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Bamboo Farming in Florida

This information is presented as a reference for anyone considering growing bamboo as a farm crop in Florida.  
Tropical Bamboo Nursery & Gardens has been receiving many inquiries recently from farmers and investors, as well as from  individuals seeking to educate themselves in advance of a possible career change.  
We are posting this Q&A page to, hopefully, provide a more efficient way to answer questions.  We will continually add to this page as new questions are presented to us.  

Note:  We operate a bamboo nursery, not a large-scale bamboo farm.  We grow and propagate more than 250 different bamboo species, mostly for ornamental, landscape use.  We import new bamboo species annually via the USDA-APHIS quarantine facility in Beltsville, MD.  We're also heavily involved with the American Bamboo Society and the World Bamboo Organization We encourage anyone considering bamboo farming to join these organizations. 
Any information freely given on this page is based on our accumulated knowledge over several decades working in the bamboo world.   There is not (yet) a proven business concept on large-scale bamboo farming in the USA.  Anyone entering into this new venture should be doing so knowing that their success or failure is entirely their responsibility.  We are not offering business advice nor are we liable for any decisions made that are based on anything published on this page.  



  • End Use of Crop –
    Why is the bamboo being grown? What is intended to be produced for profit? 
    Most often, it’s a dual-purpose crop that’s grown for poles and shoots.  The poles primarily for their fiber and biomass and the shoots for food. 

  • Species selection -
    What species of bamboo should be grown? 
    This might be the most important question.  There are more than 1500 different bamboo species in the world.  Recently, it seems farmers in Florida have been planting two bamboo species – Phyllostachys edulis (moso) and Dendrocalamus asperPhyllostachys edulis (moso) has failed because, primarily, it is a temperate bamboo and Florida is mostly sub-tropical.  So, the tropical species Dendrocalamus asper is being pitched as a better species in Florida. It is certainly a good option, especially in south Florida (not as suitable in frost-prone north Florida).  
    The general rule with all types of plants is 'right plant, right place'.  If you choose plants that are well suited to the location where they are planted they will perform well with limited additional input.  This applies to different bamboo species. There is no single bamboo species that is perfect for every zone in Florida.   The USDA hardiness zones in Florida range from 8a to 11a  (see map at bottom of page).   The soil composition and ph in Florida varies from north to south.  We grow more than 250 different tropical bamboo species in Palm Beach county.  Many of them grow very well.  Some of them do well as ornamentals but will never reach their full potential as they would in their native environment or in a zone that more closely matches the overall conditions of their native environment.   Others in our collection are kept alive and attractive with some additional attention but they'd prefer to live in a different zone.  
    If you're planning on farming bamboo, you're not just growing the bamboos to look pretty.  You need them to be as happy and productive as they can be - with minimal attention.   Choose the best bamboo species for the location of your farm. 

    There is a second question to ask when considering species selection.  Why choose just one species?  Is it because your source only has propagules of Dendrocalamus asper to offer?  There are a few good reasons to diversify when farming bamboo. 
    A bamboo species bamboo flowers at long, erratic intervals – often 100 years or more.  When this happens gregariously the entire species, worldwide, will likely die of exhaustion leaving acres of dry bamboo skeletons. The odds of Dendrocalamus asper flowering gregariously within the next 10, 20, 30 years are probably long but still possible.  If I were farming bamboo, large-scale, I wouldn’t gamble on my one species not flowering. 
    The second reason to diversify is to achieve a longer shooting season.  Generally, bamboos in the genus Bambusa shoot heavily early in the Florida rainy season, Gigantochloa in the middle, and Dendrocalamus later in the rainy season.  If you choose species from two or three genus, you can achieve a steadier yield from May through November.  
    Finally, bamboos in the genus Bambusa are tropicals but tend to be somewhat more frost tolerant than those of Dendrocalamus and Gigantochloa.  Consider your USDA Climate Zone when choosing the species of bamboo(s) you intend to plant. 

  • Procurement of propagules -
    Where to obtain bamboo starts?
    For this question, we will just offer some suggestions on what to avoid and what to look for when shopping for your bamboo babies.  You should find a bamboo nursery (there are several in Florida) that will produce the starts you need in the quantity you need.  
    All things are definitely not equal when sourcing your starter bamboos.  Seeds, or seedlings, should never be considered for a large-scale bamboo plantation..  These are almost always a scam and are also illegal to bring into the USA.  If you manage to illegally smuggle seeds in without getting caught by USDA Smuggling and Interdiction & Trade Compliance officers, the seeds and/or seedlings will surely disappoint.  Their species identity typically ends up something other than what was expected.  Their viability and vigor will vary greatly.  If there are some vigorous growers amongst the weaklings, even those take many years to develop.  That might work in countries where the cost of labor, land, and time are not a factor.  In the USA, we can’t afford to waste any of those three things.

