What is the difference between clumping and running bamboos?

Bamboo species are broadly grouped into two main types: Clumping Bamboo (sympodial or pachymorph) and Running Bamboo (monopodial or leptomorph). Clumping bamboos are generally classified as non-invasive but running bamboos are notorious for their growth habit and extremely invasive behaviour. Clumping bamboo generally has fairly short roots compared to running bamboo, which makes perfect sense really. 

Phyllostachys aurea aureocaulis - Yellow-Groove Bamboo - 150-180cm

A Running bamboo: Phyllostachys aurea aureocaulis

Clumping bamboo tends to grow much taller, and more quickly as all their power is focused on core height and central stability rather than extending out longer and more horizontal rhizomes as far as possible in every direction, at the sacrifice of height.

There is nothing to fear with bamboos once you have taken the time to properly identify your bamboo before planting, and put steps in place to keep things under control. 

Bamboo certainly developed a notorious reputation over the last couple of decades, mostly due to the new plants that were imported and no one really had any knowledge of how they grew here, nor how to control them. Over the years some of the nondescript, or poorly identified bamboos were phased out from retail purchasing and soon it was easier finding better specimens that would work better in your garden.  

Clumping Bamboo Pros and Cons

✅ Max Height.

All the power of clumping bamboo can be turned into height. Not all of them are tall, but there certainly are taller varieties should you need the towering size.

❌ Not good in tight spots due to rhizome pressure

Tight spots where they could damage or pressure walls, tight planters or gaps between walls. The pressure of the dense rhizome structure can exert great pressure. It’ll smash your pot in no time.

✅ Non Spreading

They won’t pop up in your neighbours garden unannounced. They are easy to manage, and easy to predict how large they will get and you can plan accordingly .

❌ They won’t adapt to the shape of the border / bed / pot you want to grow them in (IE long and thin) They will just grow circular, that’s it, and god forbid you get in the way.
✅ No root barrier needed

You won’t need the added expense of root barrier protection for your bamboo.

❌ Less cold tolerant

Not always ideal in super cold spots or places that get the coldest weather.

✅ Predictable footprint

They generally will need a circular space between 1m-3m even after 10-15 years to maturity.

❌ Less choice – Not a huge range of species and types to choose from (although I think there is plenty!)

Running Bamboo Pros and Cons

✅ Impressive large groves

If you have lots of room to let them grow to their full potential these are for you. Create natural open groves which are just gorgeous to wander around.


Invasive if incorrectly placed, or if there are just too many risks planting a running bamboo in that location

✅ Erosion Control

If you have unstable land, or prone to erosion of some kind they can act as a strong ground cover and protection

Root Barrier requirement

Requires root barrier control, so there may be areas you just can’t install it, or just not cost effective enough.

✅ Cheaper & More choice

General cheaper to buy in the first place. There are loads to choose from, everything you want is already available.

✅ Fast Screening over a larger area

Not as dense as clumpers, but if you want to cover a large area and fast, running bamboo get the job done.

Clumping Bamboos

Most clumping bamboos, such as the readily available Fargesia Robusta Campell grow only a couple of inches out from the center each year, so predictable and easy to spot as they create almost perfect circular clumps. They have a very short root structure, but it grows very dense. 

One thing to be aware of clumping bamboo is that the circular clump of rhizome is very dense, and a densely growing base can exert huge pressure on anything around it, such as concrete posts, fencing, walls and even houses. Although clumping bamboo moves slowly, the force at which it does expand is quite remarkable.  Scroll through any exotic or tropical gardening forum and see yet another post of someone complaining that the bamboo shattered another terracotta pot, or they tried to repot it but had to smash the pot to get it out! 

One the whole, clumping bamboo are a little more prone to frost damage than the running bamboo, but the exception here is Fargesia, which are super tough. However, even with Fargesia, a heavy frost will slow the growth rate down.

Clumpers make the best choice for bamboo screening due to the density of culms, but due to the density they also are slower to fill the gaps. However in most gardens, bamboo will grow plenty fast enough regardless. 

What are good examples of clumping bamboo?

Fountain Bamboo Fargesia rufa

Fountain Bamboo Fargesia rufa

Fargesia murielae – Dwarf evergreen clumping bamboo, low and arching culms. Forms a dense bush of max 2m in height. Prefers sheltered location.

Fargesia murielae ‘jumbo’ – Reaches 3.5 at maturity, but remains in a tight clump. Evergreen and non invasive. This clumping bamboo is also called ‘umbrella bamboo’ due to the weeping nature of the branches – but ALWAYS choose via the latin name as common names can change and be misinterpreted. This bamboo is similar to Fargesia nitida. 

