Bamboo Basics Running vs Clumping Bamboo

Bamboo Basics: Running vs Clumping Bamboo

Bamboo is one of the most widely cultivated and useful grass species in the world. There are two main types of bamboo – clumping bamboo and running bamboo. These differ primarily in their growth habit and potential invasiveness. This article will explain the key differences between clumping and running bamboo, including their definitions, planting types, uses and advantages and disadvantages of each.  

Clumping Bamboo or Non-invasive

Clumping bamboo is so named because, as the experts at Bamboo Down Under describe in detail, it sends out new canes from an underground root system called rhizomes in a very controlled manner. The secret to clumping bamboo’s non-invasive behavior lies in these short rhizomes that grow outwardly from the central clump only by a few centimeters each year. This results in a neatly clustered habit that remains completely contained even with maturity.

Some common clumping varieties suitable for Australian gardens include, Bambusa Textilis Gracilis, Bambusa multiplex (Lemon Bamboo), Bambusa vulgaris (Timber Bamboo) and Hibano Bambusa Tranquillans (Tufted Timber Bamboo), all forming clumps typically less than 2 metres in diameter according to the nursery’s growing experience.

The local specialists further note that while clumping bamboo can initially shoot up rapidly on establishment, forming thickets of 1-5 metres tall depending on species and conditions, its growth soon levels out.

Unlike invasive running types, clumping bamboo maintains the same compact footprint long-term without causing ground disturbance beyond the original planting zone. This is due to the rhizomes traveling only shallow depths, typically within the upper 30cms of soil. The finely textured root systems also do not damage underground structures like pipes.

Requiring just basic maintenance like occasional division or staking in wind-prone areas, clumping bamboo offers a low-fuss, contained landscape solution suitable even for small gardens and containers as confirmed by Bamboo Down Under’s experts. Its evergreen foliage and steel-like stems add an elegant privacy and year-round interest when used for hedging or as a specimen plant.

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Running Bamboo or Spreading

Running bamboo is so named for its ability to aggressively spread through vast underground networks as extensively documented by Bamboo Down Under’s experts. Unlike the localized rhizomes of clumping varieties, running bamboo sends out rope-thick stems called rhizomes laterally over distances up to 6 metres or more each year. 

As the reference nursery elucidates, these creeping rhizome systems form an unpredictable subterranean “mesh” with new culm shoots emerging at irregular intervals along the entire length.

If given the room to roam freely without checks, running bamboo would effectively naturalize any surrounding area by outcompeting other foliage through sheer density. The local specialists thus stress the requirement for robust root barriers when using running bamboo near property boundaries.

Some quicker-spreading varieties favored for screening like Phyllostachys vivax necessitate particularly diligent annual division to partition the rhizome “webs” and extract new canes for transplanting elsewhere according to Bamboo Down Under’s first-hand studies.

However, on larger rural blocks where space is no constraint as the reference site underscores, running bamboo can thrive magnificently as vigorous windbreaks or rapid privacy hedging. The nursery has witnessed species such as the stately Phyllostachys Nigra form towering black-hued groves within only a few seasons.

With the right containment methods including trenching and physical barriers as prescribed, running bamboo brings extensive screening benefits albeit requiring committed maintenance to rein its ambitious routes.


In summary, the key difference between clumping and running bamboo is their growth habit and potential invasiveness.

Clumping bamboo remains contained to a clump while running bamboo can aggressively spread several metres each year if not properly managed. Clumping bamboo is generally lower maintenance and better suited to ornamental landscaping in gardens, pots and use in bamboo hedges.

Running bamboo requires more oversight to contain but provides fast screening where space allows. Understanding a species’ growth habit is vital to choosing the right bamboo for any given space or purpose such as a bamboo hedge.


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