Clumping vs Running Bamboo
Bamboo is a great way to get immediate privacy without taking up a lot of real estate, which can be very helpful when you're screening a space in a small yard. There are only a handful of plants that work in central Texas have this vertical, columnar shape without going as wide as they are tall. Also, for the price point, you don't have to wait to have some amount of screening. We love working with bamboo because it's so easy to maintain–just cut it off either at the ground plane to thin out the stalks, or at the desired height and it won't keep growing from that culm; on the other hand, be careful if you choose to turn it into a hedge, because only new shoots will grow taller.
There are a couple of things you need to be aware of when selecting a species of bamboo:
Is it running or clumping variety?
Do you want it as a low hedge or tall wall?
Is it adapted to the water needs and climate of the project site?
Will there be irrigation or hand-watering while the plant becomes established?
I want to take the time to say we NEVER use running bamboo. It is a headache. It spreads rhizomes very invasively outside of the intended planting bed and your neighbors will not appreciate the amount of maintenance it takes to keep it at bay. It will compete with native plants and strangle out desired biodiversity on which local wildlife rely. Even with a sub-grade barrier, it's difficult to control (see image below). TL;DR it’s bad news, so don’t get it.
Clumping bamboo grows in a bunch and sends out new shoots very close to the root ball. Four varieties that do well here are:
Golden Goddess / Bambusa multiplex. Grows to 10–12’ at maturity. Green and yellow canes that have a culm size of .5”. Can tolerate down to 12°F.
photo credit: trinda brennan-farris - farris residence
Graceful aka Weaver’s / Bambusa textilis gracilis. Grows to 20–25’ at maturity. Dark green canes that have a culm size of 1.25”. Can tolerate down to 15°F.
Alphonse Karr / Bambusa multiplex. Grows 20–25’ at maturity. Green leaves and yellow canes that have a culm size of 1.5”. Can tolerate down to 12°F.
Emerald / Bambusa textilis mutabilis. Grows 35–40’ at maturity. Green canes that have a culm size of 2”. Can tolerate down to 15°F.
Golden Goddess is great for a lower hedge that’s dense at eye level; Graceful, Alphonse Karr, and Emerald all reach very tall heights that can give privacy screening from your neighbor’s windows on a second story. These varieties can certainly handle Austin’s weather most of the year, and even native plants are damaged by hard freezes, so they do a good job of adapting to this climate. They are thirsty in the summer, so especially the first year as they are becoming established, you should water twice a day. You can tell if it needs water when the leaves curl (see image below). Otherwise, they are pretty drought-tolerant and can handle our spells of feast and famine rainfall.