Fargesia murielae ‘Rufa’ – Clumping medium sized bamboo with light green culms and evergreen leaves. Pink/red colours on new growth and tolerates shade well. Like with most of these, try and avoid exposed sites, waterlogged soils for best growth. 

Fargesia murielae ‘Simba’ – Another dwarf clumping bamboo, which forms a tight clump with low arching culms, or a weeping habit. It has gloriously bright leaves on new growth, which really helps get some popping colour into your garden in early spring. This is also one of the Fargesia that is happy with a more exposed position, such as along the coast. 

Fargesia nitida – This bamboo has a very straight and upright habit, with narrow culms which then slightly arch at the top which is a joy to look at, and certainly one of the more graceful and good looking Fargesia clumping bamboos. The small glaucus leaves are evergreen, the culms starting off as green, and then turning a dark purple as the plant gets gets older. Often used as informal hedging, especially in a part shaded position. It’s not a massive fan of baking midday sun, so bare this in mind when placing this clumping bamboo. 

Fargesia robusta ‘Campbell’  – It is a variety of fountain bamboo and is also known as Robusta bamboo or Campbell bamboo. It is a robust growing bamboo with an upright habit. It is one of the early shooting bamboos, producing clear white sheaths when new shoots rise thus making it astoundingly gorgeous in Spring. 

Fargesia angustissima (Narrow-leaf bamboo) – It is an elegant clumping bamboo variety with gracefully arching purplish culms hosting a dense population of narrow leaves. It is native to China but can be seen growing in other regions globally. It can be used as a privacy screen since it is not an invasive species that will disturb neighbours but its white-powdery blooms make it ideal as a specimen plant.

Other varieties of clumping bamboos include: Ghost bamboo (Dendrocalamus minor var. Amoenus), Himalayan weeping bamboo (Drepanostachyum falcatum), Alphonse Karr bamboo (Bambusa multiplex), Oldhamii bamboo (Bambusa oldhamii), etc.

What are good examples of running bamboo?

Black Bamboo Phyllostachys Nigra

Black Bamboo Phyllostachys Nigra

Phyllostachys nigra – Tall and elegant running bamboo, with dark green culms which eventually turn a much darker bluey-black after just a few years. It is one the bamboos recommend as a contrast to the normal green of your garden, so really think about placement for maximum impact. Easy to contrast, and looks great all year. Often used in the more traditional looking Chinese garden style. Very tall and upright habit. 

Phyllostachys aurea – This is a common choice in the UK, and one of the fastest growing too. Commonly used for contained (with root barrier) for hedging and screens, where it’s light green canes turn gradually to a brought yellow as the culms age. Will reach a towering 5m or 6m in the UK, and gets there fast! I love to see this bamboo planted wide enough to create groves, so you can remove a few culms to create a gorgeous pathway through the bamboo. Glorious. Looks great all year round and highly recommended. 

Pleioblastus pygmaeus ‘Distichus’ – A dwarf but running bamboo from Japan, which has the look of a palmlike structure with bright and evergreen leaves. Often used as a ground cover as it can be easily controlled and clipped to shape. 

Pleioblastus variegatus – Dwarf running bamboo which has elegant evergreen dark green leaves , which feature a string stripe of yellow down the center, Again, used as a ground cover just like the Pleioblastus pygmaeus ‘Distichus, and can be used to help prevent soil erosion on exposed banks. Easy to clip to shape and control, and may die back a little in winter. This is a bamboo that is well recommend to be covered with a garden compost mulch over winter to protect rhizome damage from the cold. As  mentioned on many sites, it is one of the most often recommended groundcover bamboo. 

Sasa veitchii – A fast spreading running bamboo, featuring gorgeous glossy leaves that are dark green, and sometimes have a bronze variegation which is quite desirable. Again, another running bamboo suitable for preventing soil erosion and for stabilising banks. 

Other running bamboos you’ll commonly see growing in the UK are:

Red margin bamboo (Phyllostachys rubromarginata), Walking stick bamboo (Qionzhuea tumidissinoda), Tiger Bamboo (Phyllostachy nigra ‘Bory’), Moso Bamboo (Phyllostachys edulis), Phyllostachys aureasulcata ‘Auerocaulis’, Phyllostachys bissetii and Pseudosasa japonica

Further Reading:

We have further information on the following types of bamboo: Fargesia Asian Wonder, Fargesia murielae ‘Luca’, Fountain Bamboo Fargesia rufa, Phyllostachys aurea aureocaulis, Phyllostachys Bissetii, Pleioblastus Distichus and Pseudosasa japonica Arrow Bamboo.

Bamboo FAQs


Last Modified: September 6, 2022