplish. The great thing though is that sales are made through my other income makers, this blog and a Youtube channel that I manage which brings me in another ½ of my income.
It doesn’t take much for me to live a pretty good life. What’s best is how I have come to earn an income to support my simple lifestyle. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Having a small bamboo nursery has really helped my family, I encourage you to give it a try.