    Vegetative clones of proven parent plants should be your goal.  Seriously…ask to see the mature bamboo from which your supplier/nursery is obtaining your starts. What you see is exactly what you can expect to grow. Three to five years from planting, you should have hundreds or thousands of equally robust and impressive field bamboos.  Not hundreds or thousands of weaklings that need to be replaced after many wasted years. 
    Just to reiterate, vegetative clones are plants that are reproduced from rooted cuttings, root/rhizome division, or micropropagation of a proven specimen.   The resultant plants are exact copies that will match the vigor and form of the parent plant. 
    Seeds are a product of sexual reproduction after flowering.  Seedlings will vary in vigor and in form.  Bamboo seeds obtained online are often not sourced from the desired species and, if purchased from an overseas source and shipped into the USA, will eventually be seized and destroyed by the USDA-SITC.   Most online sales (Ebay, Amazon, etc.) are monitored and flagged by the SITC.   
    After all of that, we don't want to leave the overall impression that growing bamboo from seed should never be considered.  Bamboo seeds that are sourced from a known species that flowered within the USA can be fun and will produce a new generation of that species.  Just don't try bamboo seeds/seedlings for farming or when consistent reliability is important.  
    Think of it this way....
    Growing bamboo from seed can be wonderful because you never know what you'll get
    Growing bamboo from seed can be disappointing because you never know what you'll get.

  • USDA Climate Zone -
    Which bamboo species would be best in my specific location? 
    Know your USDA hardiness zone and choose appropriate species.  Go to the USDA Hardiness Zone page and type in your zip code to reveal your zone. The bamboo that you choose to grow will be most productive when it’s happiest in its designated environment.   A zone map of Florida is at the bottom of this page. 

  • Planting grid - 
    How many bamboo plants per acre do I need and how should the grid be designed? 
    There isn't an exact answer to the first part of this question as there are many variables to consider.  You would first need to know what bamboo species you're going to plant and, hopefully, you're considering at least two or three different species.  You can plant more bamboos per acre that are in the genus Bambusa as they generally grow in an erect form, taking up less space.  Dendrocalamus and Gigantochloa species grow in a fountain shape, arching outward.  They need a bit more space for optimal growth. 
    You will need access roads for harvest and the width of these roads should allow for the bamboos' rapid growth and dimensions at maturity.   A 10' wide farm road lined on each side with Dendrocalamus species starter plants would be drivable in the first year.  After year two, you might not get a motorcycle through that road.  So, allow space for reasonable sized roads.  
    Th grid is ideally a checkerboard design with rows east to west.  The sun in Florida moves across the southern sky half of each year.  If your rows are north to south, the only bamboos getting full sun would be the ones on the southern end of your rows.  With a checkerboard design, east to west, the shadow of each bamboo will often fall in the gap between the bamboos in the next row to the north.  
    Typically, you'll need between 200-400 bamboo plants per acre.   You'll have to calculate the exact number for your farm based on your specifics.  Draw it out on a survey copy of your land.   Maybe start your plan with bamboos on 12' x 15' spacing in the aforementioned checkerboard pattern.  The 12' spacing is for the bamboos in each row but this could be tighter for Bambusa's and wider for Dendrocalamus.   The distance between rows should be around 15'. 
    The 12' x 15' grid calculates to about 200 plants per acre.  
    If you go to more open 20' x 20' spacing,  your land only will hold about 100 bamboos per acre.  
    If you reduce to 10' x 12' grid, you'll need about 340 bamboos.  
    A 10' x 10' grid will get you to 400 bamboos per acre - very dense for most tropical bamboos. 

  • Speed of Growth
    How fast does bamboo grow to maturity?
    Tropical bamboos that are started from reliable vegetative clones of proven parent plants, that are in suitable growing conditions, will reach maturity within 4-5 years.  They are incredibly fast and the most impressive growth spurt occurs in their 2nd to 3rd year.  
    They are the fastest-growing plants on Earth, according to the Guinness Book of Records
    This means that, yes, you can plant knee high starts in your fields that will become towering timber bamboos within just a few years. 


Bamboo Species Options -

These are just some of the many bamboo species that grow well in different areas of Florida. All are good producers of poles and edible shoots:

            Bambusa oldhamii

            Bambusa beecheyana

            Bambusa beecheyana var. pubescens

            Bambusa bicicatricata

            Bambusa pervariabilis x Dendrocalamopsis daii

            Bambusa variostriata

            Bambusa membranacea

            Dendrocalamus asper

            Dendrocalamus barbatus

            Dendrocalamus brandisii (true clone only)

            Dendrocalamus copelandii

           Dendrocalamus giganteus            

            Dendrocalamus hamiltonii

            Dendrocalamus latiflorus

            Dendrocalamus sericeus

            Dendrocalamus sinicus

            Dendrocalamus validus

            Gigantochloa apus

            Gigantochloa balui

            Gigantochloa levis

            Gigantochloa pseudoarundinacea

            Gigantochloa robusta


More data on each of these bamboo species, and others, can be found here:  Search Tropical Bamboo 


 USDA Hardiness Map for FloridaUSDA Hardiness Map for Florida

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