How to grow bamboo, a guide for extension workers and farmers. Bamboo belongs to the grass family and is mostly found in tropical, sub-tropical and in rare cases temperate zones. In terms of ecological habitat, it is classified into lowland and highland bamboo.

Lowland bamboo grows naturally in tropical Asia where temperature range from 200C – 350C

And rainfall is over 1500 mm per year.

In Africa, indigenous bamboo grow mainly in the highlands and medium altitude of eastern and Central Africa. In nature, bamboo grows ass pure stands or is mixed with other trees.

Bamboo growing is forested catchment plays a vital role in the protection of soils and water sources. It also forms the bulk of elephant and wildlife feed and has diverse utility ranging from construction to delicacy in Asia and Africa.

How to grow bamboo

Bamboo has several desirable qualities that make it a useful resource compared to many other plants. These include;

  • Ability to regenerate vegetatively
  • Tolerance to repeated harvesting
  • Strong and lightweight material
  • Ability to restore degraded sites
  • Short growing cycle
  • Compatibility with other tree species

Bamboo can be raised through various methods such as seeds, wildings, cutting, offsets and tissue culture. However indigenous and introduced species in Kenya do not really produce seeds. Among the methods of bamboo propagation, vegetative technique through the use of culm (bamboo stems) has been recommended, as it is faster in providing adequate planting material. Inadequate information of propagation has however remained a bottle neck to promotion and adaptation of bamboo on farms in Kenya.

These guidelines present propagation technique that uses bamboo stem cuttings in raising seedlings. The technique is mainly applied to bamboo species such as Bambusa tulda, Bambusa vulgaris var vitatta, Bambusa vulgaris, Dendrocalamus brandisii, Dendrocalamus asper, Dendrocalamus membranaceus and Dendrocalamus hamiltonii among others.


Propagation procedure

Propagation of bamboo from stem cutting involves several stages as follows

  • Collection of healthy bamboo culms(stems)
  • Preparation of cuttings and nursery for propagation
  • Propagation of the cuttings in the nursery or greenhouse
  • Separation of sprouts from cuttings and potting
  • Multiplication of sprouts or seedlings
  • Managing potted seedlings in a nursery or green house
  • Hardening seedlings for planting

Collection of bamboo culms

  • Identify health clumps for selection of clumps
  • Select culms that are between one year and three years of age

Young culms should not be cut for propagation since these have not developed buds to enable production of shoots and roots.

  • Using a sharp knife or a bow saw, cut culms that have at least three buds. If the culm is alive then the bud is alive. The size of the bud determines whether it is living or dead. Buds fused to the culm are assumed to be dead.
  • Ensure the culms are cut between 15 and 45cm from the ground, but not below the first prominent node above the ground.
  • Ensure the butt edges of the cut culms are not split.
  • Determine the length of the cuttings for propagation according to the transport to be used and the size of the propagation unit in use.
  • Obtain cuttings for propagation from the middle parts of the culms
  • Cover the cuttings with wet grass, wet straw or wet straw mats when transporting from cutting site to the propagation nursery or green house. This will protect the cuttings from wind that may cause excessive loss of water. Avoid using polyethylene sheets to cover cuttings being transported, as this will increase temperatures and humidity that may cause damages to cuttings.

Preparation of cuttings

Using a sharp panga or chisel, make holes at internodes of cuttings. The holes allow water to be poured in the gallery to sustain life. The holes should be made as soon as cuttings arrive in the nursery, preferably the same day.

How to grow bamboo preparation of nursery

  • In medium and low temperature areas, the use of a green house is desirable an open nursery may be used in warm sites but use of greenhouse is recommended. A greenhouse increases temperature and humidity that increases success in sprouting and rooting of cuttings.
  • Prepare nursery beds on the floor of greenhouse or on the ground in open nursery by flattening the ground.
  • Make raised beds for placing potted seedlings. Raised beds allows for self-pruning of seedling roots.

Propagation of cuttings in nursery or greenhouse

  • Place polyethylene sheet on the ground and pour a thin layer of volcanic ash or river sand. The polythene sheet will prevent water loss into the ground
  • Arrange the cuttings on the polyethylene sheet with buds facing sideways and holes facing upwards. Ensure the live buds do not face downwards as this may chock the emerging shoots leading to deaths.
  • Pour clean water through the holes to fill the entire volume of the cuttings.
  • Cover the nodes with volcanic ash or river sand. Avoid spilling sand into the holes as this may introduce microorganisms into the culms, which may cause infection leading to decay.
  • Leave the holes open to allow refill with water once a week
  • Water the dry sand and cover the cuttings loosely with a polyethylene sheet, to reduce moisture loss through excessive evaporation.
  • Observe through the clear sheet for development of shoots. Raise and support the polyethylene sheet with pegs to create more g rowing space as the shoots grow.
  • Remove the polyethylene sheet to allow the young sprouts to grow upright once most of the buds at nodes have produced shoots.

Separation of sprouts from cuttings and potting

  • Separate the sprouts at the internodes using a hacksaw when the shoots are at least 10cm long and roots have developed. Some species however take long to root and more time should before separation of the sprouts is undertaken.
  • Dip the separated sprouts into synthetic fungicide to protect them from attack by pathogens
  • Pot the treated sprouts in tubes filled with growth media. The growth media should consist of sand, soil and manure in the ratio 1:2:1 respectively.

How to grow bamboo multiplication of sprouts or seedlings

The potted seedlings have produced more shoots and roots that can be multiplied by further separation. The process of mass production of seedlings through splitting or separation of sprouts and seedlings, bearing small rooted rhizomes, is commonly referred to as multiplication or proliferation.

Depending on the demand for a particular species, multiple or periodic proliferation can be done to rejuvenate the seedlings for planting in a coming season.

Managing potted seedlings in a nursery or greenhouse

Keep the potted seedlings in the nursery or greenhouse for at least one month to allow recovery and establishment for more roots.

Water the seedlings twice a day preferably in the morning and late in the evening. Avoid over watering as this encourages fungus growth, which may cause seedlings death.

Remove the seedlings from the greenhouse after at least a month, but ensure that they are kept under shade (60%) before exposing them to direct sunlight.

Hardening seedlings for planting

Harden the seedlings by reducing watering intensity, and shading from 60% to direct sunshine over a period of one to two months. This process adapts the seedlings to the climatic conditions of the planting area. Such seedlings are now ready for planting in the field.