Planting Alphonse Karr bamboo

On Saturday I picked up three Alphonse Karr bamboos (Bambusa multiplex ‘Alphonse Karr’) for friends of ours who had just landscaped their backyard. Yesterday, I helped plant them. It was a very pleasant Halloween afternoon activity thanks to temperatures in the low 70s.

Alphonse Karr grows very well in our climate with close to 200 days of sunshine a year. It’s not very picky when it comes to location; it grows equally well in the sun or semi shade. It may even tolerate relatively heavy shade although I have not personally grown it in such conditions.

To give you an idea of how quickly this clumping bamboo will grow, here is a “before” and “after” photo of our own backyard where I planted an Alphonse Karr in September of 2009:

091106_Bambusa multiplex 'Alphonse Karr'_sm
Alphonse Karr on 9/11/09, just planted from a 5-gallon container
Same plant on 10/11/10, i.e. just one year later

The Alphonse Karr in our backyard is now about 10 feet tall. It has the potential to grow to 15-20 feet within the next 5 years. Since it’s a clumping bamboo (like all bamboos in the genus Bambusa), it will not take over our yard and/or send rhizomes into our neighbor’s yard like a running bamboo might if not controlled properly. It grows in a relatively tight clump that slowly increases in girth, much like a shrub or a large ornamental grass would. In fact, bamboos are the largest members of the grass family.

Alphonse Karr is distinguished by its yellow culms with irregular green stripes. New shoots often show tinges of pink or red, especially when grown in a sunny location.

New Alphonse Karr shoot with pronounced pink coloring

After our friends had seen our Alphonse Karr, they decided to plant some in their own backyard. Here are the three 5-gallon plants that I picked up for them from Mad Man Bamboo in Rocklin, CA. Each pot had 4 or 5 culms, some even had new shoots just poking out of the soil.

Three 5-gallon containers of Alphonse Karr
Photo by M.S.

This is the “before” shot of their side yard outside their kitchen window (the photo would have been better without the pots of bamboo but it’s too late now).

The Alphonse Karr will be planted along the fence

Glori, their dog, was right there to help us dig.

Our little helper

When you lift the plant out of the pot, look at the roots. You want to see white roots and rhizomes. White means healthy. Brown means dead or desiccated.

Lifting bamboo out of pot
Photo by M.S.

The first one is in!
Photo by M.S.

And here is area after planting the three Alphonse Karrs.

Three Alphonse Karr planting along the fence

They will grow into a beautiful screen and provide visual protection from the neighboring house. The plant on the far left will also screen the compost tumbler and the tool shed.

View toward compost tumbler and tool shed

Our friends are very happy with their new bamboo, which in turn makes me happy. The more people recognize the landscaping and environmental benefits these beautiful and useful plants have to offer, the better!


  1. I am curious about the hole size needed. Mine are in 10gal pots, and the soil is 15" across at the top of the pot. Normally I would think 1-1/2 times for a 22" hole size, but that his HUGE! Not sure if much of the root ball will come off when I pull it out, but I think I will wait and see before I did that big a hole. Advice?

  2. From further research, seems the 1-1/2 x root ball diameter guideline still holds, but I guess it could be less than the pot if a lot comes loose before planting. For my 15", the 22" hole was perfect. Good room to water and work in the surrounding soil,


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