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Clumping Bamboo vs Running Bamboo Plants: What’s the Difference?

clumping vs running bamboo
by Ally North Ally North

Fresh and contemporary looking bamboo is a popular garden plant which can be used in pots or as a living screen, creating an instant atmosphere of cool tranquillity with its gentle rustling and swaying, leafy canes. You might also have heard it’s a nightmare and spreads everywhere. Is that true? Not quite. There are two kinds of bamboo - clumping and running - and the secret to a happy life with bamboo is choosing the right kind. Read on to find out which kind you need.

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Clumping bamboo (Fargesia)

This bamboo stays in a tight clump. It won’t spread more than 10cm from where it’s planted.

Best for pots and beds

Clumping bamboo is what you need if you’re looking for a specimen plant in a border, bed or container. If you want your bamboo to form a screen or hedge, this is not the bamboo you’re looking for, as it won’t spread. If you’re planting it in a pot, choose one which is at least twice as big as the root ball and check it every two to three years to see if it needs repotting.

How it grows

These bamboos have a large root ball like other ornamental grasses. They grow new canes from the centre outwards, rather than spreading underground and springing up randomly.

clumping bamboo

Growth rate

Clump forming bamboo grows around 30-45cm per year until the plant reaches its eventual height.


This bamboo is relatively compact, typically growing to less than 5m tall, and will eventually reach the same width unless they’re pruned. Their culms (or canes) are smaller and more delicate than those of running bamboo.


Clumping bamboo isn’t generally as hardy as running bamboo, but more cold tolerant varieties can be found. You will need to give it some frost protection over the winter, especially if it’s being grown in a container, which makes it more exposed to the weather. There are two ways of doing this - either bring it indoors (a shed is fine) or leave it outside and wrap it with horticultural fleece or bubble wrap throughout the winter.

Recommended variety

Red Bamboo: Fargesia scabrida 'Asian Wonder'.

red bamboo

Running bamboo (Phyllostachys)

This bamboo loves to spread. It needs to be contained or it will spring up everywhere!

Best for screening

Running bamboo is what you need to create a natural windproof screen - it’s perfect for reducing neighbour noise or disguising unsightly sheds, walls and garages and also works well in a sensory garden. Restricting the roots is essential to keep it under control - find out how in our bamboo care guide.

How it grows

This bamboo spreads underground from horizontal stems, coming up as vertical canes. If they’re not contained, they can spread over long distances, with some varieties springing up 12m from the original plant.

spreading bamboo

Growth rate

Running bamboo grows between 90-150cm per year up to its eventual height.


These bamboos grow quickly - ideal for screening! Their eventual heights vary from 1m for dwarf varieties to 8m for the tallest, but most reach around 4-5m unless they’re pruned.


All running bamboo varieties are fully hardy in all parts of the UK and can be left outdoors without any winter protection. In very windy or exposed areas they may suffer from leaf scorch, but this rarely affects them seriously. 

Recommended varieties

black bamboo

Why do clumping and running bamboos behave differently? 

Both bamboo types spread by rhizomes, which are the stems that run horizontally underground, forming roots below and new canes above ground.

Clumping bamboo is sympodial - it has short rhizomes which stay close to the original plant without spreading far.

Running bamboo is monopodial, meaning that its rhizomes are longer and spread more quickly.

Find out more about how to care for your bamboo plants and restrict running bamboo.

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