Bamboo is the general name used for a number of perennial, woody-stemmed grasses. Native cane (Arundinaria gigantea), which is commonly referred to as river cane, grows naturally in Kentucky and throughout much of the Southeast. It is one of three bamboo species native to North America. There are more than a hundred introduced species that can be grown in the U.S., with growth habits ranging from low-growing groundcovers to full-sized trees that reach a height of more than 30 feet at maturity.
Potential growers should thoroughly investigate all aspects of growing and marketing this crop before considering production. Markets for new and niche crops, such as bamboo, can easily become oversaturated with local supply. While bamboo has become the focus of increased attention as a potential alternative crop, there are a number of serious limitations to commercial production. A major concern is its reputation for being invasive and difficult to eliminate. There have already been cases of introduced bamboo species escaping from Kentucky plantings and spreading into nearby woods and fields. Introduced bamboo species have escaped from some reported Kentucky plantings and spread into nearby woods and fields. In some situations several acres of land were affected. Although widely recognized by many as a problematic plant, bamboo also has many enthusiasts. However, prospective Kentucky growers should be willing to install appropriate barriers to prevent unwanted spread or focus on containerized plant production when pursuing any enterprise involving bamboo. Bamboo is best suited for production in Kentucky as an ornamental nursery crop for wholesale and retail sale.
It is essential to select bamboo species that are both hardy to Kentucky and suitable for the intended end-use(s). Nurseries selling bamboo for home or commercial landscapes need to select cultivars with growth habits that make them appropriate for transplanting to those locations. While a number of bamboos can be harvested for multiple purposes (e.g. both shoots and poles), other species are only suitable for very specific uses. Producers should only purchase their plant material from a reputable dealer selling bamboo that has been correctly identified to species and cultivar. To obtain commercial quantities of planting material it may be necessary to make arrangements with one or more wholesale nurseries well in advance of the intended planting date.
Bamboos are typically classified as “runners,” which spread aggressively several feet per year, or “clumpers,” which only spread a few inches per year. Many of the bamboos hardy to Kentucky are runners and, therefore, potentially invasive.