The short answer is: Yes!
In fact, bamboo may even be too good a fit for your garden.
The climate of Seattle and the PNW is ideal for bamboo growth, in part due to how moist it is. That means that bamboo can take off and spread very quickly, giving it a reputation for being invasive.
However, there are ways to avoid this through smart planting choices that will allow you the benefits of bamboo’s quick screening, without worrying about it dominating your garden.
Clumping VS Running
The first thing to understand is that there are two main types of bamboo: clumping and running. As the names suggest, clumping bamboo grows in discrete clumps, while running bamboo spreads rapidly – extending its rhizome (root) laterally for tens of feet.
While it is possible to try to control running bamboo by cutting it back when it reaches trenches or installing barriers, we recommend just sticking with clumping bamboo: it gets the job done without risking a potential garden disaster!
Best bamboo varieties for Seattle
There are a number of fargesia bamboo varieties that work well. One we like is Fargesia robusta. Originating in China, it grows from 12 to 15 feet over several years, with a maximum height of 20 feet and a 1-inch diameter culm, or stem. It’s a favorite of giant pandas.
Fargesia are popular not just because they don’t spread too far, but also because they are hardy to weather. Fargesia nitida is one of the most winter-resistant bamboo varieties. It grows up to 12 feet in height and a half-inch in diameter, and it can survive temperatures down to negative 20 degrees Fahrenheit.
For also hardy but even larger and more ornamental bamboo varieties, try borindas. Borindas include a number of bamboos previously assigned to other varieties. They are usually marked by fine ridges on the stretches between joints know as “internodes.” Borinda boliana can reach heights of 50 feet, a diameter of 2 inches, and features a blue-green color.
Borinda macclureana is another variety that does well in the Pacific Northwest. It can grow up to 25 feet tall and 1 inch thick, offering dense screening.
Unlike the last two varieties, chusquea is from South America, not Asia. Native to the mountains, it is a hardier South American variety than those used solely to tropical environments. It is also solid, unlike most other bamboo varieties which are hollow. Local gardening expert Ciscoe Morris recommends Chusquea culeou. Native to Argentina and Chile, it grows as high as 25 feet and as wide as 1.5 inches. Its growth depends on planting conditions: in direct sun it will grow denser and shorter, while shaded conditions will cause it to grow taller and thinner.
Thamnocalamus is a versatile variety of bamboo found in both the Himalayas and Africa. Thamnocalamus tessellatus is native to the mountains of South Africa where it was used for shields and spears by the Zulu people. It offers striking white leaves during its first season of growth. In wet areas, clumps grow as high as 20 feet and stalks as wide as 1.25 inches.